I died a thousand times

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“Every yoga practice is an experience of death.”

Nameless Yogi

What is certain? Certainly not the future. So what is happening right now for you?

Listen. Let the sounds reach you. Become aware of the temperature of the air on your skin. The breath that breathes you. The quality of light that surrounds you. What is happening right now in your body? Become aware of your posture. Your shoulders. The slight tension in your jaw or your brow. What can you hear. And smell. And taste. And what is the texture of your emotions as you read these words? How do they find you today?

Take a moment.

Close your eyes.

And listen.

“We practice yoga, not for life but for death. If any of you are practicing for the life you are mistaken.”

I don’t know his name but it’s not important. I’m more interested in the life force that is joyfully animating his slight Indian form. There is a lift and dance in his movements that reflects the impish arc of his smile, widening with his eyes as he teaches from the front. Witty and provocative, he amuses himself as he watches our addled brains lumpishly wrap around the esoteric enquiries of the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.

“The only thing that is certain is death. In pranayama we are controlling the life force, no? We hold our breath. We stop the life that is breathing us.”

In every moment there is a death. Each moment that has just past is gone. To sit inside that moment and this moment and that moment is to live more fully. To experience the moment as it passes away is to live and die in a heartbeat. Or at least, that’s what I thought he was talking about.

What I also thought he was talking about was the power of yoga to transform. That gradual metamorphosis of who we are, how we see ourselves and begin to experience the world. We peel back the layers of conditioning, shedding the old skin that doesn’t fit any more. We begin to notice our recurring patterns, start to see through the traffic of our thoughts, catch ourselves in our shadows and, as we practice, something luminous begins to sing in our words and ways. In how we treat our bodies, listen to our loved ones and get closer to ourselves. As the dead cells fall, we rise up to live.

Asana, meditation, and the ancillary practices, burn and burn and burn till we reach the stillpoint. We move our bodies to still our minds and come home to this expansive state of being that anchors us so fully into the now that everything else diffuses. Through the practices we die a thousand times. And, conversely, the parts of ourselves that we have cast away and denied get to live again. The judgements, the expectations, the chaos and the ideas about who we ‘should’ be are replaced with something far greater. A truer sense of what lies beneath. One that pierces through those tired concepts of ‘self’, allowing them to perish so we can become fuller.

In a previous lecture, our artful guide challenged us to consider that yoga is not union. Yoga is separation. This was dangerous ground, I thought. Yes, we are separating ourselves from our thoughts and our concepts but we can all too easily separate ourselves from our feelings in a bid to ‘transcend’ our ‘suffering’. In my understanding, it is only through uniting with our suffering that it can pass away. We must experience that which is painful to allow it move through. As with death, we can’t avoid it. If we push it away, deny it, separate from it, bypass it, our spirit will die from the toxicity of what remains buried. In contrast, if we recognize what is truly living in us, if we see the certainty of our pain and the root of our suffering then it can dissolve. When we shift from the consumption of thought to the consciousness of feeling, we learn to honour the whole spectrum of human experience and facilitate flow. By not getting caught up in the story that surrounds what is happening, by ‘separating’ our thoughts and ‘uniting’ with our feelings, we become more alive as those concepts die a death.

 

 

The handstand tree

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Beyond the threshold of our handmade kitchen lies a small garden, and all I can see is the swing and the handstand tree. The sun warms the earth each morning, and calls me to rise up and meet the day. Walking over the cool pebbles, I find myself delighting in the dirt, seated upon a sheepskin rug and draped in a peat coloured blanket. Right hand to heart, left fingertips to panchamama, I sit beneath the open-armed tree and close my eyes while the birds sing me in and the sun melts through sleepy thought-form-fragments of the dream world.

When I open my eyes again, the swing is perfectly still and silently beckons with the promise of flight. I love a good swing and so I go, to-and-fro, under the canopy, before hopping off and clawing my hands into the earth, kicking my legs and turning myself upside down. Its not everyday I let my inner child consciously lead but when you have a swing and a handstand tree, it’s easy to play.

Play.

