By Zoe Schaeffer, CYS apprentice & graduate
I ended up in Arkansas after things in Boulder came apart, and in the light of hindsight I can see that this is where I needed to be.
I returned to Circle Yoga Shala, the school where I earned my teaching certifications, for help in my work, this lifelong project I’m obsessed with. “My work” or “the work” is a phrase used in therapeutic circles, but I rarely see it explained. What does it mean to do your work?
I used to think that doing “the work” of healing meant conducting a thorough analysis of my personality. Hunting for patterns of reactivity (your triggers and go-to emotional reactions to those triggers) is a part of the healing process, and I still recommend that anyone experiencing anxiety take a stab at noticing where and how it shows up and repeats in their thoughts and behavior. What sets you off? When is the intensity of your emotion out of scale with the situation? How old were you when you first felt that feeling? Questions are good to ask, but analysis is incomplete.
Mind can’t be overcome with more mind, and you can’t analyze your way out of the things that disturb your body. All anxiety, fear, anger, and other emotions begin in the body as energy. Mind hijacks the energy to create a story that it can make sense of. And our pasts create all kinds of restrictions on what we can or can’t make sense of based on what we’ve experienced.
My desire to be different (less anxious, less critical) doesn’t mean that I can will myself to be that way. I am unwittingly biased—my anxiety and my judgment were written into me before I had a say. In wanting those things to just go away, I betray myself. By thinking about my uncomfortable feelings instead of feeling them, I perpetuate them. I may think that I’m managing my emotions by explaining them to myself and others, but until I’ve actually felt them all the way to the bottom, the energy remains. Neuroticism results.
The body came before thinking, and it’s only through direct experience of the body—the tension and contraction of anxiety, the numbness and dissociation of pain, the muscle patterns accrued from past experience—that we can become anything new. To experience my body presently is to bypass the narrative of my personal psychology and to actually live my life, a process inherently frightening in its unpredictability.
The work is a simultaneous recognition of the patterns that rule my behavior—a seeing and a naming of my habitual thoughts and emotions—and a coming back to the body.
When the emotion crests, my work is to stay in the body and out of the mind. In this place beyond story, experience takes its own shape. By living that unique shape right here right now, neurosis dissolves. Neurosis can only exist in the past or the future. The body exists now.
In experiencing now, I become what I didn’t know I could. I drop out of a space of control and knowledge and into one of presence, which leads to understanding and contact with intuition. By coming to the body, which is reality, the warped nature of perception softens to reveal what is.
The irony has been this lesson: Self-betterment is a joke. The work is to relax into what is, not to change what’s seen. What’s seen is the only way it can be—until, under the present and physical gaze of self-observation, distortion naturally falls away.
This is the work: seeing, naming, recognizing, and most importantly feeling experience as it unfolds. The work is to notice when we act out of habit and pattern and to come back to right now in the body as quickly as possible, or else to consciously struggle with the part that resists. This is how we heal.