By CC Leigh
Coconut yoga is a rather whimsical term that means to bow down to the aggrieved party, as if your head were falling to the ground like a coconut dropping from a tree—with a big THUNK. In short, this means being willing to receive people’s feedback when they feel hurt or wronged by you, and to make a real apology that indicates your concern and interest in not repeating that kind of injury.
Showing up to receive feedback in this manner is not often easy or fun—that’s why it’s called “yoga.” It is a spiritual practice, and it takes practice to develop some facility with it. Most of us have a knee-jerk reaction to critical feedback that instantly goes to avoidance, denial, or defense. We either don’t want to take responsibility for our accuser’s pain, or we want to turn it back on them and make them see how they caused us to act that way. It’s difficult to just sit and let the feedback in—but that is what is needed to begin to undo the cycle of injury, blaming, and defensiveness that causes people to withdraw from one another in distrust and hurt feelings.
Coconut yoga doesn’t instantly erase the soreness that can result when you feel missed, or mistreated, by someone else, but it usually clears the way for healing to begin. While not perfect, it may well be the best skill we can learn to foster true healing between people. Unlike the typical drama of relationship, where hurt feelings either escalate into full-blown fighting (with attacking and greater injury) or cause withdrawal into icy silence, this is a third option with the potential to defuse the situation and initiate a process of healing.
A Word About Forgiveness
Forgiving someone as a spiritual practice may feel good and virtuous, but if you haven’t really allowed yourself to feel and process the full extent of the impact that person’s behavior has had on you, it may be a superficial act that doesn’t really release the trauma. Your best intentions to let go of a grievance may not be able to get much traction if the grievance won’t let you go.
One reason for holding onto a grievance can occur when something in you is trying to keep you from being hurt again. However, forgiving someone doesn’t mean you now have to blindly trust them again, or allow them the same access to your tender inner parts. That MAY be the outcome, but depending on the degree of impact they have had on you, and the degree to which they broke your trust, you may need to create some new boundaries between you. With time, and depending on your mutual motivation to rebuild your relationship, trust can be gradually reestablished if you both work toward that end.
Once you realize that you can forgive someone without re-engaging at the same level of intimacy, it becomes easier to at least have a willingness to forgive. The actual forgiveness, when the charge is fully dissipated, comes when it does, more an act of grace than of will. After all, we all share a common human predicament. We mess up. We make mistakes. Sometimes we hurt one another. Sometimes we just fail to see how we’re impacting others through our actions or our neglect. Forgiveness is a generous act; it’s compassion in action. When we extend forgiveness we are making it easier for all of us to be here as our flawed human selves.
All that said, if you haven’t yet expressed your hurt feelings to the one who triggered them, you may simply be unable to let them go. The hurt may cycle around in your thoughts and/or emotions without any means of resolution until it is spoken in an appropriate fashion—and received by the other person. To that end, here are some guidelines to follow if you find yourself in a situation that calls for making amends.
Coconut Yoga Guidelines
A) Bringing feedback
- If you are the person bringing the complaint, do your best to speak about your experience and your feelings or reactions without making the other person solely responsible for creating these feelings in you. Your feelings are your own. The other person’s actions or words may have triggered them, but your reaction is uniquely your own and may well have as much to do with what happened to you in the past as it does the current situation. It’s not, however, necessary to figure all that out in advance—give yourself permission to be imperfect in your presentation.
- Have an idea of what you want to get out of the meeting. What will satisfy you? You may not get everything you want, but having some clarity around that will make it more possible for the other person to give it to you.
- Keep in mind that it’s hard for most people to hear feedback, especially those who had critical parents and for whom criticism brings forth extreme shame. Try to make some allowance for them to be imperfect at this, too.
- Try to be willing to forgive the other for whatever they did that brought you pain.
B) Receiving feedback
- To whatever degree you can, stay open to receiving feedback from anyone who registers that they are feeling hurt or wounded by you in some way. Keep in mind how difficult it is for people to come forward with their feedback and try to support them in their effort.
- Practice active listening by repeating the essence of what you have heard them say. Continue until they agree that you have fully gotten their message. Do this before you jump in and present your side of the issue.
- Find in yourself some sense of compassion or regret for the hurt they feel, even if you don’t think you caused it or should be held responsible. Let them know you care about how they feel. If you can’t feel compassion for their pain or upset, it is a clue that you might be feeling defensive or unjustly accused. Rather than fake it, let them know in the simplest way possible that you’re not fully available to meet them at this time. Plan another meeting.
- If you felt too triggered to go forward, talk to a teacher or other member(s) of your support team and explore what has come up in you around the incident.
- If the situation feels highly pressured, you might ask someone to join you and act as a mediator when you next meet. Sometimes both sides want to have a support person present.
- Find out what the person bringing feedback wants from you, either an apology or some other form of amends. If possible, give them what they want, including your sincere intention to not repeat the same behavior in the future.
- Check in and see if she or he is willing to hear your side of the issue, if not now then at some time in the near future when you could meet again.
Remember that coconut yoga is a generous gesture towards mutuality rather than something anyone is entitled to receive. It is a gift when someone is willing to participate in this fashion, so try to appreciate their efforts even if not done perfectly. Coconut yoga is as much about the empowerment you get from daring to bring your feedback—and then being seen and heard by the other—as it is about anything specific that they say or do in response. If you remember that your old wounds were often compounded by the fact that no one was available to see and hold you in your pain, you will realize what a great healing gift we extend to one another when we are willing to listen and honor.
If your attempt at coconut yoga goes wrong, as sometimes happens, and things seem to be getting worse than when you began, ask for assistance. There are many people in the Trillium Awakening community who will lean in with you to help bring about a positive resolution. Refer to the Guidelines for Conflict Resolution for other steps you can take, or speak with a mediator who can provide assistance when coconut yoga is not enough.
© CC Leigh, 2014. All Rights Reserved.