What if it was all play? What if all of ‘this’ was the universe expressing itself? A cosmic dance that was all for the taking, whether it felt good or shitty or ecstatic or terrifying. What if those moments of sheer frustration and uncertainty could all be seen as part of the play? “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” said the great Carl Sagan and that idea gets me, every time. The Universe isn’t just a pretty place filled with twinkling stars, silvery moons and planets that rain diamonds. It’s fiery and full on and those pretty stars are raging balls of gas and flame. There’s been a tornado on Jupiter that has been stirring its storm for 300 years. The sun, our great star, is both nourishing and destructive. The universe is ever expanding and full of contraction. Our existence is a result of perfect alignment and sheer chance. Space exploded in a cosmic fire and emerged from a point smaller than a single atom. One single atom of potential infinitude. One single atom of endless potential. And there are as many atoms in a single molecule of your DNA as there are stars in a whole galaxy. Now that is a whole lot of potential. Right there. In you.

Life is full of seeming paradoxes but what if we could live inside the whole of it? What if we affirmed all of life and took each and every experience for what it was? Could we allow ourselves to feel our feelings? To wrap our arms around all the parts of ourselves, whether we liked them or not. Could you see the potential that is inside each and every one of those seven billion billion billion atoms that make up the whole of you? You are literally made of potential and at the heart of that potential is the possibility for great joy. To find something that fills you up and helps you taste the nectar of your own being.

In a recent handstand workshop, the playful Hanuman and co-founder of Acroyoga, Jason Nemer, offered up a piece of wisdom that will always stay with me. He said, “fear is, more often than not, unlocked joy.” The fear to dance, sing, play, love, to stand on your hands, peer behind the mask, open your heart, fulfill your potential. Behind that fear is a whole load of joy, just waiting to happen. Behind that fear is endless potentiality. As Neil de Grasse Tyson says in the brilliant Cosmos, “we are, each of us, a living universe”.

There is a swing inside of you that silently beckons, with the promise of full flight. If we can come to delight in the dirt and turn ourselves upside down, we can move beyond our fears to taste the whole of life, in all its nebulous beauty.

take your seat

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In out-of-the-way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

John O’Donohue

Do not take lightly your tentative toe steps or the whispery calls of a long hushed voice. Do not take lightly a sudden awareness of being or the experience of your whole breath. Do not take lightly the awkward sensation of not knowing and the fear of getting it wrong. And do not, for one minute, think that you are not supposed to feel this way, as you begin to gradually unfold.

Those first steps onto the yoga mat might seem inconsequential. They might seem small. They might just seem like a bit of physical juju as you foofoo around from one ‘pose’ to another. But when you step onto a yoga mat, you take your seat. The word ‘asana’ means ‘seat’ and though you might not feel like you’re doing a whole lot of sitting that is exactly what you are doing. Taking a seat inside yourself. Seat by seat, pose by pose, you come into view. You make contact with the ground of your being, landing softly and remembering that it was always already there but you somehow forgot. That this fluorescent, vital, life-force managed to somehow become dim. That the very essence of you became wispy, imperceptible … hard to reach.

Every organism on this planet is here to grow and each time we take our seat, we reaffirm our commitment to that process. Yoga is one way to take that vow and, more often than not, it takes us by surprise. It begins with the sweet remembrance of embodiment. Of what it feels like to become alive from the neck down, and not because our head is telling us that our body should exercise but because we have actually started to feel again. Droplets of awareness sink into our cells, and, before long, we can hear our bodies speak. Breathe into their message. Receive their wisdom.

I deeply wish to grow. I deeply wish to grow. I deeply wish to grow.

Our breath seems fuller, sensation more acute, our capacity to feel becomes more present and our understanding of embodiment transforms, as we wake up to ourselves. Those first steps onto the yoga mat can lead to the deepest seat you might ever take inside your own being. They can take you to unexpected realms of perception as your intuition sharpens, your awareness expands and your reality takes on a whole new level of detail. As your relationship to the world around you shifts, your relationship to yourself can truly evolve. And that is the stuff of miracles.

There is a voice that doesn’t use words.

Listen.

Rumi

 

A blessing for your unfolding

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May you happen upon yourself

And be stunned at your own brilliance.

May you stand still in silent recognition of your light.

May you realize your true worth and trust in your unfolding,

May you rise up from the depths of your vast, unchartered heart.

May your heart be torn in two to break through the final holding,

While tears of joy pool in rivers along the banks of your soft neck.

May vulnerability guide you deeper into knowledge of your courage

And may courage be your chalice and your chosen cup of truth.

May your truth pour freely from you as you share your healing stories,

May your stories be received with all the love that they bestow.

May you see yourself more clearly and may you see that you are seen now

May the in-between spaces be the places you call home.