Sunday, June 22, 2008

Still Growing Up

“If you think you are so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.”
-Ram Dass

Last week my 5-year-old son was diagnosed with a physical problem that will require physical therapy twice a day for some time. As the therapist explained to me the details of his home program, I listened with interest and asked insightful questions about muscles, bones, and the forms of the exercises.

“This is great,” I thought. “I study yoga. I totally get this. I can do this with him and it’ll be a fun, yoga-like thing. He’ll love spending the special time with me.”

I’m so dumb sometimes. Ten minutes into our first session of “yoga stretches” I realized I was close to actually smacking him and his sister, who wouldn’t allow me to focus on Jonah for more than five seconds at a time. She jumped on my back, giggling maniacally, demanding that I observe her special yoga poses. She threw things at Jonah, and she harassed the dog (who insisted on being a part of the action, too). For his part, Jonah was claiming thirst, bathroom urgency, and unexplained itchiness all over his body.

(“Keep it light,” the therapist had stressed to me. “It has to be fun.”)

“Why are you acting like such a silly-billy?” I hissed to Jonah during this session. I didn’t call him a dumb-ass, but I thought it.

“It’s just that I’m sooooo itchy,” Jonah explained, falling out of his supine groin stretch in order to rub his knobby ankles together and scratch his legs. His falling out of the posture was complete, as he is built like a noodle and behaves like one that is hanging from a fork. I literally had to re-form him back into the shape.

This new routine in our lives happened to fall in the same week that I taught my first yoga class. I went into the studio thinking I totally understood what these postnatal women needed, simply because I had been there myself, twice. And plus I knew a few things about yoga.

The students barely restrained their irritation throughout the class. They looked at me as if to say, “Why are you asking me to hold this pose for so long? I don’t want to pay close attention to the position of my tailbone right now. Would you please bring back our real teacher?” I noticed that many of my instructions were not followed. I found this strange and disheartening.

It is the same way I have been feeling with Jonah as we struggle through our twice-daily “yoga stretches.” Only the difference is, I have power over him. Because he is completely dependent on me, I can snap at him and he’s not going to take his yoga mat to another studio.

Where is the love and compassion? I approached this physical therapy thing not with concern for Jonah, but a desire to see myself succeed at helping him. It is the same with my yoga students. I say want to be useful to them, but when I enter the room, I really want to be GOOD.

My ego is at the forefront, not my heart.

I have watched my yoga teachers make compassion look easy for years. Yet they have always said that showing true compassion for our loved ones is one of the most advanced spiritual practices we can undertake.

Don’t I know it.