In the middle of a busy day at work or looking after kids, “bliss” can seem a long way off.
When I’m juggling the competing demands of several little people at once, trying to cook a meal, keep the house reasonably tidy and catch up with emails – all within the same hour or two, I’m most likely to feel overwhelmed and trapped, especially if I haven’t had a good night’s sleep. Bliss seems distant and elusive, something to hope for at another time, possibly in another life.
But one of the key teachings of eastern spiritual traditions, of which yoga is part, is that bliss is always available to us. It’s not something to work towards; but rather a state of mind that we can access at any time. Bliss is a point of view or perspective that we can switch to.
It might not be easy, but there is a simplicity about it. Bliss is not a complex thing that needs analysis to understand or experience. It doesn’t require long study of ancient texts, prowess at challenging physical postures on a yoga mat, or even hours and hours spent in silent meditation.
It requires the ablity to take a breath, mentally step back from whatever challenge or conflict is causing you suffering, and in the space created by that breath, to be compassionate towards yourself and those around you. Simple? Well no, not always – or even often.
I had a particularly fraut moment last weekend when one breath wasn’t enough to get a sense of perspective on the clamours of various children, their skateboards, bikes and sibbling rivalries. I had to have quite a lot of breaths – at the end of the garden where I couldn’t hear them for a minute or two!
In that that time, I managed to let go of my pre-conceived idea of what we were doing that afternoon (which had involved bike rides, playdates, skateboarding and a tennis lesson), and come up with a new, simpler one that was compassionate towards myself (something I felt I could cope with) and towards the children (included things they enjoy).
Denise Roy, in her excellent book “Momfulness”, describes something she calls the “late-for-school practice”:
- Take a slow, deep breath for you, and become aware of your sensations, thoughts and feelings
- Take another breath for your children, noticing what it’s like from their point of view
- Take a third breath, asking, “Now what?” What is needed in this moment?
Then perhaps find the grace – or bliss – in the moment and choose what to do next.
It doesn’t always work; often in these moments when the pressure of so many demands becomes unbearable, I slip into my habitual pattern of angry, shouty mummy. But in these moments, perhaps especially in these moments, I need compassion – towards myself as well as the kids.
Judith Lasater, author of Living Your Yoga, advises saying to yourself: “How human of me”, thus freeing ourselves from guilt and blame that might prevent us trying again next time. And there’s one thing about family meltdowns, there will definitely be a next time.
The point is that no one wants to hurt their child with harsh words or actions. Inside every shouty, angry parent, there is a calm, patient and kind one waiting to show herself. She needs nurturing and encouragement – and practice. That’s what yoga and meditation can be: a practice for life.
Every time I observe my physical sensations, thoughts and feelings on the yoga mat, I have a choice: do I push further, wait longer, ease off, or just be? And as I practise playing with these observations, I begin to see and feel the connections between breath, body and thoughts; it becomes possible to change any one to affect the other two. Then, hopefully, in the midst of a family meltdown, when I most need it, yoga is there to help me regulate my emotional reactions and make a choice. I might even choose bliss.