"My practice no longer meant The Practice, nor did it mean finding the courage to die. My practice was finding how I would make my future a reality. My practice was hope. My practice was life."
The other day I did a yoga class for the first time in almost two years. Now this might not seem like much of an accomplishment in itself, but believe me, it was quite the milestone in my book. You see, the preceding time I’d done yoga, it had a rather unappealing side effect: right after completing the session I wound up standing on a bridge (another bridge? Yup another bridge). Once again as I stood there I made my calculations, my pros and cons of life and death, my arithmetic of the pluses and minuses of living.
Now usually, with suicide attempts, if you get this far into this debate of whether or not to go on living, odds are you won’t go through with
the attempt. Once you start to analyze it, the impulse dissipates, the moment passes, the urge subsides. But in this case I stood, leaning against the bridge railing for over half an hour, earnestly calculating my mental math.
This time was unique. The yoga session had made sure of that. I don’t totally understand yoga, but there’s lots of talk about your defining and understanding your intention and your practice. I always found it jarring when the instructor talked about “my practice” because of course my brain would wander to “The Practice”, as in my medical practice. Hard to find inner peace when your guide keeps using a trigger word.
But that was true of any session of yoga. This day’s session was particularly triggering for me because she said from the beginning of class that we’d be reflecting on all that we had done in the past year (it being early January). The key was to breathe in deep, and in doing so we would give our minds the room to breathe—room to accept all we had done, all we had left undone. The acceptance meant we could acknowledge our accomplishments; we could give ourselves credit for what we had achieved; but most importantly we could forgive ourselves all of the year’s faults, missed opportunities, and outright failures.
Only my brain, as of that day, didn’t work that way. My brain could warp just about anything into reasons for self-hatred. This includes specific instructions during yoga to accept, acknowledge, credit, and forgive. And with nearly an hour spent doing nothing but quiet reflection as instructed, those reflections mutated into something hideous, malevolent, and yet for me, completely natural.
My brain did as instructed. “What had I done the previous year?” I asked myself. Well, I had quit. I had turned in my resignation, thrown in the towel, and flown the white flag. I was a quitter. I threw it all away. The position, the status, the handsome salary, and 20 years of education, training, and experience. I had failed medicine entirely, I told myself. I could entertain no other thought besides these. I was about to leave my wife and kids in the lurch, and what was I doing instead of working? Reflecting and holding in Downward Facing Dog.
I hated every part of me with every deep inward breathe the instructor told me to take. A full hour of this gave me one single focus, one goal, one purpose. So although a suicidal impulse usually only lasts a moment, an hour of supervised self-hate can make that impulse linger. Hence, thirty minutes on a ledge. All of those same yoga instructions to reflect upon what I had done now convincing me to take the plunge.
Fast forward two years. Lots of therapy sessions later, and finally a stable diet of medications that seems to work on board, I begin my first yoga session since that day two years ago. For those two years I had avoided going back to yoga, having no appetite for more self-destructive reflection, no tolerance for that kind of inner war and peace.
What was different this time? Well, one reason was due to a little humble brag: the setting for this yoga session was on a beautiful lawn facing the beach in Maui. My brain, it would seem, is less prone to self destruction if the sound of the surf and the rustle of the palms can drown out that destructive inner voice.
But really, the true reason was that aside from the physical location, my mind was in a much better place. My mind, when told to reflect on my intention, focused not on the past. It did not focus on what I had done, the mistakes I had made, the failures of my life.
Instead of reasons to die, I looked towards reason to live. Instead of what happened in my past, I looked forward to what I would yet do; I cared only about my future. For the first time in those years I could focus on a future; for the first time I HAD a future. As they say in yoga parlance, I could consider my intention, not just as a plan to make it off of the yoga mat. I could consider how to use this new found inner strength and clarity and apply it to my intention in life. My practice no longer meant The Practice, nor did it mean finding the courage to die. My practice was finding how I would make my future a reality. My practice was hope. My practice was life.
So now I get ready to board a plane that will take me back to Seattle—a far cry from these Hawaiian climes. But this time I no longer dread returning to The Practice. Nor do I fear returning to those unemployed days where every day was a reminder of what I was not accomplishing.
Instead I look forward to getting back and working towards a goal. I look forward to going back and honign my practice. That is my intention. Namaste.