When I first heard of Sigmund Freud's claims that every human thought, emotion, and behavior was motivated by one of two basic drives —sex or aggression, Eros or Thanatos, life or death—, I declared the man either insane and/or perversely relishing in male privilege, considering his other two infamous theories on penis envy and the Oedipal complex, psychological disorders that supposedly afflict every single girl across the globe.
But now, at least twenty years later, I clearly see the silhouette of the baby that I too eagerly tossed out with the bathwater, especially when I approach-avoid the furthest edge of my growth in search of my soul's deepest longing and highest integrity. The best way to trigger and fully expose my private push-pull battle between epic forces of good and evil, light and dark?
Just say the wicked words: Bikram yoga.
Well, yeah, you say, no one in their right mind would gleefully jump into a burning inferno in search of their soul's purpose and shiny whole self to actualize it. Most thinking folks would encourage bolting out of a 100 degree plus yoga studio that teachers themselves refer to as a "torture chamber," probably endorse it as common sense or as having a good head on your shoulders.
Maybe so, but I have tried and truly love many other kinds of yoga. Yet, this is the only one I've stuck with. Tell me, why have I, Ms Allergic to Routine, chosen, more or less . . . often less than more, to do these same predictable 26 poses at least two thousand times for longer than a decade?
That's right. Precisely because it invites an ugly face-off between the two main players in my "We can either act out of love or act out of fear" modern-day interpretation of Freud's infamous sex vs aggression (think pro-Creative, expanding forces vs protective/defensive, contracting forces) inner tug-o-war.
Introducing opponent #1—"Dodger of Dire Discomfort"—wanting me to ditch my Bikram class this morning in favor of writing and finishing this newsletter.
"You have been wanting to write this piece for a few days, and are on a roll. You have a slight headache that's going to get excruciatingly worse in that heat. Just finish this up. It's ripe and ready for reaping, and just as important in developing your best self. Just go when you feel better. Bikram will be there.
Introducing opponent #2 —"Feisty Frontline Fearbuster"—wanting me to show up and attend class regardless of what's happening in my life.
"You're dawdling until it's too late. Same story, different day. Don't fall for it. There is always something, and that something just keeps getting better, but it's the same lame interference lathered over avoidance and aversion of discomfort. Get going, and finish this later. You'll thank yourself when it's all done and over with like you always do."
So where's the bloodshed, you wonder? I know. This sounds more like an account of Bambi's inner turmoil. I learned over the years to duke it out and leave my hot mess on the mat. Some days, it comes out in the form of shooting daggers at well-meaning teachers who dare to utter ridiculous demands such as, "If you can, you must." Or make flippant comments such as, "You are fine. Just think of your ancestors. You are the same person. You are only tackling your grocery list, not chasing food with teeth and four legs (and why are you—read why is your mind—not staying in the room?). You are not in any real physical danger, as much as you think you are. The only difference between you and the Zen god or goddess next to you is their trust in their deep inner knowing that they are fine."
Yeah, yeah, just shut up already, will ya. I'm trying to wallow in my misery.
After all your B.S. has arrived at the party and been stripped down to its birthday suit, you may curse some more, weep and cry, cringe and clear the gamut of nauseating feelings that you didn't even know you were holding hostage in some dark dungeon in your unconscious. All the while, your blood pulses and flushes toxins out of every joint, muscle, and cell of your body, dripping out in a steady stream of sweat.
And when you think you can't take it anymore, you zone out, your entire being focused on finding a way to escape out of the hell hole that you willingly put yourself into. You hate that most teachers generally don't fall for your "I'm about to pass out" pleading puppy eyes. The most they'll do if they see that you are really about to faint is remind you to sit down and recommit to honoring your limits.
While that would be the mature thing to do under regular circumstances, Ms. Experienced won't have it. Nor is she very enthusiastic about Bikram's brutally level playing field that requires you to focus on nothing more than catching your breath, regulating your body's mechanics, and letting go of shame, sometimes for the entire 90 minutes of the class, for stuffing yourself with food, booze, Halloween candy, you name it, the day before.
