Yoga and Finding the True Self Beyond the Self

At the conclusion of yoga class last night my teacher said “Just remember, this is all you have to do to come back to your true self.” I felt a smile wrap itself over my lips as I heard her voice exactly what I had been trying to lose myself in order to find.

The practice of living has made my studio yoga attendance rather erratic. Time constraints but also the demands of the hermit aspects of my soul have caused me to become a more solitary yogini (with the help of Elsie and Hillary‘s podcasts). Somehow, I had almost begun to parallel my inability to find a place in an organized religion with my resistance to getting back to class. Both injuries and the discovery of the spiritual potential of my practice made me avoid the dictates of a teacher; I sought an unmediated relationship with the yoga muse and any resulting revelations.

Finally, last night, however, I got back to the yoga space that has been such a vital part of my life for four years.

I have always enjoyed this particular instructor’s classes even if I am often contemplating collapse halfway through (she sometimes tends toward the “ass kicking” style that Suzi at Yoga Like Salt mentions), so I was joyfully surprised that last night’s session was marked by long forward bends and a creative take on sun salutations that was more about deep lunges than constant movement through the Vinyasa. The fact that her class was exactly what I needed again showed me that I need to be open to the promise that the Universe will always send me guides and that everyone and everything can act as a teacher.

It had been a long week, and I arrived on my mat heavy with an exhaustion I had willingly invited to consume me. I knew deep down that focusing on my practice would energize me, but I was taking a skeptic’s stance on such a miracle: “ok, yoga, you think you are so magical, just try and wake up this sorry excuse for a body.”

The miracle on the mat settled over me despite my disbelief. Instead of fighting my way through a warrior pose sequence that set my quadriceps screaming, I remembered my own rhetoric and applied the wisdom I spend so much time studying. I allowed myself to realize that yoga truly is a moving meditation and an essential part of my spiritual practice, not just an alternative to the gym.

It became such that truly being present in a pose meant to forget that my arms were outstretched to the edges of my being and that my legs were the pillars connecting me to the earth. It meant that all thought and breath could fall away so that I could lean into a back bend and feel my inner vision clear to reveal a deep, sweet void full of everything and nothing, a space that was infinitely larger than the individual yet sized perfectly to hold me. In this forgetting of my body, I could find my truest home within myself and realize that my limbs were stretched to their truest expression and my breath had found its essential rhythm.

In reading James Martin’s Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints I found voice for my worry that to cast off elements of the false self (the proclivities and neuroses and dramas that make me me) in the search of the True would leave me somehow bereft of personality. Finally in finding glints of bliss in surrender did I begin to understand “Our personalities are not eradicated as much as they are made fuller, more real, and finally more holy.”

Beyond All Separation: The Birth of the World

Image AfterStill taken with Rachel Naomi Remen‘s interview on Speaking of Faith, I want to share her description of the “Birthday of the World”:

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.

And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that’s around you.

In the last few posts I have spent some time examining my relationship to organized religion (well, to Christianity and Catholicism really since that is my only valid reference point). A story like this makes it all the more clear that the separations that are necessities of the labeling and packaging a belief in God are truly irrelevant.

This myth from the Jewish tradition is new to me, featuring terms I have never heard, but that does not make the tenets of its vision any less relevant or awe-inspiring. The story acts as the poles of the tent that support the beautiful blanket that is the belief that God dwells within all of us. I am building my life around such a belief, but never had the chance to describe this unifying light to myself with images I could understand.

Initially I was attracted to this part of the interview because Remen said, “We are all healers of the world.” It is through my desire to be a healing force in this life that I became attracted to matters of the soul in the first place. The sense that this practice of restoration is a global project and an imperative of the human race inspires me to live with a sense of purpose I have only just begun to explore. The theological questions of whether we are on a trajectory to return a perfect time before history began is best discussed at another time; for now, this tale can simply be a new way to experience the present.

Even if one wants to find fault with organized religion or at least remain an outside observer, one vital and enduring benefit of entities like a local parish is the sense of community that such places provide. We know that we need such a sense of connection to feel whole and recognized. This story gives us a way to understand all people as members of one spirit community populated with everyone who is responsible for making this a better existence. Certainly one can feel the loneliest in a crowded room, but perhaps drinking in this story fully can dispel some of that sense of alienation.