In a recent yoga class, the focus was on the gate pose known in Sanskrit as Parighasana which is a deep side bend usually performed with one knee on the floor, the opposite leg outstretched and the torso bent toward the outstretched leg. As we were practicing the pose the yoga teacher spoke about this pose as a metaphor for an entrance or an exit to stages of life. This comment prompted me to think about some of the entry and exit points of my life and how I have used these key times to expand my own development.
Some of these opportunities came through the usual developmental phases of adulthood:
- completion of post-secondary education and entry into professional life;
- marriage and the change from individual to ‘couple’ thinking;
- parenthood and the unbelievable joy of guiding a child and watching the child develop in unimaginable ways;
- facing the death of parents and death of a sibling;
- moving from the world of work into retirement;
- and, growing older and facing my own mortality.
As I thought about the gateways to personal growth that each of these phases has presented, I experienced again some of the emotions and feelings that were present during these transitions — feelings that ranged from utter bliss and joyfulness to frustration, anger and rage at the unfairness of life. As I explored the memories and how each phase changed my life, I wondered how much my thoughts influenced my feelings.
Any cognitive therapist knows the power of using the thought process to shape behaviour. How much did my sometimes negative cognitive processes shape the emotional reactions? How were these reactions different when my thought processes were more positive?. On reflection I realized how many gateways had presented themselves. To my chagrin, I also realized that I had missed many opportunities for personal growth.
Just as the metaphor of the gate offers openings to explore personal growth, it also offers exit points and opportunities to leave behind those aspects of self that no longer help you in your life journey. Reactions to failure, disappointments in relationships, frustrations with friends, pride, and judgmental thinking can be overcome. Negative responses and the resulting thought patterns can be replaced with positive reframes that create opportunities to learn from failures, disappointments and losses.
As the yoga class ended and we moved from deep bends into relaxation and the end of the class, the teacher spoke again of the importance of the gate pose as a method to become more aware of our thoughts. She used the graphic term ‘stinking thinking’ to describe negative thought patterns that influence feeling.
What did I learn? I have already entered and exited many gateways in my life. By becoming more conscious of the numerous gateways that present themselves every day, I can accelerate personal grown. Becoming aware of negative thought patterns will help me to avoid the pitfalls of ‘stinking thinking’ and will open new vistas. What will it do for you?