What is it we really know?


When I was a little girl my Father would take my sister and me to a community group drawing class. It was a nude study class and everyone would sit all over the room with their various drawing tools; oil, watercolor, chalk. We were all watching the same subject but we all had different pictures. Not only because we were seated in different locations but because that is human nature. We are all different and we each come from different places, experiences and bring that to the current moment.

This moment came to mind the other day because there are times where we allow for uniqueness and other times get so locked or fixed in being just like everyone else. Often our first response is to judge, criticize or find fault; trying to find the differences or find ways that we can relate to someone else. When we do this though we push away from the actual experience; we end up shifting the topic back to ourselves as a way to identify with it and become very subjective. Just like my example above if you looked at my drawing and couldn’t identify with it, you may find yourself quick to judge. Or you may not understand it but start telling me about your story instead – changing the story to your experience rather than the actual moment which was about my painting. Why do I bring this up? If we can learn to let go of that initial response you may be able to have an current moment experience with it. You would let go of trying so hard to self-identify with the moment and just be in the moment.

I was listening to the Jazz Channel the other day and they were explaining Swing Jazz; how each artist has different sounds in the music but as long as the tempo was the same it was fine to be unique. He related this concept to life. As a family member there are going to be moments that I want the last piece of bread or I want to sit in the front seat of the car. However I can’t always get this. I have to understand that many times I have to ‘serve and therefore be served’. If I give I will have a moment of being given. That sometimes we each are asked to do this; let one person have their moment in the front seat and I can gladly take a back seat for them. However I can’t sit in the back and complain about how I wanted to sit in the front seat; I have to let them have their moment.

Yoga isn’t any different. Many come to yoga or mediation of course for various reasons and for many those reasons start to expand. I practice for different reasons than I did years ago. Today I practice because it helps me to stay calm, be focused and make good choices in my life. I am not the void of human emotions like anger, sadness and fear though. My practice helps me to redirect and be in the here and now more often; awareness. Such an easy concept but really hard to do over and over in my day.

My sister and I were talking the other day and she was sharing with me a story about her boys who are involved in various soccer teams on the weekends. She shared with me that the day before an event the coach from the other team tried to request a change; he left a message by accident to the opposing teams coach saying that ‘their team was far better in the rankings and they would prefer not to waste their time.’ His request didn’t happen but my nephews coach decided to share the message with the boys. He told them not to be upset with the other team for their message or attitude. Instead he offered that even if they did loose, that they were winners if they played with their heart. As it turned out right at the last minute they scored and won the game. It could have turned out in either direction of course but it was their own approach that they were able to shift and enjoy the event not based on winning or loosing or waiting for others to treat them well.

Our intension, mission or approach makes the difference in everything. I often tell those in yoga classes that there is doing things mechanically but then there is the intension – this makes it a yoga practice. Just hoping or wishing isn’t enough. We tend to see through on any intensions or missions we set for ourselves. Many can miss the importance of this. Mainly because they go with what they can visually see. They come and try so hard to put themselves into something physically. They are so fixed on that, that they aren’t mindful, hurt themselves and even if they do achieve it, they still haven’t worked on something much more important – their approach to getting there as well as coming out. There is a beginning, middle and end to a posture to be experienced.

Right now I’m reading an amazing book about Indra Devi (The Goddess Pose – see my book list tab), the first woman to teach yoga in the West. I’ve always known about her but not at this level. I love learning about her as well as her imperfections. Yes she too wasn’t perfect. Yet we often idolize and look for the answers from those we admire; The Pope, Dhali Lama, Ghandi, Superstars, Presidents etc. Listening to them is wonderful but we often set ourselves up for impossible goals; something we keep seeing far off in the distance. The goals are always away from us and we somehow can’t see ourselves there. We never get moments to appreciate things right now. We spend our days with task upon task to reach our goals. Very little time to celebrate them when we get there – we are off to the next goal.

