A few weeks ago I practiced tree pose. No really. It was unlike any other tree pose of my life. I was literally in a tree. I participated in a ropes course through work, which was considered our staff "retreat". I don't know about you, but when I think of the word "retreat" my brain conjures up images of mountains, streams, books, and inactivity. In other words a high ropes course is completely off my realm of possible connotations... as in I think of porch swings, not Tarzan swings.
As someone with an aversion to flight time, this particular event was totally out of my comfort zone. Having never been much of a thrill-seeking risktaker, when it comes to things like roller coasters or other activities involving heights or speed, I favor a steady pace with both feet on solid ground. The very name "amusement park" has always bewildered me-- attending any such park typically resulted in my enrolling as the trusty bag-holder. At most there were a few occasions in which I managed to muster an unconvincing grin, in efforts to mask my chattering teeth upon somehow being tricked onto a ride.
Coming from the school of thought that considers McDonald's ball pit enough of a doozy, the only thing similar to a ropes course I've ever participated in was when I was in fifth grade, while attending school in Germany. There were many cool things about living overseas as a child, one being that field trips with your school sometimes involved visiting another country or region of the country in which you were living. In one instance my class spent a weekend at an outdoorsy place of some sort a few hours away, in which we had to participate in a ropes course of some persuasion. Having been raised with pillows decorating sharp edges of furniture and sweetly strict instructions to avoid all possible peril (and of course to never climb trees), the idea of encountering and climbing atop perceived danger was a totally new experience for me. And I wasn't on board. I think I blocked out most fearful memories surrounding those few days of my youth, but I do distinctly remember climbing up some insanely tall tree with the distance between each footing placement being nearly the height of my weeping ten-year-old self. Even with cables secured to my body, to me this task seemed insurmountable. Looking back at how hysterical I was over this assignment, it's not surprising that such activities continue to be excluded from my list of things-that-are-fun.
Twenty years after this experience I made my second-ever ropes course debut. To be honest I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. Had I known, I likely would have tried to list the reasons for my absence. I chose instead to practice yoga. In a flipping tree.
Allow me to elaborate: the first yoga sutra Patanjali offers us is Atha Yogānuśāsanam, Yoga is now.
Now. This could be taken a number of different ways I suppose, but for me it often is a challenge to be in the moment-- to be in the now, to act in the now. This idea is obviously often difficult to abide in, but that is where our commitment to practice begins and takes root. The way we practice is in the now, not in our cute agenda books and calendars with our grandiose plans to do so at some future date. The beauty of the practice is that it is just that-- practice. I didn't have to be the bravest, most agile participant casually hopping through the trees that day, but I could still choose to take a deep breath and dive right in... or up and over, rather. So I called on my courage, boldly strapping myself in that harness.
The second sutra is Yogaś citta vrtti nirodhah, Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind.
When we engage in difficulty, or face fear or setbacks, we have to hone in on the now. Replaying old tapes of stories that recall fear or that cause me to identify as a person of worry were not going to help me make my way up that tree or through that course. Such thoughts prove unhelpful on any course for that matter. So in bringing my attention to my simple inhales and exhales, I pushed these fluctuating thoughts from the forefront of my mind, gathered my focus, and made my way through each course one step and one breath at a time. Knowing myself well enough to consider that the more time I had to dwell on what I was about to embark on, the more unhelpful thoughts would override, I placed myself early in the cue of participants. Having found that the more I talk about something, the more real it becomes, I resisted the urge to chat extensively with others about my hesitations, and instead just let myself get quiet. Words have a way of giving legs to our fears, and I didn't need them to run a muck through my mind. Two legs were plenty for me to keep track of at that time quite frankly.
If you're reading this post, you can accurately infer that I did indeed make it safely through and out of that tree. Dare I say I even had fun while doing it? Who knew? Once I was able to focus and take one steady step at a time, I was able to also find moments of delight and lighthearted playfulness, namely through time spent with my coworkers. They encouraged me the whole way through to the finish.
Savasana that day came in the form of a well-deserved juicy burger by the lake. Totally divine.