Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture: raw cotton.

So much of what we do on the yoga mat is just learning to sit with things. And by "things," I mean pain, struggle, self-doubt, boundaries, difficulty, failure, you know, the usual.

Tough shit.

I see it on people's faces when they head wearily into Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (big toe hold, trying not to fall over) or Hanumanasana (full splits, baby) or Supta Virasana (reclining Hero pose, on your knees): it's a certain dread, already this expectant feeling of dis-ease, of resistance. And learning to sit with those feelings, in those poses — along with the simultaneous joy and release and relief and exhilaration that sometimes come up — is really one of the most remarkable projects in a yoga practice.

Sometimes it's even harder to sit in the grey spaces, though; you know, those in-between moments on (or off) the mat when life swims in just so much uncertainty, when nothing feels quite black or white, light or dark, but rather when events, or relationships, or experiences are in flux, in transition, undefined, unable to be easily cast.

Pema Chodron wrote a powerful piece for Tricycle on that very feeling. And it highlights an advanced ability to be consciously, presently uncertain, quite grey, quite unfixed and fluid and malleable, that strikes me as the utmost in yoga, in advanced being-in-a-body that does not cling or grasp, but simply is:
The secret of Zen is just three words: not always so.
—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

It takes some training to equate complete letting go with comfort. But in fact, "nothing to hold on to" is the root of happiness. There's a sense of freedom when we accept that we're not in control. Pointing ourselves toward what we would most like to avoid makes our barriers and shields permeable.

This may lead to a don't-know-what-to-do kind of feeling, a sense of being caught in-between. On the one hand, we're completely fed up with seeking comfort from what we can eat, drink, smoke, or couple with. We're also fed up with beliefs, ideas, and "isms" of all kinds. But on the other hand, we wish it were true that outer comfort could bring lasting happiness.

This in-between state is where the warrior spends a lot of time growing up.....
We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we aren't told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the our side but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.

Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It's the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts mote tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what's happening, we begin to access our inner strength. ....

It's important to hear about this in-between state. Otherwise we think the warrior's journey is one way or the other; either we're all caught up or we're free. The fact is that we spend a long time in the middle. This juicy spot is a fruitful place to be. Resting here completely — steadfastly experiencing the clarity of the present moment — is called enlightenment.
Read the whole thing here. That Zen saying that sets the piece off — "not necessarily so" — is one of my all-time favorites. What a gift and a grace it has been in so many moments of my life to step back and say to myself: Hey, ok now, cool it, kid, just wait. Not necessarily so. Those simple three words can be a lasso and a damper and a balm for the monkey mind that tends to run away with its own automatic presuppositions, assumptions and expectations.

Let yourself be grey, right there in the mushy middle. There's enlightenment there, somewhere, rolling around in the murk.

The In-Between State (Tricycle)


Leah Fulford said…
I'm finding myself unable to read your words fast enough. I'm recovering from a yoga burnout right now, and this study of in-between-ness is so achingly real. Thanks for putting my heart into words.

I guess it's up to me to figure out the rest.

Popular Posts