There’s nothing like a dancing banana to remind me of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
I promise this post will circle back to the banana. But first, here’s something you might not know about me: I didn’t come to yoga because I wanted to be spiritual or get in shape. I came to yoga back in the early 90s because of the immense emotional pain I was feeling. I’ve hinted about hitting bottom and escaping darkness in past posts. Suffice it to say, in 1965 I was born into a broken and hurting family, and my own drowning in and running from that reality only lead to more brokenness and hurt over the decades.
In 1993, a friend recommended Kundalini yoga and the journey toward wholeness and serenity began. Still, it takes a lot of time to face, unravel and chip away at decades of dysfunction. So here I am, in 2009 – trying to live a yogic lifestyle, devoted to transformation and healing and growth, not engaging in the destructive habits of my past…
…and completely angst-ed out about seeing family for Thanksgiving.
Our last family Thanksgiving was eight years ago, just before my mother died; since then, the emotional spin-out has become so ugly, we’ve all retreated to separate corners. Typically, each of my siblings hold Thanksgiving festivities with their own families and friends. And I head to Nashville to spend the holiday with my dad.
This year, a few other family members are heading to Dad’s. Some seriously heavy stuff is going on in my father’s and their lives and I don’t know how to face it. So I’ve let an inordinate amount of self-centered fear brew in my belly. Am I strong enough to face their troubles? Can I set healthy boundaries? Will I be able to act loving and compassionate? And what if I’m not and what if I can’t and what if, what if, what if???
As of last night, I was sick to my stomach with anxiety. I felt sad for my family and scared of being in the middle of it. Instead of holding these feelings inside, I shared with trusted friends, who reminded me of the spiritual tool kit I’ve been cultivating over the years. They also tried to cheer me up. I’d explored all the dark corners of the situation and had begun to dwell in them. It was time to move toward the light.
Clearly, it was PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME!
A friend sent me a link to the Buckwheat Boys’ PBJ video – pictured above – which saturated the Internet back in 2003. I started thinking about the power of replacing anxiety with humor, darkness with light, negative with positive.
Duh – it’s PRATIPAKSHA BHAVANA TIME!
In Book Two of Patanjali’s Sutras, the ancient scriptures of yoga written thousands of years ago, aphorism 33 states: VITARKA BADHANE PRATIPAKSA BHAVANAM. Combining the commentary of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Satchidananda, a liberal translation is: “When negative thoughts disturb the practice of the yamas and niyamas (the first two of yoga’s eight limbs), one can think of opposite thoughts.”
Just before this in Book Two, Sutras 29-32 introduce the eight limbs of yoga. The first two limbs – the yamas and niyamas – outline ethical guidelines which precede all other yoga practices, including asana, pranayama, and so on. Along with Sutra 1:33 (Book One’s four locks and keys discussed in previous posts on compassion), Sutra 2:33 is a powerfully effective and immediate tool for transforming destructive, negative, obstructive ideas into constructive, positive, motivating thoughts, thus grounding the mind in health and supporting an ethical life.
When my mind is stuck on the negative (“Oh, poor me, this trip is going to be so difficult – how will I deal with my family’s pain?”), I can explore the roots of and share those feelings. Then, to avoid sinking into a morass of self-pity and uselessness, I must soon exercise the power of positive thinking so I can suit up, show up and be of service somehow.
Last night, after watching – and dancing and singing along to – the PBJ video, I wrote a list of what I can look forward to during my Thanksgiving trip, from attending yoga classes with my favorite local teachers Liz and Corrine, to praying for my family during Sabbath services at my dad’s congregation. Can you believe, after all that worrisome hoo-haw, I came up with 20 things? I actually love visiting my Dad in Nashville. I’d simply forgotten.
If you feel angst-ed out about family Thanksgiving gatherings, or anything at all, take a look at the PBJ video and shift your mind. I’m listening to it right now, and still cracking up! Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8MDNFaGfT4 to get down with the dancing banana. And remember, PBJ = PRATIPAKSHA BHAVANA, JAI!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. OM Shanti.
(Thanks to David and Lisa for bringing humor into my brain.)