Yoga asks us to stay with feelings without seeking to avoid them. This does not mean dwelling in and indulging feelings indefinitely — such an approach can turn into another form of storytelling. Rather, it means that we stay patiently and with an attitude of acceptance with whatever is occurring in the present moment as it arises, unfolds, and passes away. Just put your body there....
When we perpetuate the realm of binary thinking — likes and dislikes, me and mine, inner and outer — we fail to embody the root meaning of yoga — the ultimate interconnection and nonseparation of existence. This is not a reality without feeling or a life dissociated from the world but rather the ability to be fully engaged in life with the ability to fully experience its impact."
— Michael Stone, The Inner Tradition Of Yoga
I love these bits and pieces from Michael Stone, because they remind me that we as yogis do not always have to be perky. We are allowed to feel the full depth of the human emotional spectrum without invalidating or doing violence to our psyches by denying the more shadowy of those emotions. This means learning to be with all that we feel — even the most irritable, politically incorrect, difficult, complicated emotions — and trusting that, with the help of the breath, we can stay with them, and watch them "arise, unfold, and pass away," all the while residing in that place of equilibrium. This is the true work of the yogi.
I have been blessed to practice with a number of older yogis in the past few weeks, folks whose bodies perhaps no longer rock Double Chaturangas or even slip easily into Child's Pose, but who are no less committed to the opening and the unraveling, the strengthening and the softening inherent to this discipline. And in that brief time, I've been struck by how much I'm learning from just being around them, learning about grace and ease and non-attachment and learning to let go and just be with life, and with this (aging, aching, loving) body, exactly as it is.
About five years ago, when seriously one or two people were actually reading this little blog at all, I heard, through a friend of a friend, that someone I barely knew, some young woman stranger, enjoyed reading my piddling writing "because it made her feel allowed to be sad."
And I couldn't believe how deeply that touched me — how very much her words meant to me.
Because that's the same gift that writers like Virginia Woolf and Ernesto Sabato and Willa Cather gave me, when I was but 16 or 17 myself, living in a time and a place where pretty young things my age were supposed to smile a lot and toss their ponytails and shake a few pom-poms and be content with a prescripted life of khaki pants and status quos and minivans and conservative Christian fluff theology.
Even now, sometimes I have a hard time granting myself that permission — especially here in this most public of places, a formerly uber-personal blog that has ended up being read by, well, more than just my siblings. It's easy to buckle under the increasingly commonplace contemporary expectation that the yogi (and, in particular, the yoga teacher) must always show up as the most Bright Shiny Radiant Happy version of herself. And in moments like today (er, see this afternoon's earlier post), when there's a little dust here and a little mud there and a whole lotta worms over there, I tend to hesitate to share that full realness of being, for fear of not being perceived as "yogic" or evolved or shit-figured-out enough.
Yesterday I was listening to an old, early 1990's audiotape version of Gloria Steinem's Revolution From Within. It was buried in an dusty box of relics I found while cleaning last week, a book-on-tape that I first listened to as a 19-year-old college sophomore driving 3 days through Iowa on my way to Delaware one cold blizzardy January break. And I was struck, in listening again to Gloria these 14 years later, by what a profoundly yogic message she shared. In the book, Steinem talks about whole-body awareness, about slipping back into all five senses, about learning to be true and clear and authentic and self-possessed, and I realize now that she is yet one more name to add to that above list of influential teachers whose emphases on the importance of learning how to be wholly real, wholly authentic, wholly whole, planted powerful seeds in my not-yet-twenty-year-old psyche these years ago.
We keep practicing. Onward. Reborn in every breath.
"When we inspect our everyday experience in detail, we see that death and birth occur one after the other in every successive moment. What we see in one breath cycle we see everywhere."