As it turns out, I haven’t been feeling so great. I’m ‘going through it.’ It’s been a process of dredging and clearing, filled with anguish and pain. It’s a ‘normal’ story; a human story. My story, which, now that I look at the word, resembles Mystery … Yes. It has been a mystery.
I feel like I’ve been crumbling; unraveling. It doesn’t seem bad or wrong or inappropriate, just hard. I realize I’ve lived with a cylinder block on the accelerator for years, decades, even. The car is in neutral and I rev high, burning up tons of fuel and not going anywhere. I see how this pattern helped me hide, avoid intimacy, flit above the surface and keep a distance. I imagine I’m chipping away at the cylinder block and now see that it’s made of really old, deep sadness. Perhaps ‘just’ my grief; perhaps the grief of ages passed through my lineage … could there be threads of my Mother’s Mother’s Mother’s loss? I look back and see poor choices and faulty logic. I see distraction and denial. I see coping mechanisms that served their purpose but now appear as tacky caricatures. And I’m crying. A lot. And trying to understand the tears, which in many ways simply limits them. By wanting a framework to hang them on, I almost challenge their validity and minimize their importance. Do ‘feelings’ require understanding?
The class started with this from Rilke’s Book of Hours, a collection of poems that he wrote from the persona of a monk in a Monastery, writing about longing (for God*, for Truth, for Realization):
(To that younger broker)
as I who came back from the same confusion
learned to pray.
I returned to paint upon the altars
those old holy forms,
but they shone differently,
fierce in their beauty.
So now my prayer is this:
You, my own deep soul,
Trust me. I will not betray you.
My blood is alive with many voices
Telling me I am made of longing.
What mystery breaks over me now?
In its shadow I come into life.
For the first time I am alone with you –
you, my power to feel.
(* If the word God causes you to recoil, please substitute any word, image or concept that reminds you of the highest potential … “The Universe,” “Truth,” “The Great Mystery,” Love.)
Yin Yoga provides this incredibly valuable opportunity to FEEL, physically, energetically and emotionally. Basking in sensation and even mining it for revelation is such a gift. Acknowledging that you have feelings is the first step; allowing yourself to feel how you feel while inviting in the multi-faceted layers of feelings is a rich experience of unconditional self-acceptance. Rather than questioning the feelings, wondering if they are ‘right’ or ‘appropriate,’ simply feeling them validates their existence.
As humans, it seems we’re biologically programed to chase pleasure and avoid pain (attachment and aversion). We cling to things we think bring pleasure, perseverating over how to get more of them and how to make them last; we abhor things we think bring pain, building walls of hatred and resistance, and numbing ourselves with stimulants and depressants of all kinds. We unconsciously believe that it’s possible and preferable to live a life of pure happiness, bliss, and pleasure, and even believe that ‘enlightenment’ or ‘awakening’ is a continuous experience of such exalted states. This creates an unconscious belief in our own inadequacies any time we feel anger, sadness, jealousy, guilt, shame, etc. It’s like we blame ourselves; we make ourselves ‘bad’ for feeling badly. One of my teachers, Antonio Sausys, invites practitioners to embrace a ‘full life,’ which includes everything on the emotional continuum. I call it ‘full spectrum living,’ in which we are seeking not only ‘good’ or ‘positive/happy’ emotions, but rather emotional resiliency, which is the ability to feel everything and not get stuck anywhere.
In the Radiance Sutras, by Lorin Roche, PhD, #103 says:
Abandon all these attitudes
Of wanting to prolong pleasure
And avoid suffering.
Let the heart be itself and feel
Whatever is there.
Freed from clinging and avoiding,
The heart regains its poise
And revels in creation.
Plunging deep into its center,
Discover that the heart is moved
By a pulse that is everywhere.
Another of my teachers, Anodea Judith, once spoke of different patterns of holding: holding on, holding in, holding out, withholding. Within your practice it’s valuable to seek and find the ways in which you hold, (the breath, tension in the belly or the shoulders, etc.) to see if holding is a way to block feeling.
Dare to Feel!
This reminded me of another Rilke poem in the same collection:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Book of Hours, I 59
And the idea of longing reminded me of this piece, by Judith Gass:
“Why are you waiting to begin your life? Do you think the world must care
and come soliciting? Listen to the knocking at the door of your own heart.
