Todd Anjali MudraI sometimes think in my fantasy I am a transcended yogi free of blame and suffering. But that’s not true. I had an experience recently that revealed to me how quick I am to assign blame.

Somehow if I can blame someone for something that’s irritating me, it justifies my discomfort. I feel righteous in some way that reduces the pain of guilt or shame. It seems silly to think that projecting anger toward someone or something is a way of unburdening myself. But really, does that help? Does blame unburden anyone? Well, yes, in the short term but never in the long term. Blame is a way of venting pain or discomfort in an attempt to quickly relieve myself of the pain, hurt, anger, embarrassment, or humiliation. It’s an attempt to solve the problem quickly so that I can get on with my life. (Code for skimming over my pain and not embracing my shadow as though life should only feel good always.) This isn’t anyone’s fault. Our nervous system is wired for moving toward pleasure and resisting pain. This is a survival mechanism we absolutely need.

But there is another way to deal with discomfort. It’s yogic: hold the posture and breath into the pain. In asana practice, we are encouraged to go to our edge of discomfort, pause, breathe into it, become aware, release and let go of tension or self-judgment, and try to bring comfort to our discomfiture. Yoga is the life training to “hold the pose” of the unknown and the uncomfortable momentarily before doing anything, deciding anything, or assigning blame.

This moment of awareness is the gap, like the space between two trapeze bars. If you can put a space between you and the urge to blame, then you found your way into the gap, which is the timeless, infinite space of grace where the universal touches the individual. This is a highly auspicious space, a threshold, called the madhya (place of the middle).

Here is the scenario that revealed my insight. During my first couple of weeks of recovery from hip surgery, a few dear friends brought me soup which I am so grateful for. How kind is that? When finished with the soup, I cleaned out the containers and put them on the counter in the basement waiting for the right time to return the containers to the owners.

One container of soup was from a special friend and Master Swim Team member, Beryl Bender (yes, the famous Beryl Bender-Birch founder and inspirational source of power yoga who moved to the Berkshires.) She dropped off the soup and visited me during my first week after surgery. The soup was great and the visit was wonderful. Upon leaving she asked if I would return the jar to her because it was a favorite of hers. I said, “Of course.”

It has been over 5 weeks post-surgery, (8 weeks by the time you get this newsletter) and today was my first day back in the pool. I really wanted to return Beryl’s jar to her today but when I checked to see if it was still on the basement counter, it was gone! I immediately blamed my wife. This is a habit I’m not proud of. Ann denied taking it. I thought to myself, “Yeah, sure. I know you took it. You just forgot.” I was absolutely certain Ann took the jar.

Still simmering with righteous upset, I drove to the pool with my swim bag. In the locker room when I opened my bag, low and behold, there was the glass mason jar! Instantly I remembered that weeks ago I put the jar in my swim bag knowing that the only place where I would return the jar to Beryl is at the pool. I smiled and laughed to myself. The blame I was carrying vanished and I saw how my blame was a quick way to handle my discomfort with the unknown.

Instead of pausing and just being in the space of the unknown, I assigned blame to my wife which temporarily made me feel more relaxed. But that blame contributed to me carrying a chip on my shoulder against her. I judged her and became aware of how that judgment created a subtle separation psychically between us. Married for 24 years, we are both getting better at not taking blame personally. This being a fairly benign issue, I don’t think my blame affected her at all. It just bounced off.

However, Beryl wasn’t at practice that day so I carried the jar in my bag after practice into the shower. However, my swim bag fell off the narrow bench in the shower stall. Upon impact I heard the jar break. Actually, the jar shattered inside my bag. Luckily no glass escaped onto the shower floor. I smiled again and laughed out loud. “This can’t be happening.” Instead of blaming myself for breaking the jar, I paused, waited, and then let it go. It’s only a jar. I have another jar at home that could replace this one if Beryl needs it. I was so much more relaxed and easy about the mishap. After all, what could I do? The jar broke into 1000 pieces. I was able to accept and embrace the experience and hold space for any suffering or discomfort about how life wasn’t going my way. In that moment of acceptance, life suddenly turned around and I was back in the flow.

While writing this newsletter, I was listening to Pandora Radio and Herbie Hancock’s song came on, “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” What perfect timing! Grace is constantly flowing.

May you use your yoga to pause, breathe, embrace, and open the space to allow yourself to be in the unknown and bring comfort to your discomfiture.