Swasthi praja bhya pari pala yantam
May all human kind be happy and well
In our efforts to fulfill this, for ourselves and others, we tend to dip into consolation. The practice of telling ourselves the story that everything is alright, when it’s not. You can’t rush happiness and wellness. I, you, and all of human kind, are far better served by what Stephen Batchelor calls confrontation. Not the confrontation of demanding answers and reckoning, but from the root of confront, which is to come face to face with.
In yoga practice, consolation can become the side effect of working with our tendencies towards perfectionism, self-consciousness, and judgement. Our practice allows us to see how those tendencies are ways that we keep ourselves small, that we reaffirm old stories that no longer (if they ever did) serve us, that are harmful to us and our relationships. So we start to catch ourselves before we get going on the “Why can’t I just…”, “I’m better at this than they are”, “disappointed noise/grunt at ourselves” pendulum swing.
And then we throw ourselves to the other end of the pendulum swing – “I’m not good at balancing anyway.” “I’ll work on this in the next side, down dog, class, week” “It’s ok, not a big deal, doesn’t matter…”
It’s not a big deal, yes. And it’s also a big deal. How do we drive our experience a bit deeper – how do we actually stand face to face with what’s arising – confront what’s actually there?
The next time you practice: notice when you judge (pendulum side one), when you console (pendulum side two), and when you confront. You can fall AND it can suck AND that can be ok – with the right attunement to breath.
Another console pitfall is the idea of “the teacher” or “the lesson”. Sometimes we can be a little hasty when we encounter a difficult situation to make it our teacher – the subway, the rude person – and we start tying it up in the “patience teacher” “compassion teacher” before we’ve actually confronted and sat in it. We can know it’s happening, because the lesson/teaching just sits on the surface of our experience. It doesn’t sink down in a way that really shifts anything.
Our habit of consoling in relationship is not only strong, but culturally reinforced – it’s pretty much expected of us.
I was with a group of friends as we were about to embark on a day together enjoying the late summer weather – yoga together, then coffee, then brunch, then playing in the park. One friend could only make the coffee portion due to weekend work coming up. He expressed feeling disappointed – that inner-three-year-old-disappointed that just wants to stamp it’s foot a bunch of times. I started to say things like “Well, at least you go to come to coffee.” “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll do this again soon.” “You’ll get a lot out of this work session, right?”
The words just kind of sat there, until I realized I was consoling. And so I told him I took them back, I didn’t mean any of it. And we discussed instead this idea of consoling versus confronting. It’s doesn’t make anything better – but confronting what is can be way more refreshing, nourishing, and in the end, settling than the quick rush to consoling.
Can you bring this into your life practice? Do not console, yourself or others. See what happens.
“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.” – Marcel Proust