Taozi Tree Yoga is proud to present…
with the delightful and beautiful guest writer… Mary Davis.
When my dear friend Theresa asked me to be a guest writer for her up and coming blog, I panicked. How could I become enlightened by mid-April? My anxiety followed me like a poorly trained puppy in its teething stage, constantly biting on my heels and whining for attention. ‘How can we get away with this?’ my ego and I conspired, ‘how can we sound smarter than we are, and more clever than all the rest?’ I reminded myself of Sméagol in Lord of the Rings, my ‘precious’ was my pride.
I hadn’t been in more than a half dozen yoga classes in my life when I sat for a ten-day silent meditation retreat in Thailand. I was a complete meditation rookie, a novice in all things quiet or still. I was an extreme extrovert, medicated for ADHD for over a decade and had an unhealthy attachment to all my technological gadgets, but I thought, how hard could it be? I was quickly humbled after the first day, with ten hours of sitting and one night of ‘sleep’ on a concrete bed with a wooden pillow. ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I thought. I didn’t know it then, but I had just given myself the biggest gift I could have hoped for, exposure.
It was an inner battle every morning, afternoon, hour, even every two minutes. ‘I have to get out of here’ I’d say to myself. But each day I’d convince myself to hold tough until the next yoga session, then I could reassess how much hell I was in. The bell rang each morning at 4am, we had meditation from 4:30-5:30 and then an hour of yoga outside in the gazebo. Control and scarcity still ruling my every move, I nearly ran from the mediation hall, brushing past mindfully walking women, anxious to claim my spot at the front. Clearly I still had a number of things to learn about what I was doing there.
Looking back now, I felt like that hour of instruction, of physical meditation, was my food and water, my nourishment, the only thing getting me through the biggest purge of my life. What’s more, I found value in something that didn’t associate with the blaring noise and mindless chatter I liked to constantly surround myself with. Near the end of each class, I made a pillow for my face with my hands and laid belly down, staring out at the rising sun and the family of reds, oranges and pinks that reflected on the placid pond ahead. In those few precious minutes, I could feel my ligaments tingling from the release of the last pose, and my body settling into the knowledge that it could rest. Like clockwork, each morning at sunrise, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of effortless beauty wrapped into this one moment. I was seeing things, for a split second, as they were, and they were so wondrous!
…Something deep in the pit of my chest felt so calm, so relieved.
It isn’t until writing this now that I am able to connect the dots that began on that retreat and have lead to the dedicated yoga practice I’ve developed over the past few years. Living in Beijing at the time, within my first week of returning from Thailand I went to a yoga class in the city. Warm tears welled up in my eyes during savasana as I realized that this thing, this feeling, this experience, could be felt in other places. As my muscles softened and I lay there in silence, hearing the faint horns of electric bikes and public bus drivers switching gears, I again felt relief. I was calmer in those five minutes than I had ever been amid the bustling city of 20 million people. Needless to say it was enough to keep me coming back.
In the beginning, much of my time studying the asanas I spent pretending to know things I was certain I didn’t, while discovering that those things I was certain of, were wrong. Blessed (or cursed) with an overly flexible build and long limbs, I was able to weasel my way into poses beyond what I was ready for. A few over stretched hamstrings, stiff necks and sore shoulders quickly made clear to me the weight of the phrase ‘stay on your own mat’ though I admit, I am still a long way from winning the battle with my ego during practice. That’s the irony, anytime I make the achievement of the postures more important that the intention I’ve set for class, I’ve lost.
Following a few heart breaks and health scares, job changes and continent hops, more ten-day silent sits and a couple of years passed, I am still coming to my mat consistently, and more fervently than ever before. I had no idea when I picked up this ‘hobbie’ that it would become the moral compass with which I try to make the biggest, and smallest decisions in life. That, to me, is the biggest testament of the practice. It drew me in with one limb but got me to stay with the other seven. It has become so much more than the physical contortions I saw it as. It has become the path that is bringing me back to me.
“A pedestal is as much of a prison as any small, confined space.” -Gloria Steinem
I’ve worked with some amazing teachers and have at one point or another idolized them all. I often catch myself, neck craned, staring up at these fellow yogis on the pedestal I have placed them on. It’s as if their entire existence is in a realm far greater than mine, simply because they’ve been exposed to the sutras a couple of decades longer than me. Currently in the middle of my own 200-hour teacher training, I am seeing how silly this pattern is, but why is it so tempting? Because it supports the misconception that the big answer, the key, that ultimate happiness and enlightenment can be found externally rather than internally. That a fancier mat, a loftier book, a more enlightened guru will be what it takes to set me free. That the solution to the Self, is found outside of the Self. This, I am coming to find, is one of the biggest lies of them all.
I wrote a testimonial for one of my teachers a few weeks back. I said ‘you’re such a clear window through which the natural beauty of the practice shines through.’ All idolizing aside, I truly meant it. And upon rereading my words, I found that it has been and always will be the practice, not the teacher, that brings the peace. The gift of having amazing instructors on my yogic path has been finding that I too have the potential to inspire others as they have inspired me. Throughout my history as a student in school, I remember struggling to relate to those who aspired to teach. ‘Why would I want to spend my time teaching others?’ I thought, ‘instead of getting smarter myself?’ Today I can laugh with compassion at my previous self, for ignorantly believing that there is nothing to learn from teaching others and watching them grow. To be a clear window for students requires getting my ego out of the way, and letting this tradition, thousands of years strong, stand on its own. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel to help others backbend into it.
“Change is horizontal where as transformation is vertical.” -Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho)
As tempting as it is to try and compile a few added paragraphs on the jewels of wisdom I’ve collected and attempt to dazzle readers with a sparkling talent show of spiritual sayings, I must refrain. For my ego is the most flexible of them all, and can chameleon its way into my writing as easily as my postures. I am so appreciative when a teacher asks her students at the end of class how we plan to take what we’ve cultivated in the last hour and bring it into the rest of our evening. How will we carry it through until the following morning, the end of the week, the month? How will we live our yoga? Far and away the toughest posture to hold is the backbending of my will towards that of Creative Intelligence. It’s the twisting of a dark cynical perception of what I am not, into a salutation of gratitude for what I am. It’s the broadening of my patience and the lengthening of my humility.
I came to know yoga through meditation, and I like to remind myself of that. I don’t show up to practice hoping to burn extra calories or check off my daily exercise box, it is something more sacred than that. It is a time centered around the intention to put the mental bat down and be with what is true. As I feel my body warming inside and my heartbeat steadily increase, I feel little struggle and massive surrender. With a deep inhale my hands slowly rise to the sky, and with each exhale I fold forward into a pool of acceptance, each series of breath taking me closer to my natural state of being.