It is faint because you have not answered. You have fooled yourself with preparations.
Time left laughing while you considered possibilities.
Wake up you have slept long enough.
Wake up tomorrow may be too late.
When you finally dare open the door
Your life will begin arriving, cautiously at first, unbelieving that the gate
So long locked against the tide has finally been opened.
Then with swells of neglected dreams.
Then with waves of joyful revelation the sea will follow.
You will be swept by the full and magnificent tides of your own longing,
That no one else can give you;
That no one else can claim.”
Thank goodness all of these poems are accessible from the same phone I use in class to keep time in the poses! I remember the ‘ole days’ of teaching yoga when you had to have the actual book of poetry to read from. I would need to teach yoga in a poetry library!
At this point, the students were asked: do you allow yourself to want what you want? Can you embrace your own longing without judgement, and pursue its source with wild abandon? Do you question your own yearning, finding it inadequate, yourself unworthy, or the feat otherwise impossible? Is it something you’ll ‘get to, later,’ … perhaps after you’ve fulfilled other duties or someone else’s vision of what is right for you? I love the idea that the thing you are seeking is causing you to seek. Perhaps by following our dreams and deepest desires we will receive the situations and circumstances for our highest growth. Perhaps all desire is a desire for the Ultimate.
This reminded me of “It’s Rigged,” a poem by Rumi:
It’s rigged — everything, in your favor.
So there is nothing to worry about.
Is there some position you want,
some office, some acclaim, some award, some con, some lover,
maybe two, maybe three, maybe four — all at once,
maybe a relationship
I know there is a gold mine in you, when you find it
the wonderment of the earth’s gifts
you will lay aside
as naturally as does
a child a
But, dear, how sweet you look to me kissing the unreal:
comfort, fulfill yourself,
in any way possible — do that until
you ache, until you ache,
then come to me
And this one, from St. Theresa of Avila:
I had a natural passion for fine clothes, excellent food,
and lively conversation about all matters that concern the heart still alive.
And even a passion about my own looks.
Vanities: they do not exist.
Have you ever walked across a stream
stepping on rocks so not to spoil a pair of shoes?
All we can touch, swallow, or say aids in our crossing to God
and helps unveil the soul.
Life smooths us, rounds, perfects,
as does the river the stone, and
there is no place our Beloved is not flowing
though the current’s
force you may not always like.
Our passions help to lift us.
I loved what I could love until I held Him,
for then – all things – every world
And this, one of my favorites, also by Rilke, in the Book of Hours:
You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all,
The darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.
So many are alive who don’t seem to care.
Casual, easy they move in the world
as though untouched.
But you take pleasure in the faces
Of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
Who grip you for survival.
You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there
And on the topic of desire …
One revelation I’ve had is that the desire for something, whether it’s a new car or home, job or relationship status, prize or accomplishment, is really a desire for the FEELING we expect to have once we obtain whatever are pursuing. We think satisfaction and fulfillment – which are feelings – are contained within that which we seek to possess. But the feelings are already within us; these external objects simply put us in touch with what’s been ‘there’ the entire time. And maybe that’s what we’re doing our whole lives, choosing situations that will evoke/provoke the feelings that we (consciously or unconsciously) crave. This is a scary thought, because it implies that we each court many of the situations from which we claim to seek freedom.
This made me wonder if I am unconsciously replicating/creating the very situations that I ostensibly seek to diminish. This is a koan I will chew on through the weekend: The feelings I am seeking externally actually reside within me and the external things are simply avenues of access. Perhaps I can find ways to feel what and how I genuinely want to feel without needing outside props. Hm. This is very interesting.
The last piece I read is also from the Radiance Sutra, #100
All this talk of purity and impurity,
These are just opinions. Beyond them
Are the mysterious energies of creation.
Rays of light from a trillion suns
Illumine the altar of your sky.
Rolling blue-green oceans
Sanctify the air you breathe.
In this moment, you are inhaling their blessing.
Who are you to call any of this pure or impure?
Find the center around which everything revolves –
Stand here and be flooded with joy.
What do you think? More like Claude Monet or Salvador Dali?