In yoga teacher training—we’re closing out week three of four—we’ve been talking about how the will won’t ever be enough alone. Matt asks: “Have you ever noticed how even in your best efforts, you can’t live up to your highest ideals?” I had a lot of ideas about what and how much I’d be doing by now that I haven’t. That’s sort of the long way of saying I’m sorry for not writing.
Here’s the short version: Thanks to Tennessee, I know I want land and to grow my own food. Thanks to Arkansas, I know I want to know more about yoga and that I’d like to teach. Thanks to the road time in between, I know that I’m actually the kind of person I’ve always admired. I want to keep going.
Plans for the second half of the year are shifting a little. I’m still not sure about how much or when, and it’s that liminal space that makes me squirm—that damn Unknown. Still, where I used to freak about making the right decision, I think I get it now that they’re all right. They just go different places.
There’s a limit to striving. At a certain point it isn’t up to me and what a relief.
Instead of a New Year’s resolution, I like to pick a word. This year’s is courage. From David Whyte:
Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public—to show courage, to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, given the accolade. But a look at its linguistic origins leads us in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, coeur, or heart.
Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a professional future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. To be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made.
There is courage in leaving home and traveling to unknown places, but there’s greater courage in venturing inward. It takes bravery to investigate our own hearts—to hold up our most deeply held beliefs for questioning.
I’ve operated on fear most of my life. Fear told me that people would reject me unless I never ever ever ever messed up. It told me that my dreams probably wouldn’t work out, so why bother? Fear swallowed my self-trust and sent me scouting for danger even when—especially when—everything seemed to be going my way. It made me critical and cynical.
I’m over it.
But undoing habitual patterns is hard. Freakishly hard. I designed this trip to help shake me loose—to propel me inward as much as forward and to force me, with so much unfamiliar, to notice and question the parts of my inner dialogue that hold me back from doing the things I really want to do.
Every day you get to choose. You can accept knee-jerk, fear-based reactions and you can blame something or somebody else for how crappy you feel. You can berate yourself for not doing or being better, and you can wish that things were different.
Or you can look for possibility. You can sniff out a learning. Laser your attention on how much you already have and what you can give to a situation. Then you give it. This is courage.
Tomorrow I head to my brother and sister-in-law in Virginia. After a few days with them I officially leave my comfort zone for Tennessee.
*I should probably put it out there that this is not a “proper expression” of Warrior III—my head, hips, and heel should be in a straight line—but the photo had so much more feeling than the “correct” one, I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes correct is boring (except when incorrect gets you hurt, so please be careful with your body).
Today’s my last day in Bethlehem. Tomorrow, this guy and I head to Kneehigh so I can fill my best friend tank before I go, then it’s dinner with Mark’s family. Saturday, he and I are putting finishing touches on the car and taking a trip to REI. Sunday I leave for D.C.
I’ve been thinking about this weekend for a long time. I’m ready to go: prepared and feeling positive. But today the dog and I stayed in bed until 11 because I’m still sad as hell.
Dogs are the best. I wonder if he’ll recognize me on Skype.
We’re taught mythology as part of ancient history. Gods and goddesses, astrology, prayer, shamanism, mysticism, ritual, spirituality—anything that breathes of the supernatural gets relegated to the past that we’ve left behind. We’re “better” now, more “advanced” without all that. We roll eyes at New Age and scorn woo-woo as a bunch of emotional nonsense. Why?
Every advancement in technology has been a step away from the primitive. As our clothing, homes, travel, and work have gotten more comfortable and convenient, we’ve distanced ourselves more and more from a reality that humans used to live closely with: Death. This is nowhere more obvious than in the (awesome) advancements of modern medicine. We just don’t die like we used to. It’s gotten easier to pretend like we might not have to die at all.
Capitalism preys on this denial—couldn’t exist without it—since everything that the free market preaches is worthless when we’re gone. If you want to be accepted by the culture, you’d better hop on the death-denying train and start making some money. The life you can’t yet afford but that will definitely make you happier is waiting.
It’s a promise that offers control. There’s a reason we pursue wealth and status for decades, sometimes our entire lives. The path is straightforward and safe. It’s material, external. You can walk it forever and never have to face the messy stuff—you know, feelings. And yet we still hurt. We’re unhappy and we don’t know why.
Woo-woo work is emotional work. It’s healing, and healing—the confronting and stripping away of self-limiting beliefs—involves the death of how and who we used to be. Feelings and death? No wonder we write this stuff off. It’s straight up ego murder. It’s terrifying.
For most of my life, I’ve snubbed all things spiritual. No chanting in my yoga classes, please, I’m here for the pushups kind of deal. The idea of God made me squirm. Love and peace was for delusional hippies; I was after progress and a raise. I hurt all the time with depression and anxiety, but I was achieving all the right things and so I told myself that my pain was wrong.
Pain is never wrong, and it’s not for sissies. We all have it, and pretending like we don’t doesn’t make it go away. In fearing and ignoring our hurt, we feed it. In facing it, we heal. That’s where woo-woo comes in. The tools ask us to reflect on our emotional world so we might make it a more hospitable place. And when we heal, we make room for others to do the same. We find compassion.
I’d like to share photographs of my practice this year, which isn’t something I’ve done much in the past. I want to talk about why.
Images can be empowering, but they can also be exclusionary. There’s an ongoing debate about “yoga selfies” (photographs of yoga practice—they come in varying amounts of clothing). Do the images inspire people to get on the mat? Or do they fetishize the body and fuel the ego? Do their typical depictions of thin, young, white, and very abled bodies just push society’s message that everyone else is not enough?
My body fits the culturally praised mold, and until recently, I thought that meant I shouldn’t show it—that sharing images of my practice might make me self-centered or (way worse) hurt somebody. I don’t ever want to hurt anybody.
There is shame in this kind of thinking. Women have been made to feel it about their bodies and themselves for a long time.
There’s also a tricky and fascinating thing called PROJECTION that I’ve been learning about. Projection is when we say, “You’re hurting me” instead of “I’m hurt.” It’s when we blame others for things in ourselves that we are afraid of or that we dislike. It’s an abdication of responsibility. I’ve been saying, “Nobody wants to see this,” when my hesitation to share really comes from a very long history of self-criticism—feelings of my own not-enoughness. I want to admit this because maybe you’ve done it, too.
First of all, this culture will tell you at every turn that no matter who you are, you are not enough. Second of all, I’m realizing that truly all I can control—and thus all that matters—is my intent. I will always share in the spirit of growth and kindness and truth, even when that space feels so vulnerable (kind of like now).
Also, let’s be real: A selfie is a self-portrait, and artists—not just millennials with smartphones—have been taking self-portraits for a long ass time. Why are we so huffy about them now?
Yoga (and Jungian psychology, but more on that later) has been teaching me about compassion, self-love, and honesty. I want to share what I’m learning: that no one determines the kindness of your inner dialogue but you; that taking pride in your life and beliefs isn’t narcissistic, it’s vital; and that everything that you are and everything that’s happening right now actually is OK (political climate aside). No more shaming.
This is the practice. Sometimes it comes with a side of booty shorts, and why the hell not?