Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.
We practice for a lot of reasons, right?
To wring out the yia-yias, to escape our chattering monkey minds, to learn how to be more patient, and even, yes, to get a little more flexible — literally and figuratively.
And another reason we do all this yoga stuff is to practice choosing how we react.
(God, that sounds so boring, doesn't it.)
But, seriously. Think about it.
You fall out of Utthita Hasta Padangusthana A after a few shaky breaths. Suddenly your mind floods with talk of failure and how pathetic you are and how everyone's watching you and judging you and you are the worst yogi that ever was so why don't you just throw your shit in a pile and roll up your mat and go get some ice cream because this sucks and life's unfair and what about that one time when Stevie Johnson broke your heart in 4th grade and didn't your brother get a bigger slice of the family financial pie than you did and it's so unfair and the weather sucks and you will definitely not get that apartment you're in the hunt for and the toast at breakfast was totally burned and that is just unacceptable and what's up with this weird zit on your nose anyway?
You get my drift.
One little "mis-step" and we freak out and get lost in stories of what was and what is and what will be, all because we just fell out of a pose or stubbed a toe or spilled the coffee.
I read the story below several years ago in Sharon Gannon and David Life's excellent book, Jivamukti Yoga: Practices For Liberating Body and Soul, and it changed my life. Gannon and Life write that
"The yogi accepts a pleasant turn of events with equanimity, knowing that pleasure and pain never last forever....It is wise to give thanks for everything that happens, knowing that the present situation can change in an instant.
Here is a story that illustrates the yogic mind, which has the capacity to be thankful for whatever happens:
There once lived a farmer. He lived on a farm with his wife, his son, and one horse that the family had raised from a colt. The family planned to enter the horse in the annual county fair and hoped it would win prizes that could lead to breeding opportunities. This would ensure a nice future income for the farmer and his family.
The night before the fair, a violent storm swept over the countryside. When the farmer and his family awoke early the next morning, they found that the fences had been blown down. Their prize stallion was nowhere to be found. The farmer's wife was beside herself with despair. The neighbors came and joined in the wife's grief. "What terrible misfortune has befallen us!" cried the wife. "Yes, yes, this is most unfortunate," the neighbors agreed. But the farmer said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
A week passed and the farmer and his family were sitting at the breakfast table. Looking out the kitchen window they saw a herd of horses galloping toward the farm. It was their faithful stallion, leading five horses and a little filly behind him. He had found a herd of wild mares, and now he was bringing them home. The farmer's family ran out to open the corral gate for the horses. The farmer's wife was overjoyed and exclaimed, "What a fortunate turn of events, this is unbelievable!" The neighbors rushed over, exclaiming, "How fortunate you are!" The farmer just said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
Over the next weeks the farmer and his son were busy training the new horses. One day the son was thrown by one of the wild horses. He suffered a bad fall and broke many bones. The farmer's wife was very upset. Between her sobs she said, "We never should have let those wild horses in; this is a most unfortunate accident. My poor son." The neighbors came to commiserate with the wife about her misfortune. And the farmer said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
Two days later the king's soldiers came by the little farm. The king had declared war on an adjacent country and the soldiers had orders to draft all able-bodied young men into the army. On seeing the farmer's son with both legs and both arms broken, not to mention several ribs fractured and numerous lacerations on his face and head, they left him home and continued on to the next family. "The farmer's wife wept with relief, crying, "How lucky we are! This is most fortunate." The neighbors, most of whom had had sons taken off to war, said "You are indeed most fortunate." The farmer said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
Some months passed. The farmer's son was recovering nicely; he was able to walk, albeit with a cane. A messenger from the king's palace dropped by the farm to inquire about the health of the son. Seeing the son's improved condition he stated that by order of the king, the son must come at once to the palace to work in the gardens and stables. There was a shortage of workers at the palace due to the war. What could the family do but let their son go? The wife was bitterly angry and cursed the king for his unfairness. "How unfortunate we surely are! We have lost our only son and there will be no one to help us with the farm now." The neighbors came by to console the wife, murmuring, "What an unfortunate turn of events." The farmer just said, "Fortunate or unfortunate, I don't know, let's wait and see."
The king had a beautiful daughter. One day she looked out of her window and saw the handsome new gardener. She fell in love with him and went to her father and said, "Father, I have found the man I wish to marry. Please make it happen!" The king, unable to resist a request from his lovely daughter replied, "Of course, it shall be done."
The next day a messenger was sent from the palace to the farm, bearing a wedding invitation for the farmer and his wife, as well as an invitation for them to come live permanently at the palace. Can you imagine the reaction of the farmer's wife? She was ecstatic and could hardly contain her joy. Jumping up and down she laughed, "This is incredible, how fortunate!" The neighbors exclaimed, "Indeed, this is a very fortunate turn of events!" And the farmer, as usual, said . . . !" (p. 45-47)And there you go.
Do you recognize yourself anywhere in there? In that dramatic, emotionally-tumultuous farmer's wife, whose notion of her life as charmed or cursed changed from event to event, according to her sense of what was fortunate and what was not? Or how about in the neighbors, who in every situation jumped in to escalate the drama of either the pleasure or the pain?
We are all, of course, the farmer's wife and the neighbors — at least until the teachings of yoga come along and help us to step back, take a deep breath, and take the long view. None of these characters would've thought that, back in the day when the original horse broke free and ran off, the chain of events that that very "unfortunate" event had set in motion would lead to, one day, the son marrying the king's daughter and the whole family moving to live at the palace.
I see it on people's faces in class when they fall out of Natarajasana or land splat on their faces after Pincha Mayurasana. I see it in their frustration when they can't get their chests to the mat in Upavistha Konasana or get the "full split" of Hanumanasana. And in those moments, I always think of this story, and of the way in which the farmer chooses to react: not with drama, not with great joy, not with great sorrow, but always and ever drawing back to the midline, returning to that place of equilibrium, being present with the current situation with the wise perspective of one who's seen great change, and knows that more will inevitably come.
This acceptance of impermanence is the root of the story, of course: the fact that change is the one thing we can always count on, and that even our moments of most joyful pleasure and most difficult pain will all pass. So if we can just manage to stay with those moments in some measure of balance, of groundedness, of reasonable equilibrium, we can trust that, a few breaths along, both the sweetness AND the sorrow will pass.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.