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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Certified Authentic, Sold As Is

Most anyone practicing yoga will tell you they are on a path of self-improvement and probably on some sort of mission to change something within the world. Yogis have admirable and lofty goals, but along the way they often become confused about their true identity, adopting “what-they-believe-the-yoga-community-deems-proper” personas.

I have witnessed teachers and students beat themselves up because they eat meat, party like an un-yogic rock star, feel feelings of anger, or physically struggle to practice arm balances and inversions. On the flip side, I’ve witnessed teachers and students subtly and overtly judge each other for all those same reasons. If yoga is ultimately about Unity with the Divine and unity begins with self-acceptance, why then do we not allow ourselves and others to BE “real” at any given time without labeling one reality better than another? What is it to BE anyway? It’s just what it says: “authenticity” in a much shorter word.

When we begin practicing the Niyamas or personal disciplines, the second limb of The Eight Limbs of Yoga, we are challenged to “get real”. Svadhyaya (Self Examination or Study) is the fourth of the five Niyamas and it is a swift kick in the asana. Svadhyaya means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts. It teaches us to be truth centered and non-reactive to what we label “good” or “bad” about ourselves. It eventually exposes what we can change and what we must simply accept as a part of who we are.

As we study, we are forced to ask: what is real and true? What are we making up through cloudy perception? What serves us, what doesn’t?

What ultimately serves us is embracing our authenticity by learning tools to express ourselves as compassionately as possible. What gets in the way of authenticity is fear of rejection. To protect ourselves from rejection, we build a walls around our hearts. And we create different masks to wear, believing these will help us become more acceptable, more loveable, and for us Yogis, more “Yogic”.

e.e. Cummings said it best, “To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.” To practice this quote is to be brave, to risk being disliked for who you truly are, but the reward for this bravery is that you are loved for all that you are, imperfections and all.

My Grandfather recently passed away and he taught me, above anything else, to be myself. He never actually told me to be myself; he simply modeled it for me through what my Mom calls “being eccentric to the extreme”. What I once saw as embarrassing or overtly opinionated, I now see as bravery through self-love and acceptance. My Grandfather was the same around everyone because he didn’t have any of those silly masks to hide behind.

I believe the practice of Yoga as a philosophy leads to the burning of masks. In order to do this, we must look at where we maintain false realities based on fear and rejection. Honest evaluation of these false realities is where healing begins. As I am prone to say,”Heal yourself, heal the world.” Nobody said Svadhyaya was easy. My own path of self-discovery and healing has been ugly and painful … but no more so than anyone else’s. And I still have a lot of work to do. Sometimes I want to hide behind a mask or start building up another wall around my heart, but then I remember who I am, that I am doing my best and that even my best won’t ever be good enough for some. I remember I am Divine Love (and so are you) and just so I don’t forget this, I’ve tattooed Aham Prema (I Am Divine Love in Sanskrit) on my wrist and when I doubt myself, I close my eyes and chant this mantra: “You get me, as I am, flaws and all. I accept you, flaws and all.” I believe, at our core, Divine Love is a piece of us all. As we examine ourselves further, practicing Svadhyaya, ultimately this is what we learn. We cannot learn this lesson without the study.

I am on day two of my 108 Days of Svadhyaya adventure and well, it's not going as planned and what I am learning is plans mean nothing and the waves of the Universe will re-direct your plans as needed, whether you think it is good for you or not {meditates on wrist and repeats mantra}.


TD said...

and amen to that (as ee cummings would say.) ;)

YogaforCynics said...

I've known a couple of yoga teachers who seemed like totally blissed-out, over-the-top-spiritual space cadets--perfectly nice, good teachers, but not really the kind of people I'd want to hang out with. Then, however, I happened to run into them in coffee shops or bars, and found that they were still nice, but perfectly down to earth, good humored, and, actually, people I would enjoy hanging out with. I felt like telling them "try dropping the act and bringing *this* to class"....