Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Loving the Questions

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Rilke "Letters to a Young Poet"

I took a leadership assessment this week. Not to be confused with a personality test, this is an "attitudinal test." According to the introduction, it measures your level of energy based on your attitude or perception and perspective of your world."  Fascinating, right?  I'm still waiting on the debrief, so I'm sure I will have more to report next week, but the taking of the test was interesting and revealing all by itself.

This is one of those tests where the answers are numbered and range from "Always true" to Never true."  The questions are things like, "I believe that I alone am responsible for my success or failure." or "I think most people are selfish." or "I always need to win."  These are paraphrased, and may not even be on the test, but you get the idea. The interesting thing for me about answering questions like this is that I found it almost impossible to pin myself down. It was indescribably difficult for me to commit to how I think or feel because, really, what I think and feel changes constantly. My circumstances change constantly. The people around me change constantly.  My work changes constantly.  How then, can I answer questions like this or measure my attitude with anything like certainty? What I answer will be true right now. It might be true most of the time, but in a minute, everything could change.

There was a time in my not so distant past when I was certain of everything.  I would have comfortably, confidently and easily answered every question, sure of how I felt and what I thought. Certainty, in fact, was the hallmark of my life a year and a half ago.  I believed I knew exactly who I was.  I had an absolutely unshakeable belief in the plans I had laid out for my future. I could have articulated with clarity exactly what my life would look like in 10 years or 20 or 30. I knew who I would be with, where I would be living, how I would be feeling. And then, with two sentences from my former spouse, in less than 10 minutes, it all vanished.

(OK. Pause....I know that the vast majority of you are now eager for the salacious details.  Take a breath, lovely readers, we're not going there today.  More to be revealed on that front at some other time, smile)

The point is, there is no such thing as certainty. I had built a lovely house of cards, and when the winds of change blew through, at first I ran frantically about trying to gather the pieces and at least get them back into some sort of order. But it quickly became apparent that the destruction was too far reaching.  I grieved the loss of my dreams and plans, but it didn't take long before I began to feel a sense of adventure.  Suddenly, absolutely anything was possible.  My life could take shape in any one of a million different ways, and I had no idea which way it might turn.  That was interesting, I dare say, even exciting.

I've had some time now to really dwell in uncertainty, and I've come to realize that regardless of what I believed, my life was always uncertain.   Everyone's is, in fact, and that is one of the greatest and most delicious gifts of our existence.  Every day, every moment, offers a surprise. Sometimes the surprises are delightful: the trilling of a wren outside a kitchen window, the glimpse of a deer in the backyard, the  embrace of a friend you run into unexpectedly, the unsolicited hug from your child. Sometimes they are annoying: traffic on your way to work, burnt toast, a lost wallet. Sometimes they bring incredible joy, and sometimes unspeakable sorrow, but the truth is, we never really know what's coming.

Furthermore, if the circumstances of our life are uncertain, so are the things we think we know. Knowledge is slippery.  Just when we think we have a thing figured out, it changes. Science, Math, History, all are fraught with uncertainty, and so is every base of information we've ever had. Rather than find this unsettling, however, we ought to find this thrilling. As individuals, we are on a lifelong inquiry. We get to explore, dream, discover, unravel, question, and imagine over and over and over again. If we knew the answers to all of our questions, if we could see clearly how our futures would unfold, how stale and uninteresting it would all be!

I, for one, love the questions. I love waking up every day not knowing what the day might bring. I like that I have no idea where I will be in 10 years, or even one. The uncertainty deepens my thirst for life. It makes me want to know and feel all of it, the good and the bad. It makes me interested in other people in a more profound way. It makes me savor every drop of every moment. It reminds me of how small I am in the big scheme of things and how little control I have.

One of the Niyamas, or "rules" from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is Ishvara pranidhana.  Like all Sanskrit terms this can be translated in many ways, but mostly it means surrender to the divinity within. This is a tough one for many people. It requires an enormous separation from ego, but if we allow ourselves to live in uncertainty, to let go of our need for answers and clarity and control,  it becomes much easier to offer ourselves to a higher consciousness. What choice is there except to turn ourselves over in trust and faith to the divine that animates us all?

This is what yoga has become for me.  I am sure of nothing, but I sense a connection to something powerful, constant and loving when I sit in meditation. I feel an energy, a vibration, coursing through my body in asana practice. Each pose teaches me that every day is new and different. Sometimes I can recreate what came the day before. Sometimes I can't. Some days I am able to do something altogether new and unexpected, and some days, the simplest pose topples me over. And all of it is okay as long as I approach my practice with curiosity as an inquiry rather than something I need to master and control.

Somewhere along the way, I suspect, this is a lesson we all have to learn in yoga and in life. The path there is often painful and difficult, but once you arrive, you may just enjoy it... I know I do.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Creating Space

This week at Johns Creek Yoga, much of our focus has been on creating space.  It's January which means a recommitment to practice for some of our yogis, and we're running a special, so we've welcomed many new students into the studio.  Classes are very full, and it has been a challenge to fit everyone into the rooms. We've had to ask people to step outside of their comfort zone, to shift their mats, and to move back into beginner's mind in order to accommodate all of the students. This has required a generosity of spirit and an openness on everyone's part, and it has been touching to see so many people selflessly moving to make others comfortable. 

And here's a secret: this practice of creating space is really the essence of all we do when we begin to live consciously both on and off the mat.  In yoga, we spread the collar bones wide, drop the shoulders away from the ears, lengthen the spine, inner spiral the thighs, spread our toes and fingers wide apart and invite the breath to fill the vacuum, flooding the body with Prana and energizing every cell. The space we create deepens our experience of each pose; it strengthens our alignment and allows us to transcend the limitations we believe we have. 

