It feels like it’s been a very long time since I’ve written a proper blog post, my energies in the last six months being focused on my charity, my practice, and maintaining something resembling a social life.
A recent series of discussions I’ve been having with someone new to the Mysore class has inspired a flurry of thoughts, which have in turn inspired this blog post and hopefully more. It’s very easy, particularly when you’re ‘REALLY busy’ (as most people in London tend to be), to just do what you do and not take time to step back and reflect on what it is you’re doing. Sometimes there just ain’t the time. That’s how the last little while has felt. But having these discussions has unexpectedly given me the chance to step back and ponder about a few things, most recently my practice as it is now and where it has evolved from.
One of the most interesting things that has come up for me is the realization that the important thing is not the practice but having a practice – a solitary pursuit you engage in regularly. Not just once a week or a binge after an absence. Followed by another long absence. But something you are committed to, dedicated to, something you have the discipline for and something, most profoundly in my opinion, where you encounter yourself. Regularly. It could be meditation, pottery, whatever. It just so happens that my practice is that of Ashtanga.
I read a lot of blurbs on yoga websites talking about how yoga helps you connect to your true authentic self, lets the divine flow so that you can vibrate with the eternal now and manifest through the infinite beyond. For some reason, they also include lots of words ending with –ity: potentiality, directionality, ethereality, multidimensionality. I do not lie. Strangely not ‘grandiosity’ or ‘impenetrability’. I seem to not be alone in picking up on this.
I’ll try not to be too bitchy and say that I’m sure these people could explain just what it is they mean if asked. But to me, it’s language that doesn’t really mean much. Lots of words saying very little at all. So what do I mean by encountering yourself? To me, a solitary discipline such as Ashtanga brings you face to face with YOU. Your frustrations at having tight hips/shoulders/ankles/toes and the subsequent finger-pointing at your parents for passing on bad genes. Your impatience at wanting to be doing the cool stuff that the girl in the corner is doing where she seems to be balancing her entire body weight on one finger yet you’ve only been coming to class for two weeks. Your growing resentment at not having met your authentic true inner pure self because that’s what was advertised on the website.
You encounter you. And it’s often this encounter that’s harder to deal with than the physical restrictions and lead to people leaving and going to that nice gentle vinyasa flow class instead. To me, the encounter is what is important – the practice, the poses, the fancy stuff are just a means to get there. They provide the framework that offers you this access to you.
And it is this encounter that requires you to meet yourself regularly and [hopefully] learn to respond to yourself in healthier ways. It provides the opportunity for you to build a relationship with yourself – where you learn to be kind, to appreciate, to listen, and so much more – and it is this that you take out to the world around you. At least, that has been my experience.
I’ve always been interested in the big questions, in understanding myself and the things that happened in my past that led to the patterns they led to so that I could start undoing and setting down healthier patterns. I’ve always been engaged with some form of personal development – books and therapy, my work where I’ve had to constantly self reflect (how could I expect those I work with to do so if I don’t engage in the process myself?), Vipassana retreats, shamanic retreats. All of which have fed into my practice and the regular encounter with my self, and my practice has in turn fed into the personal development.
Stepping back and looking at my life now, I see that the personal development I engage in now has taken on a different form and comes from the relationships I choose to have in my life. My small circle of very close friends with whom I’ve achieved a deep level of intimacy that is precious. Close members of my family where there have been some particularly bumpy rides and many a button being pushed but the relationships are now deep because we have worked through things and I’ve chosen to make the effort to work through those things. I try to maintain a relationship with the world around me – staying open and receptive whether I’m scuba diving in the magical seas around Indonesia or stuck in traffic in the rain in Hackney.
I see that a great deal of that commitment and dedication to working through the hard times and reaping the rewards as a result as coming from learning to be with myself on my mat. And taking my relationship with myself outwards to the people and the wider world around me. I also see that it’s definitely not a process that can be rushed. And something that is still continuing and will continue in ways I look forward to exploring.