Monday, August 9, 2010
Setting fear aside as "feeling fear," or walking towards it with curiosity
Yoga practice offers the opportunity to step out of the doubts, out of the patterns, out of the feelings that trap us and keep us from fully being present. There is excitement, risk, and sometimes fear of what might happen if we let down our guard, stop protecting ourselves with the stories, excuses, and strategies that help us avoid seeing our own truths. In a physical sense, it may be true that at this point in my practice I cannot touch the back of my head with my foot, but it has no bearing on whether I can breathe into my spine, release my hips, and open my heart. Telling myself "I can't do that" is simply a strategy of avoiding discovering myself as I really am, preferring to substitute an image or icon of myself for the truth. Last spring I participated in a workshop where an assistant working with me was exhilarated as my head came quite close to my foot. He asked if he could help me "get there." I declined. I had no goal to achieve with the touch of foot to head or head to foot. My goal was accomplished by simply being right where I was, walking towards my fear with deep curiosity only to discover it was not rooted in my body but in my mind. This was a joyful moment.
Yoga is not always full of joy. Sometimes the revelation, or insight that comes through practice and meditation, loosens something painful and dark. Buried and ignored aspects of earlier suffering or patterns can be opened and spilled into the light of day. Sometimes I can watch myself grasping, negotiating and manipulating myself in order to rationalize my fear or the pain of the truth. The fact is that time and again, I can let go of the protective reaction, I can see the reaction for what it is and label it as a reaction. What I find is that the truth has always been there, and is a welcome part of me. There is enormous freedom in seeing what is actually there. Rather than imagining that the coiled rope is a snake, I can approach it with diligence, openness and curiosity. Regardless of what I fear, that shape in the darkness is already a rope or a snake, or perhaps simply a shadow of something else.
I don't expect to learn everything there is about existing in the world through yoga practice, but I have found these revelations to be a consistent part of the yoga journey. Learning myself as I am in this moment, holding myself with compassion rather than as an illusion that disappoints, exploring without judging in my physical practice has led quite directly to a similar experience with my other layers and ways of defining myself.
The photo here represents this journey to me - simple flip-flops left at the door of my yoga studio as my students bare their feet to walk upon the stones, warm or cold, to enter the studio. This is a metaphor for the simple baring of the self through practice. Not knowing what we might find, ready to hold whatever it is with compassionate curiosity, we enter the domain where we can see or feel without letting reactive human nature drown out the rest of the self. And this is where the opening begins to reveal so much more about the physical self, about the emotional and intellectual self, and nurtures a sense of being that reaches beyond "the self" into the eternal and infinite. I have no label for this, cherishing the spacious quality, the safety offered, the depth of being present.