Sometimes the topic of the month will be based on my personal practice. Sometimes it is based on holidays or the time of the year, as it was for this current month, December. We always have savasana as the pose of the December month, and pratyahara goes very nicely with it, like peanut butter and jelly, so this month it was an easy to choice.
Imagine my surprise when the subject of the month chose my practice! About a week ago I came down with a slight cold which rapidly turned in to a pretty severe sore throat. I haven't experienced pain like this since listening to David Sedaris post hernia operation (no one makes me laugh more than that man).
The doctor told me there was nothing to do, no strep was present, and I should manage it with anti-inflamatories, hot water and ice cream. (I made up the ice cream part.) Then the Doc told me if it
didn't get better in 7-10 days to come back. I left a little dejected that there was no immediate relief offered, but it wasn't until I got home that the 7-10 days sunk in. Really, I could expect this to go on that long? I kept checking for the tell tale white spots that would indicate strep and score me some fast acting drugs, but fire engine red was all that stared back at me from my throat.
Pratyahara loosely means withdrawal of the senses. When our senses are triggered we will usually move outside of the Self to satisfy the desire or aversion that was triggered. When practicing pratyahara, we pull in instead of follow that outward movement. So how did this sore throat push me into the practice of Pratyahara? Some of the obvious, I couldn't really eat anything, not even the ice cream I felt I was entitled to. So hunger had to just remain hunger, there was no reaching for a piece of scratchy toast. I had to withdraw from all outside engagements- on doctor and husband orders. My biggest shift was from couch to arm chair to bathroom. Had I not been slightly panicy about the obligations I had to attend to (and therefore cancel) that week, I would have also refrained from email and texts.
The pain in my throat was INTENSE, especially at night. At night I would wake up from the sharpness of the pain, break out in tears, and then try to relax. That relaxation helped the pain to eventually just be pain, and with some practice, and thankfully a lessening of symptoms, it got easier to disengage from the suffering of it.
The other obvious part of this was I couldn't talk. As I had to cancel private sessions, appearances, and class after class, and my part in my daughters school event that weekend, I felt a current of unease run thru me as I recognized my extreme "self importance" and attachment to my identities. I know this is what was underlying my resistance to surrendering to the rest I required. After all, I had a good book, a thermos of hot water, it only hurt when I swallowed, and I was exempt from all housework, what was the struggle? Don't people pay money for this kind of retreat? It wasn't until a friend texted me "It will get done with out you" I was struck with how foolish my notion that the world will stop without my participation was and I began to enjoy my retreat.
Another strong result of the practice of non-speech was to experience not being able to defend myself. I mean just in small ways, like my husband saying something about the herbs I was taking, or my son saying something "wrong" in the car that I couldn't dispute, as I usually would. It was surprising to recognize the small, seemingly innocuous ways that I feel I need to defend or uphold my position. But more impressive was how it FELT to not be able to do that. There were many times I tried to communicate something, only to have the person repeat back what they thought I was trying to communicate, which was incorrect. Then they would turn, walk away, and leave with my mouth wide open in disbelief, my Ludens lozenger threatening to fall to the ground, no counterpoint available to me.
I imagined as I usually do when I am sick or something, that this was all part of my sadhana. Maybe it came on because of my Sadhana! (If that is true, I apologize to those of you who also suffered from the same virus. I will try to keep my sadhana to myself next time.)
So what did it give me, what insights came from this virus?
These were my take aways, things I want to be on the look out for. If I share them, I will be more vigilant.
Here they are:
Watch out for defensive speech:
Even with a healthy throat, it is exhausting and stirs things up unnecessarily. I am looking to see how it creeps into my emails as well.
Watch out for self importance.
Will the world continue without me? You bet. It may even function better.
Choose my words carefully.
I would like to make myself understood as efficiently as possible, and if I am misunderstood, I will try to just see what comes of that without having to fix it right away. Maybe I misunderstood my own intentions and the person interpreting me is actually right on.
And whatever words I do end up choosing, I want to make sure they are kind. I watched how a negative thought unexpressed affected my body- and understood the impact on me is less when I can say it out loud. I think that is why we say unkind things we really don't mean, because it feels like we are getting the toxins out of our own body so we don't have to feel them. But do we want to pollute the environment by expressing these thoughts? It is probably a better use of prana to turn those negative thoughts around before they become tangible, harmful words.
And then, something interesting happened when I was back in the world but not speaking out loud yet. Shopping, I whispered to my daughter what she should tell the store keeper when we were making a purchase. It was interesting to observe how I was treated after it was obvious that I was not talking. The clerk, who was quite friendly and lively when we approached, no longer made eye contact with me, nor did he speak. Even though I held the wallet, he made no attempt to tell me the total and it seemed difficult for him to hand me my change. This short exchange made me feel, well, inadequate or powerless. I unfortunately recognized this behavior from when I was a child and tried to take care of my parents in stores or where I thought people would not be able to understand them- while I thought I was helping them "manage'", I might actually have been disempowering them.
What wasn't surprising is that when I picked up my son over the weekend he didn't realized that I couldn't talk and that I had been sick- somehow it didn't seem strange that I wasn't talking in the car, or back at home. I guess he was so excited by the prospect of a non-questioning mother that he thought Christmas had come early. By the time the weekend was over and he was going back to school I had my voice back. THAT he did notice. Sorry kid, it is not christmas yet.