World peace and black sheep
WORLD PEACE AND BLACK SHEEP ( 29th Jan/2012)
Last night I was perusing Ted (wwwted.com), feeling like a little inspirational input, I watched an incredible, moving and thought provoking piece by Eve Ensler, poet, writer and activist famed for the ground – breaking “vagina monologues”.
The piece “ Suddenly my body” was insightful and bold. I resonated immediately as a human being and as a woman with what she expressed, but also as a dedicated yoga practitioner, exploring and fascinated by the body-mind-spirit. There was a profound retelling of her experience, the essence of which seeped into my yoga practice when I rolled out my mat this morning.
As I settled into child’s pose I began to explore the possibility of tuning into what was actually happening in my body. Each time I roll out the mat it is a little like going on a journey – a bit cheesy I know, but honestly it rings true to experience.
Initially it’s quite a surprise to feel a mild sense of contraction, or restriction. I can ride a bike, do the shopping, walk the dog and feel relatively fine. Good news, right? However in the simplicity of child’s pose I’m reminded of how easy it is to disconnect from the subtle whispers of tension when in the grip of the tireless mental stream, or simply engaged in the hustle and bustle of physical activity.
The workings of the mind are so intriguing, and I have probably spent far too much time pondering the irony of why, with its infinite capacity to evolve and develop, would it ignore the body that so generously supports its ability to exist?
It seems, that even with its incredible scope, creativity and genius, the mind is put to work in some very unhelpful ways. Some of the greatest minds on our planet are employed in subtly programming our culture into believing that we are simply not enough, that our bodies must not stand in the way of our minds’ ambitions and desires.
Succumbing to the cultural hypnosis, we become adept at ignoring the body, we build an impressive resistance to pain, the same impressive resistance that later prevents us from hearing or feeling the subtle language of the body.
We are praised for attaining a certain weight and shape, even when the effort to sustain it is potentially emotionally and physically exhausting. Speed is of the essence in terms of visible results, and we so” just do not have the time” to wait for an organic process of healing on every level. Yep, we are sold the McDonalds approach to health and happiness and we are buying up all the tickets.
My teacher once used the metaphor of pumpkin soup versus ice cream to explain something. I recall it here as it says it all : one leaves us deliciously satisfied and nourished, and the other we may crave, yet it fails to satisfy.
Not wanting to be left out, being pack animals as we are, we join and bond with others that seem to be under the same hypnosis, a bit like sheep. That way we can help each other if we stray from the path. If you have ever decided to walk the other way around IKEA (I say with purpose” other” and not “wrong”) just to see what happens, you will know what I mean: going contra – flow can be a bit of a struggle!
A bit cheeky, I know, referring to lovely people as mindless sheep, but please bear with me, as I like many others who drift in and out of the above hypnosis have experienced a more pleasant, fruitful way of inhabiting my body while on planet Earth.
I have at times carried with me a deep-rooted belief that I was not o.k. Where did that come from? I have also, many moons ago, as a rather unhappy fashion model, unwittingly identified with and placed more importance on how my body looked instead of how it felt. When things have gone a little belly up and life has got tricky, I have doubted whether who and what I am is actually enough.
I have also enforced outrageous amounts of non – stop partying on an exhausted body in a bid to escape my perceptions of reality, favouring the more colourful version offered up on the wings of Liquid Acid. Growing up with an adept fitness and nutrition expert/ personal trainer as a father, I have witnessed more people than I can count yoyoing between peak fitness and depressed couch potatoes, and hence developed a discerning eye for the latest fad, and a mistrust of empty unrealistic promises.
All of the above I am deeply grateful for, especially the liquid acid, which gave me my first clues that potentially there was a lot more to my body than I’d previously imagined. Feeling the apparent solidity of your body (an instruction often said by my teacher, which describes the experience perfectly) fading into the sand, becoming the sand and the sea, the beat of your heart in rhythm with the pulse of the earth, kind of leaves a loving fondness and appreciation of embodiment never to be forgotten.
The subtle cultural hypnosis via music, TV, literature, etc. can however sink deep into the uninquiring mind and turn to a deep-rooted belief that we are not o.k. And so we find motivation to fuel our desire to obtain a body other than the wonderful unique one that God gave us.
The body, so obliging, supports the desires of the mind, dropping hints here and there about the unsuitability of our mind’s ambitions, but for the most part it doesn’t kick up a big fuss until, as in Eve Ensler’s case, it’s already a bit late.
I have been fortunate to have a wonderful wise and non- conformist teacher, a black sheep among sheep, whose teachings have brought me great joy and also frustration, as once having encountered a black sheep it’s very difficult to rejoin the fluffy white variety even when you really think you want to.
Through his teachings I have been invited to embark upon an organic communication with my body, a communication based on sensitivity, deep listening and open responsiveness.
After twenty years of yoga practice I can still feel the conditioned patterns of pushing, aggression, grasping, avoidance, dissatisfaction, impatience -you name it, it’s there- but amongst that is a sense of knowing that, as much as they exist, so too do the innate qualities and possibilities inherent within every human being, the qualities of kindness, loving acceptance and wholeness.
In my yoga practice there is sometimes pushing, sometimes not, sometimes moving softly, other times not. There are moments when the breath slides, slips and fades so smoothly, and others when I can’t let go of hurrying and pulling in the inhalation, the breath reflecting the tension in my ribcage and diaphragm, and perhaps also the desire of my mind to go deeper than my muscles are ready for.
But I am at last practising with this body of mine, not the body of someone else that I wish I had. I love this body and the practice has become an act of love.
Today post practice I ponder the impacts of cultural conditioning and feel deeply grateful for the counter – cultural essence of this practice.
There are times when I lose connection with why I’m on the mat, why I teach yoga, and its relevance in my students’ life and my own. However this morning I felt an overwhelming sense of the importance of this practice and its real potency.
I felt a deep urge to write about it in the hope that it may inspire even one person to look into the culturally imposed beliefs about their body/ mind, and just for a moment set them free to delight in their own unique form.
I allow myself to imagine the incredible ripple effects on the world of every “ body” being listened to, of every “body” being cared for, of every” body” being loved.
World peace, how cool! Imagine that! It begins with us and our approach to our bodies.