Sitting Quietly with Confusion
Expanding Paradigms - Fall 2000
Last year I was asked to serve on a panel at the Southwest Yoga Conference. On the panel with me were two of my favorite Yoga teachers, Judith Lasater (founder of the Yoga Journal), and Rodney Yee. I was a little nervous to be on a panel with such well-known teachers.
During the discussion a young man in the audience asked, "As a teenager I saw how the strong abuse the weak, and how we are destroying our environment, and I was filled with anger. Had it not been for Yoga, I would have resorted to violence. My question for the panel is... How can yoga be used to help right these injustices?"
My thoughts were scattered and I could think of nothing appropriate to say, so I was relieved to see Rodney reach for the microphone. "It seems to me," he said softly, "that thinking of yourself as separate from the problem... that, in itself, is a subtle form of violence." He went on, "When I meditate upon these things, what comes up for me is confusion and fear... and I sit quietly with my confusion... and I sit quietly with my fear." Then Rodney passed the microphone.
This simple message sought out and found a calm and clear space within me where it still resonates. When the next question was addressed to me, I was able to communicate from that center with the clarity and authority that comes with speaking from the heart.
Yoga is not a tool to transform the world. Yoga is a tool to transform our selves - body, mind and soul. Imagine standing before a glacial lake so still it is like a polished mirror. It reflects shoreline, trees, mountains, snow caps, and sky. Looking deeper, you see the pebbles on the bottom of the lake so clearly you forget the water between. You pick up a stone and skip it across the face of the lake. Each point of contact radiates outward with concentric waves of energy moving through the water. The expanding rings begin to interact and diffraction patterns collide in apparent chaos, and the reflected images are lost along with the image of the bottom of the lake.
Consciousness is in many ways like a lake. When the mind is still we look out upon the world with a clarity that defies all sense of separation and we feel connected to life. When the mind is still and we look within, consciousness is transparent and we touch the infinite. When the mind is still, the path ahead is clear.
Most of us seldom experience such stillness. Each thought is another pebble, skipping across the surface of the mind, setting up waves of energy that interfere with other waves and further distort clarity on all levels. The more confused and scared we become, the greater the urge to find something that will distract us from our inner turmoil: work, food, tv, hobbies, competition, exercise, errands. When these fail we will find fault in others and in the world. Turning away from our own inner confusion and fear, we embrace with certainty the challenge of fixing these perceived inadequacies in others.
As we turn away from our own confusion and fear our ability to deal with them diminishes. We arrange our life to keep the mind occupied in order to avoid unpleasant feelings. A turbulent mind gives rise to distortion, which adds to the confusion and fear, which we then avoid by seeking further distractions which further agitates the mind.
What is the solution? When we practice sitting quietly with our confusion and fear, our tolerance for both increases until neither can distract us from our meditation. Gradually the mind settles down, becomes transparent to transcendence and we discover that beneath the fear and confusion, lies peace and understanding.
A friend of mine, Wilson McVicker, who practices law in Austin, was being interviewed by a prospective client. The client asked, "If you were granted three wishes, what would you wish for?" Wilson answered, "Wisdom." The client grunted in approval and then asked, "and what would you wish for with your second wish?" Wilson responded, "I think I'll wait for my first wish to be granted." - Namaste'