Have you ever seen “Kissing Jessica Stein”?
If you haven’t, go put it in the Netflix queue—not because the movie features a younger (and painfully adorable) Jon Hamm and not because several scenes include some woman-on-woman action. All well and good, but the real reason to rent it is because it’s a quirky, hilarious, touching, modest yet earnest little film that presents such a hilariously poignant look at relationships and love, at how difficult it can be to find and be fulfilled by both.
And, of course, because it features a favorite Rilke quote of mine that goes something like this: “It is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical will live the relation to another as something alive.”
I thought of this quote last night, as I worked my way through another yoga class. Yes, Rilke is talking about human relationships, but, well, most anything I encounter in my life outside the studio can be directly related to my practice inside that hot room—and vice versa. Oftentimes, my relationships with others can be as muddled and confusing, as painful and joyful, as my relationship with my self, on and off the yoga mat.
And so, as I was moving through the first 20 minutes of class, feeling surprisingly sluggish and slow and stiff, the words “only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing” kept running through my mind.
Be ready, my dear self, exclude nothing, live this relation to my aching body right now, in this moment, alive.
I tried to do just this, to exclude nothing, piecing together the various issues/insights I’ve written about of late: this idea of practicing in the big picture, accepting enough is enough and letting go of the struggle, remembering to push well beyond the point at which I want to give in. My teacher, a woman I adore but who hardly ever compliments me in class, called out my name twice, praising my work as I reached new depths in several poses.
And I tried to be ready. I didn’t anticipate, per se, but I know my body and my practice well enough that I can usually predict when I may start to struggle (triangle, full locust, rabbit) and when I’ll need extra encouragement and mental determination. At those points in class, when my shoulders felt like 50-pound weights sat atop them and my stomach rolled about and roared like an angry child, I kept mumbling silently, “Just breathe, send the breath to where it hurts, finish strong.” It’s amazing how such few words can sometimes quiet a great hurricane of useless panic and emotion.
And, because I also know the poses in which I am most likely to zone out (tree pose, cobra, bow), I tried, tried, tried to remain as present as possible, looking my body up and down, attempting to tweak each limb and muscle according to the dialogue and to how I felt. I’ve written so many times about this idea of “staying present”—and we yogis know this is truly a daily struggle in our practice, a concerted effort put forth again and again, to mixed results. My test for how well I’ve kept my mind on only my mat is if I leave class not really remembering any one particular thought I had while moving through those 26 asanas. For me, that—a clear head, a clean slate—is the sign of a class well-worked, in just 90 precious minutes.
Afterward, as I was slipping on my flip flops and collecting my things, I thanked my teacher for yet another great class. She gave me a big, genuine smile and said, “You’re welcome. It’s always a pleasure to see you.”
I left thinking, yes, it is always a pleasure to see myself, reflected in those big, honest mirrors, reflected back in full, no apologies, no excuses. I may stand shy and wide-eyed, a little fearful, a little unsure, but at least that room, this practice, never presents with me a repeat or monotonous moment.
Rather, I discover the “unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope,” again and again, and I survive, I grow, I strengthen, I love.
I embrace, I let go. I refuse inertia—and, in doing so, I think I may have found my best and most fulfilling relationship yet.