Happy Spring, pals! It has been very difficult to sit down and write this post, with all the sunshine and warmth and fresh(ish) air happening in New York right now. Pretty much all I want to do is sit in a park – any park – and soak up some D. But I am willing myself to sit in front of my laptop now, because this post has been half-written for a week. And I like you guys. And I’m stuck at a desk job right now anyway.
A little while ago, my sister began teaching my nephew Sign Language. As you might well imagine, “sorry” is an important word to learn at 16 months (an age where you are figuring out if you can hit someone or spit on someone and get away with it).
The sign for “I’m sorry” is to make a fist and then circle that fist on your chest, over your heart. When babies learn to sign, they often change the sign slightly (as they do when verbalizing – ‘baby talk’). Apparently, when my nephew has something to apologize for, he walks over to that person and makes the sign on their chest.
When I heard this story, it really hit me. There’s something really beautiful and powerful about the way this little boy has interpreted the gesture. “I’m sorry” is different than “I’m sorry to you.”
Forgiveness is a concept that seems to get muddier as we get older. As children, it’s easy to forgive someone of their transgressions. As we grow older, our ego finds it much harder to forgive, and much harder to apologize. We attach more and more onto other people, onto events.
One of my favorite books to read in Kid’s Yoga is Zen Shorts, by Jon J. Muth. It’s about a giant panda named Stillwater who appears in a family’s backyard and shares Zen stories with their kids.
The best Zen story is about two monks and a wealthy empress. Summarized, the two monks happen upon the empress in front of a large puddle. The empress refuses to cross, since the muddy puddle will ruin her clothes, and her attendants are too busy holding her packages. One monk puts the empress on his back, carries her across the puddle, and sets her down. The empress says nothing, shoves the monk, and they all go their separate ways. Later in the day, the second monk can’t stop thinking about how rude the empress was, and finally says to the first monk. “That woman was so rude to you! You carried her across the puddle and she didn’t even say thank you!“
The second monk replies, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
Every time I read those words, they go straight through my gut. Don’t we all have something – or someone – we’re still carrying? Isn’t non-attachment a lot more difficult with the intangibles? There are hundreds of things we can carry, from our attachment to actual objects to our childhood history to our breakups or insecurities. If we’re not careful, the weight of all the things we are carrying threatens to crush us.
I was thinking about this the other day when a friend was discussing her recent breakup. As she explained the events of this breakup, she separated her (now) ex-boyfriend from the emotions she was experiencing. There was no cause and effect (“he did this which made me feel like this”), just a beautiful realization that while she was most definitely heartbroken at the loss of this relationship, there was no need to blame or pin that heartbreak on any one person. She allowed herself to feel, but she was able to let go of the story.
Often these things we carry are blurry, a muddy mess of the reality of what happened and our own spin on it. Yoga helps us sharpen those edges, helps us to let go of the ego that so desperately wants us to relive that same story over and over again. It’s not about being devoid of feeling; we should still feel and experience a range of emotions. Rather, it’s about acknowledging, processing, and then setting it all down.
Yoga helps us find forgiveness by giving us the space. I explained it this way to a nine year old in my Kids Class who was feeling “icky” about some mean girls from recess earlier that day. “Let’s all hold that icky feeling in our hands,” I said, and we all cupped our hands into a little ball. “Does it feel heavy? Set it down. Take your hands off of icky. We’ll put it over here while we do yoga. And if you feel like picking it up again after yoga is over, you can.”
One of the most powerful mantras to work with in yoga is also the simplest. Let go. Inhale let, exhale go.
What can you set down today? And if you need to pick it up again – can you approach it with more clarity?
Inhale let, exhale go.