Imagine if we could invite this same openness into other areas of our lives?  The good news is that we can, and here's how:

1. Claim a sacred space for yourself.  I am fortunate enough to have the studio, empty and silent in the early morning hours, but your space could be anywhere. It can be as big as an open field or sandy beach, or it can be as small as your 68 inches of yoga mat.  Make this an area where you can spend time undisturbed by the barrage of your electronic devices.  Make it clear to the people in your life that when you are in this space, you are unavailable. Then be sure that you really do check out. Sit down and quiet the chatter of your own mind. Tune into the flow of your breath and the rhythm of your heart, and into that quiet space invite inspiration. Follow the impulse of the body. If it prods you to move, Move. If it beckons you to stillness, Be Still. We have become a culture on the go, constantly connected to inanimate devices, removed from our own spirit and disengaged from our own bodies. Taking time every day to simply make your own acquaintance will open you to the abundance of the universe in the same way that creating space in the body can open you to a deeper pose.

2. Clean the clutter out of your life.  Most of us recognize that in our homes and businesses, every now and then we have to clear out what we no longer need.  The same is true in our relationships and personal development.  Take stock of the people and activities that claim your time and energy. Ask yourself if they still serve to strengthen you and help you grow or if they are limiting you in some way. Notice if you do things out of obligation rather than passion. Then eliminate what no longer brings you joy or invigorates you.  If you are longing for deeper connections with people who are awake in the world, you may have to remove yourself from shallow connections that served a need at one point but no longer resonate. If you want to cultivate habits and pursuits that align with your heart's deepest desires, you may have to eliminate the ones that have grown stale. Give yourself permission to do this and follow through.

3. Let go. Really. Let. Go. Yes. This is the biggest challenge, but it is the most significant step to truly create space for possibility. If you are holding on to resentments, injuries, heartbreaks or unfulfilled desires, let them go. We store every experience deep in our bodies, minds and hearts, so start on the mat. Practice breathing in possibility and breathing out negativity. Practice shining the heart forward into the space you create by drawing the shoulder blades together and tilting the head back. Open the hips to release whatever stresses and traumas you've been storing there. Then consciously let go of the emotions and sensations you discover. Forgive the people who've hurt you no matter how deep the injury. Forgive yourself if you have been the source of your own wounds.  Allow beauty and goodness to flood the space where negative emotions used to lie and bathe in the vitality you create there.

Easy? Of course not!  Growth never is.  It hasn't been easy to find the space for every new student at the studio this week, and it is never easy to find space in the architecture of the body to move deeper into our yoga poses. Creating space for personal development and self-realization is naturally even more difficult.  Like yoga, it's a practice, and we have a lifetime to get it right, but imagine what may await when we create even a little bit more room.... 

Perhaps, as Thoreau suggests, we will become,  "a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within... opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought." Perhaps we can even create the space for the life we dare to imagine.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Welcome to Yoga with Sheila!

After spending a great deal of time in my classes this week discussing the value or lack thereof in making New Year's Resolutions, I must confess that my personal list of resolutions is lengthy, and one of them is taking shape right now.  I resolved to (finally) start a yoga blog, and my first order of business is to offer you an enthusiastic and excited WELCOME!

My hope is that this blog will become a venue for all of us, our beautiful Johns Creek Yoga sangha, to supplement and enrich the discussions we so often have on the mat before and after classes. The practice of yoga is rich and layered, and what we do primarily with the body in our 90 minutes together can only touch the edges of it.

In this context, I look forward to sharing some of the lessons, inquiries and explorations that inform my own practice and my teaching, and I sincerely hope that each of you will lend your voices and responses in order to create an ongoing conversation. I will try to post at least once a week, and I will include many of the poems, songs and readings that I so often share in class.

Today I offer you the beautiful words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer, poet, spiritualist and beautiful soul.  If you don't know her work, I highly recommend you start with The Invitation.  The poem below is The Call  from the book of the same name. I write privately, and now publicly, in answer to the call she describes, and I invite each of you, as Oriah does, to discover and lend your word to the great poem we write together.

The Call
I have heard it all my life, A voice calling a name I recognized as my own.
Sometimes it comes as a soft-bellied whisper. Sometimes it holds an edge of urgency.
But always it says: Wake up my love. You are walking asleep. There's no safety in that!
Remember what you are and let this knowing take you home to the Beloved with every breath.
Hold tenderly who you are and let a deeper knowing colour the shape of your humanness.
There is no where to go. What you are looking for is right here. 
Open the fist clenched in wanting and see what you already hold in your hand.
There is no waiting for something to happen, no point in the future to get to. 
All you have ever longed for is here in this moment, right now.
You are wearing yourself out with all this searching. Come home and rest.
How much longer can you live like this? Your hungry spirit is gaunt, your heart stumbles. 
All this trying. Give it up!
Let yourself be one of the God-mad, faithful only to the Beauty you are.
Let the Lover pull you to your feet and hold you close, dancing even when fear urges you to sit this one out.
Remember- there is one word you are here to say with your whole being. 
When it finds you, give your life to it. Don't be tight-lipped and stingy.
Spend yourself completely on the saying. 
Be one word in this great love poem we are writing together.

© Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from the book The Call, HarperONE, San Francisco 2003

I will end with the words of one of my favorite teachers..."More to be revealed."  Check back or, better yet, subscribe to receive your weekly update.