The Soft Spot


If you’ve been coming to my class or reading this blog you know I’ve been working a lot with Pema Chodron’s classic book When Things Fall Apart. A couple weeks ago I wrote about my relationship to emotions in the context of the yoga world, and it’s something I’m still thinking about. 

Last month on my training course I spent several hours a day in asana practice and had a much deeper and consistent meditation practice than I normally do. Consequently a lot of junk got filtered away and my meditations and practices were starting to get into the tender stuff – the soft spots. It’s not something that can easily be defined, but if you’ve ever had a good cry in savasana or had strange powerful memories coming up in a meditation, you know a bit of what I’m talking about. If you practice meditation and/or mindful vinyasa yoga long enough, at a certain point in time you can no longer hide. And of course, life will at some point throw you a grief or sorrow that brings you straight into it.

Pema Chodron describes this sensation of finding the tender spot in the context of the Buddhist idea of boddhichitta, a sanskrit word that means among other things, “noble or awakened heart”

“We awaken this bodhichitta, this tenderness for life, when we can no longer shield ourselves from the vulnerability of our condition, from the basic fragility of existence. In the words of the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch your heart and you turn it into compassion”… It is said that in difficult times, it is only bodhichitta that heals. When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself… We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole… When we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings…”

Later, she describes this feeling, this tenderness, this connection found through suffering as ‘the love that will not die.’ It’s a pretty heavy idea that it is our suffering that brings us closer together and allows us to have a deeper appreciation for life. Because naturally when suffering, grief, and sorrow comes you want anything but for it to be there with you.

After I lost my father in an accidental death, I went through many stages of grief. However, the one that was most frightening to me and which I still struggle with is the shielding of the heart from future sorrows. Because shields you build to protect yourself from unpleasantness are pretty indiscriminate and end up blocking everything else too.

The structure and support of meditation and posture practice can lead one safely through the storm. Through my practice and teaching I’m trying to encourage and strengthen the ability to sit with the good and bad, to allow oneself to rest in whatever the experience is. And as I’ve written before, to go into the discomfort without judgment or fear, to go into the challenge and see what it reveals.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Christopher Isherwood translation, illustrate that “undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.” Everyone experiences these sensations through internal or external sources and we need to know how to meet them. if we do everything we can to stay comfortable and away from volatility we’ll end up pretty much alone in the human experience – even more terrifying. We befriend them and treat them with love and care and in time both the feelings and are experiences are transformed.

Through facing our emotions, our pains, our depths together, the deep noble heart we all share will be revealed and together we will feel its warmth.