When Coconut Yoga Is Not Enough

By CC Leigh

There’s a practice in our work called “coconut yoga,” in which anyone receiving feedback about causing another harm is expected to let their head fall to the floor like a coconut dropping to the beach, with a loud THUD. In other words, to bow down and make a sincere apology.

This practice is not easy. It requires a special kind of humility, and an ability to temporarily set aside reactivity, defensiveness, and denial, in order to let the other person’s experience in. It requires compassion for how that person feels injured, even if part of you is inwardly yelling “But I didn’t do that!” or “I didn’t mean it” or even “You deserved it after what you did to me!” And it specifically doesn’t greenlight acting on any impulse you might be feeling to argue, to deny, or to match their accusation with one of your own. You can inwardly greenlight those impulses, but the yoga of the coconut mandates not enacting those reactions—at least not until later with an appropriate listener.

There are lots of ways for coconut yoga to go wrong, and it’s not too unusual for issues to require multiple passes back and forth before both parties feel that they’ve been resolved. But even when coconut yoga is practiced in classic style with the best of intentions, sometimes it’s just not enough.

A key element of making a successful apology is having the intention to discontinue the offending behavior. For example, if you say I’ve hurt your feelings by not giving you equal time and you let me know how much that hurt, and I allow myself to be penetrated by your expression of pain, I will naturally strive to not repeat that situation in the future. I will be more sensitized to what matters to you, and I will try to avoid contributing to your pain in the future—assuming that I can accommodate you without unduly compromising myself. It would be inappropriate to allow other people’s sensitivities to stifle my self-expression in the world, so that’s not the point of coconut yoga. The goal is to find that meeting place where we can adjust our behaviors to accommodate each others’ needs while also staying in integrity with ourselves.

Becoming more sensitive to the other’s pain can produce remarkable shifts in the dynamics of any relationship. Instead of cold indifference, or “F*** you! I’m going to do whatever I please!,” there is permeability, a warming of the heart, a feeling of connection and mutual respect. It may be understood that the pain experienced by the person bringing the complaint is more due to their broken zones than the actions of the so-called perpetrator—but healing can come right in that place of mutual recognition of how complicated we are, and what a dance it is to try to get along.

Compassion for the other person, and having the intention to not do that same thing again, are keys to successful coconut yoga. But sometimes intention is not sufficient. There must also be the ability to deliver on that intention.

Take this scenario: A chronic abuser acts out, terrifies, and beats his or her son in a drunken rage. The next day, the same person when sober feels remorse for their actions, and apologizes profusely. They promise to never do that again. They may even offer gifts, or a special outing, with the intention of making amends with their son. They persist until the child is smiling and acting friendly with them. They feel forgiven, and the child feels hopeful that their parent will, indeed, never hurt them again.

But we know what happens next, right? There is another round of drinking, a triggering comment or event, and the parent loses control again and beats the kid. And the next day the apologies follow, along with the promise to never do that again.

Over time, the child learns that their parent is unable to deliver on their promises. The promises are empty, and trust is broken. It’s not that the parent is insincere at the time they are making the promise, it’s that the part of them that shows up and acts out when triggered is not the same part of them as the one making the promises.

In a situation like this, where remorse and apology are followed cyclically by a reenactment of abusive behavior, coconut yoga is not enough. It’s actually part of the cycle of abuse! There is an underlying dynamic in play that, until addressed, will prevent real change from occurring. It is important to be aware of this possibility so the pattern can be seen and addressed at the root. Since the shift needed to break out of the unhealthy cycle will come from developing the capacity to contain and regulate emotion through the body, the aid of a skillful body-centered therapist will be most helpful. Otherwise, no amount of apologizing, no matter how sincere, eloquent, or generous it is in offering amends will really lead to the kind of change that is warranted.  The apologies actually do further harm as they eventually destroy trust:  actions speak louder than words.

This is not meant to disparage the value of coconut yoga in any way, but simply to illuminate a loophole, as it were, when something more than coconut yoga is required for genuine healing and reestablishing trust. If you find yourself engaged in a situation where you are experiencing a repetitive pattern and having a difficult time breaking out of it (whether on the acting or receiving end of the behavior), please consult with a Trillium Awakening therapist about possible approaches for exploring the dynamic and achieving lasting change.

© CC Leigh, 2014. All Rights Reserved.