We also get stuck on the word “correct” or “right way”. The correct way to do yoga, to meditate, to grieve a loss, to celebrate, to live in society. Recently I overheard some friends talking about transgender issues and the “correct” way to announce it to society and family. I smiled and asked why they felt it is was ‘correct’ or better to be silent about it? They really didn’t know the answer when I asked that – they just responded with that was the way it happened in their family. Then as we sat there and dove into this more we just admitted that there was a preference to their way because that was how it was always done; comfort and fear of something new or different. They couldn’t identify with someones life, so it is easy to retreat back; aversion, worry, doubt. It was easier to doubt the intensions of the person coming out in public about something and push the experience away. By the way, this is natural but it is so important to call it out for what it is. Change is hard and we often pull back into words like “beliefs”. Like a blanket, our beliefs keep us warm and safe. We believe that anything that interferes with them will cause harm; but this isn’t so. The older I get the more I start to see that we don’t know much and I’m ok with this. As a teacher I used to talk about what this posture did, but what did I really know about that? I was busy, like many new teachers, mimicking what I had been told. But did I really know it to be true and more importantly did it really matter anyway?

Learning more about Indra Devi though I know she spent her time in classes doing just this and of course it probably brought many back to her classes. ‘This posture will cure this back pain, this one will help with digestion, this one will fix your headache, this one will fix arthritis.’ It may have that effect but then again it may not. Who really knows for sure? For me, I like to offer various suggestions but I want the student to dive into what they feel right there. Almost every class I will have someone who wants to shout out “Where should I feel this?” I smile because I just return the question with a question and ask them where they feel it? Each of us needs to trust themselves more and dive into their own feeling and experience with it.

What I admire so much about Indra Devi though was that she was told that women don’t learn or practice yoga but she trusted her instincts and did so anyway. She trusted her inner truth though even though society had other beliefs. I wonder how many push that inner wisdom away because isn’t easy. After all, taking that risk my not be popular and we may be shunned, made fun of or bullied.

When I was in the hospital 33 months ago many were busy telling me what I could or couldn’t do any longer. But when I asked more questions about that I found that they were just as clueless at understanding what happened to me as I was. I found a group of others who also had Dissected Arteries and Strokes and it has been interesting to see the medical advice they receive. Some were told not to do any yoga, any stretching or strengthening at all. Another was told that he could continue running but to not go to Zumba because he may turn the neck too fast or hard. Some are told, like I was, keep moving but just avoid putting hard pressure on the neck and spine. I’m not saying that I know medically what is right but something tells me that to go from one extreme to the other is just as wrong. I know I need movement as a human being to feel alive otherwise my body starts to shut down.

Helen Keller wrote that there isn’t any proof that we will live longer by being safer. “Security is mostly a superstition” she said. Another quote I love is from a Zen Master; when asked questions his most common reply was “not always so”. This would drive his students mad. What he didn’t hold all the answers? So our truths or beliefs may not always be so.

Today I find myself really teaching from this place and it is quite exciting to see differences from each class. I remember at Kripalu for my 500 hour training being asked to step away from my comfort zone. So today I’m no longer teaching from a place of performance, the usual bag of tricks I know from past lessons, but instead to dive into right here and now even as a teacher. I offer a dedication at the beginning of my class, privately to myself, to serve each person in-front of me. Even as teachers we get caught in what we can visually see and it is hard for us to admit that there is much we can’t see, explain or understand. Alignment is not fixed but we often treat it that way. Not saying that being a teacher, specialist or doctor means it is useless. But we are just guides to possibilities that may or may not be the solution. I’m there to watch, listen and offer suggestions to let that person have their own unique experience.

Each of us each day are asked our thoughts and opinions – for many this is our daily job or career. I’m not dismissing doing this but offering the possibility that there could be places where we stop, listen more and sometimes aren’t rushed to offer a decision or solution. It makes logical sense, but just once I would have liked while I was in the hospital for my doctor to have just said “not always so”.