In the Vipassana tradition (a Buddhist meditation technique), there is something called “The Seat of Strong Determination.” For one hour of meditation you dedicate yourself to not moving. At all. If you have an itch, you don’t scratch it; if your foot is asleep, you don’t wake it; if you want desperately to stretch out your legs; you don’t. You just sit. It sounds terrible, and perhaps it is, but in my experience of a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat, this teaching was the single-most powerful and transforming. In these hours of intense physical, mental and emotional disturbance, I realized that I was capable of witnessing my own discomfort without giving into it. I discovered a level of strength and resilience that I didn’t even know I had.
I’ve been thinking about those Seats of Strong Determination a lot these last two weeks. As I cautiously make my way through the grocery store, gloved hands on the cart, I watch a never-ending stream of impulses to touch my face, to wipe my nose, to rub my eyes, and I ask myself over and over again, “Is that really necessary?” Most often, it’s not. I’m learning to watch my desires rise and then–usually–dissipate. Just as I did during my Vipassana retreat, I feel more connected to my inner strength in these moments. I feel instantly more connected to the part of me that has the power to choose how I respond to every new technology I need to learn, every bit of unwelcome news, every God-awful rally masquerading as a press conference, every 3 a.m. fit of sleeplessness (and there have been a few of late.).
I’m one of the very lucky ones, I know that. I’m not a healthcare worker putting my life on the line daily, or a dad who has lost his job, or a single mom trying to work full-time from home with little children to educate and entertain. I’m not the 8-month-pregnant cashier at my local grocery store, wondering where it’s going to be safe to have her baby. My anxieties and fears are small potatoes. That said, we are all facing tremendous challenges right now. Some of them are very real and some of them are exacerbated by our imagination. Our job as yoga practitioners is to ask ourselves, when we want to give in to worst-case scenario despair and overwhelm, “Is it really necessary?” Or could I, instead, perhaps, call a friend, take ten deep breaths, bake cookies, do five minutes of meditation, journal, rake leaves, make a cup of tea, dance my heart out, sing a song (loud), laugh at a heartwarming animal video, reach out and tell someone I love them?
We will all likely look back at this period of time as one of the most defining of our lives. What if we could embrace it wholeheartedly as a crucible of powerful self-transformation? How we respond to each challenging moment has the potential to reinforce our resilience or a belief that we are helpless. It can make us more adaptable or more defeated, more patient or more irascible, more compassionate or more judgmental. It’s true that none of us chose this Seat of Strong Determination, but how we respond to it IS our choice. May we all choose to let it shape us into more of who we want to be.
And may we do that with humility, humor and some outrageous chutzpah.