At some random point, it finally sinks in that there truly is no escape, and you secretly rejoice. Deep down, you don't really want to escape. Just like you don't really want to nor will move to Canada should Trump win the presidency. You stuck it out when George W. Bush was in power, and heck, aren't you feeding another corrupted and perverse system right now? Bikram Choudry's, to be exact, the man accused of sexually assaulting some of his students, including one of your beloved teachers, an Anita Hill of rare strength and utmost grace and integrity?
What is a person to do when all-pervasive corruption and downfall of human decency and integrity keep encroaching on your sovereignty and won't even leave you and your 2 x 6 square feet of sweaty yoga mat alone? And is ruthlessly rubbing its sinister reality in your face? You resign and cheat. You stuff ice cubes in your sports bra, in your hair, under the nape of your neck and back when lying down, and inconspicuously drool ice cold water all over yourself. Just a moment of relief, or better yet, just a moment of hedonistic pleasure in the midst of suffering, and yet another, and another will do the trick. It's the only thing what will pull you through, that you can count on to keep you afloat from one buoy to the next, that grants you the superior treatment that you truly deserve.
It's not a pretty sight, but at this point, when sneaky wind tries to escape from either end during the wind removing pose, looking and smelling pretty are not your top priorities. Your main priority is to stay soundlessly present in the room, emphasis on soundlessly, and reel your awareness back to controlling your mind and body's stubborn impulses while your attention roams through every corner of your psyche and life, from family to work, from book themes and edits to ongoing tension with clueless people, from client dilemmas to current affairs, politics, catastrophic fires, and climate change.
Then, most often about midway through, Eureka strikes once again. It dawns on you like the slivers of a brilliant sunrise and brandnew day that the best way to save the world is to focus on yourself and save your own wretched soul. You stop playing games and become hard-core determined to preserve the very last bits of your integrity that didn't succumb under the pressure nor melt in the heat, and you do your bad-ass bestest while it still counts. You feel empowered and great, certain that you are the one to curtail a World War III—at least from breaking out on your mat.
You start to smile, tingly waves of endorphins rushing through every part of your detoxed and atoned body, your heart swelling with love and gratitude. For your wise and amazing teacher, the greatest ever to have walked this earth. For your fellow yoginis—isn't it wonderful how supportive they are, each contained on their own little rectangular magic mat of blood, sweat, and tears, yet in it together with you? Ah, and the heat, what heat? You hardly notice it, and may even thank it for loosening up and lubricating all your stiff parts, for reducing the risk of injury, for generating deep healing from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes, and for getting you here, feeling so-o-o alive and so-o-o re-laaaax-edddd.
You have no desire to objectify and sculpt your body like a piece of meat (and can't see through the burning sweat glistening on your eyeballs anyway), and prefer to revere it as the holy temple that it is—your sacred well, your cauldron of transmutation, humbled by all the deep mystery it holds and embodies and lavishes you in every day of your life.
You're grateful that you didn't throw Bikram's baby out of the bathwater either, and instead exercised your equanimity, compassion, and wisdom muscles for yet another human being who's as imperfect as you are while managing to at least clear the sharpest shards from your own psychic path. You appreciate being able to anchor down in this self-accepting presence and awareness when it matters the most, when you are leading your clients to their furthest and roughest edges of growth, and when tackling their and your sacred story, in writing, in speaking, in training others.
And during your very last minutes of raw, salty, blissful savasana, the universe appears in a state of perfect balance and harmony. The polarities revert to their respective places on a psychedelic yin yang twirling disk of light and shadow. No longer pegged into destructive opposite poles, they fold into one another in alignment with the true nature of reality and with an infinitude of life-death-rebirth seasons and cosmic cycles.
So who won the battle? You could call it a truce. Opponents 1 and 2 realized that they were on the same team and negotiated a solution that worked for both. I skipped my morning class, wrote a good chunk, and successfully dragged myself to the next class. Which meant leaving this piece in its unfinished state and moving through a state of (false) panic, the kind that you might feel if you'd left a baby unattended in an abandoned field. The trade-off for sticking it out: I got hot-off-the-mat drama that in the end spruced up my writing.
Here's to befriending and thriving with the dynamic energies at our furthest edge of growth, to finding a regular outlet for them, and to smoother sailing and greater mastery when energizing our deepest calling and purpose in life.