The Joy and Shame of Double Dipping

Recently, while at a brunch I saw a delightful sight. A young boy with a big spoon reached into a big tub of creamy white yogurt and with utter glee brought the yogurt to his mouth and licked the spoon clean. His smile was wider than his face. His eyes brightened as he prepared to launch in for a second time. Just as his spoon was about to reach the container, a woman near him exclaimed in a commanding voice, “Stop! You can’t do that! That’s double dipping.”

All of a sudden his wide eyes constricted, his shoulders sagged and his chest caved in. He slumped towards the floor and turned his back away from the yogurt tub with what seemed to me to be a look of confusion. My own heart shriveled a bit as I saw what seemed to be shame – new and unfamiliar- began to creep in.

The boy’s mother, seeing his facial expression, quickly gave him a hug, spooned some of the yogurt into a bowl and gently explained to him what had happened. He cautiously spooned up some more yogurt and brought it to his mouth. She may have protected him from internalizing the shame and he may have enjoyed the taste, but the moment of utter joyful abandon was gone.

As I watched this young boy, I had been sharing his delight and enthusiasm. I was with him in that wonderful moment of anticipation as he dived in for that second spoonful of yogurt. I reveled in the beauty of his simple joy. And then it was all taken away. His mother’s attempt to retrieve it, albeit thoughtful, could not make up for the violent loss.

At first I was angry at the woman who cried out “double dipping.” I wanted to make a pithy retort but words failed me. Later, I realized I wasn’t really angry at her. I was angry for all those moments when wonder is squelched–whether intentional or not.

And then I reflected about how quickly and often do we do this to ourselves? How quickly do we turn a moment of joy into an aeon of judgment? How many of us no longer need an adult to wipe away our wonder because we do it to ourselves?

Sometimes in asana we may experience freedom, joy and delight but then suddenly a voice in our mind cries out, “You should be more flexible! You should be stronger! You should know how to do it right!” When I hear this voice, I do tell it to stop but that voice is stubborn. Silencing it just pushes it to another place. I need to acknowledge it’s there but also recognize that it’s just one of many voices.

So I continue to practice asana amidst chattering voices. Eventually, my mind quiets as I feel the different parts of my body become more integrated. And once in a while in triangle pose, I enjoy a heaping spoon of creamy yogurt.

Thoughts on the Trapezius and Charismatic Leadership

I find that paying attention to the patterns of our bodies is a fascinating adventure in and of itself. In addition, I am often intrigued by how lessons I’ve learned from my body can be a metaphor for my own life, my relationships with others and my understanding of global dynamics.

One day, while teaching a yoga class a thought came to me: the trapezius is like a charismatic leader! I said this out loud to the amusement of my students. It sounded intriguing, but now I needed to explain it.

The trapezius is a large superficial muscle. In anatomical language, superficial means that it is closer to the skin. It begins in the back of the head and continues downward to the part of the spine that connects to the rib cage. It also connects horizontally to the shoulder. Its main function is to move the shoulder blades and support the arms. It also moves the head backwards.

In short, the trapezius is a big muscle that covers a lot of space in a part of the body that we cannot see with our eyes.

Charismatic leaders often appear larger-than-life. They can enter a room and quickly become the center of attention. They have strong personalities and appear confident. Often, one can feel a sense of relief just by being in their presence; they seem to know all the answers. Their strong, assertive presence can lead us to believe that they will take care of things so we don’t have to work so hard.

At first, things feel great. Sometimes they remain that way. Charismatic leaders such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi have made noteworthy contributions to society. However, there are many examples throughout history where charismatic leaders take control to serve their own inner needs and not the needs of their followers. Sometimes this happens gradually. Followers slowly give up their initiative and inner power. Then one day, as if out of the blue, pain appears. But actually, it’s been brewing for a long time.

Am I talking about people or muscles right now? Both!

We may be sitting at our computer, happily writing a story or surfing the web. We begin to lean our head forward and our shoulders round. The trapezius engages and the rhomboids, which stabilize the shoulder blades along with the serratus and a team of other muscles, don’t need to make much effort. After repeating this action many times, the rhomboids realize, “That trapezius is nice and big and strong. I can let it do the work; I can relax. I don’t need to be active.” Then the serratus and the rest of the team of muscles follow suit, and before we know it, our shoulders stay rounded, our head juts forward and we experience a searing pain in our neck or between our shoulder blades. Someone, perhaps in a yoga class or physical therapy says, “Soften the base of your neck” and you realize that you can’t do it. You have lost the ability to move some of the muscles in your back. The team of muscles that used to work together to support your head and neck has atrophied and the trapezius has taken over!

It’s a big step to make this realization and it can be very painful.

Max Weber, often heralded as one of the founders of Sociology, understood charismatic leadership to be less about the distinguishing traits of the leaders and more about the relationship between the leaders and their followers.

Once we have acknowledged the pain, we have a choice about how to be in relationship with it. We can accept the pain and continue on the same path, resigning ourselves to our loss of power and control. Or, we can begin to nurture the atrophied areas and slowly come back to a more integrated whole where our muscles work together as a team. Bringing vision and consciousness to the back of our hearts (the theme of my classes this past April) is a good place to start.

Handstands and Wonder

kids4blogMED

One afternoon, after teaching a class on handstands I was sitting on the grass while some kids were playing. They put their hands on the ground, kicked their legs up in the air and then immediately fell down. They were trying to do handstands without giving them any label. After doing this a number of times one of them squealed in delight, it’s so much fun, “we jump up and then fall down again.” I was awed. She didn’t care that she couldn’t hold her legs up in the air. She didn’t care that she kept falling down. She just continued to jump up and fall down.

I could have interpreted her actions as a story of perseverance but I think I would have been mistaken. Perseverance is an admirable quality. There is a lot to say about the importance of striving towards one’s goals but I was awed by something else. This little girl just loved what she was doing. She loved the movement, She reveled in the sheer joy of the moment. She embodied a total sense of wonder.

I believe that this sense of wonder is our birthright. All children, no matter the difficulty of their circumstances can tap into it. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way of entering into adulthood many of us lose it. The experience of wonder becomes a dim memory as we take on responsibilities and focus on building our future and/or lament our past.

But I also have hope that the dim memory of wonder can be ignited. The practice of yoga is one way to re-find the path to wonder and keep the channel open. As adults, we may not find our way there by kicking our legs up in the air and falling on the grass. Our path might be something as simple as wiggling our toes for the first time in 10 years or taking our arms and legs wide in what I call “bigasana.” It may be doing a handstand against a wall or breathing deeply and discovering that some Irises smell like purple.

No matter the path, may each and every one of us find our way there.