Big S, little s

“Yoga is in the business of self-acceptance and exploration.”

(McCrary, 2013, p. 15)

In my experience studying sustainability, I became increasingly aware that the concept of the individual—what I refer to as the self—was missing from the field. Rather than questioning the balance of one’s own life, it seemed that the individual was meant to act as a kind of martyr in service to making the world a more sustainable place for present and future generations.

As I reflected on the academics of sustainability, I began to feel like a sustainability hypocrite. My own life was a far cry from the kind of balance I was intending to bring to the world at large. I was not “walking the talk” of my intentions. And everywhere I looked, I began to notice the repercussions of this void in my own life and the lives of those around me.

At great risk to my academic, along with my personal and professional reputation, I proceeded to advocate for the rights of the individual—beginning with my own self—to live a healthy, balanced existence.

I was met with much resistance from each of these three realms but also with support and encouragement. I have never been one to shy away from what I deeply believe to be the right path, so I continued on, creating the term self-sustainability, writing an autoethnography, and earning a doctorate in Sustainability Education.

Since finishing the doctoral program, I have witnessed a shift, even in the focus of the program itself. When I started the program, there was no question posed as to the sustainability of each student or faculty. Now, self-sustainability and the concept of living deeply have become the focus of a required course that I have been invited to mentor.

I write this not by way of congratulating my self but more in gratitude for this small but meaningful shift of focus. If I was at all responsible for this ripple, I am thankful for those who gave me the courage to do so. I do not believe I am on the planet to accept the status quo but rather to stir and shake; however, it can be intimidating and scary at times.

In my post-doc existence, I have felt a bit adrift, searching for a continued path.

I have created a business for bringing songs from people’s stories into the world and performed those songs at venues in Massachusetts and now Arizona. I left a permanent job with the government to pursue these passions, as well as matters of the heart, moving in with my long distance partner in the Southwest.

I have discovered the sage wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh and others who have written about the realm of Buddhism, mindfulness, and meditation.

Am I a Buddhist?

I don’t know. The more aware I become of my own self, the less I desire to label that self.

I recently happened upon a book that explains the many yoga practices from which one may choose. In it, the author describes two ways the yogic world refers to the self—the Self and the self. I was blown away by this simple but incredibly meaningful distinction and include the author’s words here:

The Essential Self

If you’re read any books or articles on yoga you’ve probably seen the word self written with both a capital S and a lowercase s. In certain philosophical schools there are two selves, the lowercase self, which is associated with the material world, and the uppercase Self, your essential or transcendental Self (or spirit). (McCrary, 2013, p. 4)

How have I only just happened upon this concept?

I find that there is synchronicity in how and when I discover people, place, and also ideas. Perhaps, I learn something when I am ready, when I open my Self up to the universe of opportunity. When I take notice, I begin to see it everywhere.

I practiced Ashtanga yoga for a year when I was living and teaching in France. This practice, along with learning a method of deep breathing referred to in the yoga tradition as “yogic breathing” provided a means for maintaining my sanity while living in a very stressful environment. When I felt my heart race and breath become shallow and quick, I would sit and practice breathing from my nose down to my stomach and back again. And I would experience some element of relief and peace, however transitory.

Upon returning to the United States, I left yoga behind. I created a life that seemed healthy and happy enough on the surface. I ignored the warning signs that crept insidiously into the layers of my conscious. I lived in this ignorance—I would not call is blissful—until the walls began to crumble from the storm brewing from deep within.

In my time as a doctoral student, I began to shed the layers of expectation and self-identity that I had created out of necessity and in the desire to please those with specific ideas of who I should be and what I should do with my life.

It is a practice that I continue and one in which I do not always succeed. Self-doubt and the work of my inner critic are powerful forces at work inside of me, and I have a propensity to compare my own value and worth to the achievements of others.

McCrary has written, “practicing yoga helps clear the lenses, so to speak, taking you on an inward journey back to your deepest Self and to the realization that you have everything you need within to experience the unbounded joy and freedom that is your true nature” (p. 4).

Perhaps, I am discovering Buddhism and rediscovering yoga at a time when I am seeking more tools to help me restore balance and peace.

I do not pretend that reading about these practices will help me to be instantaneously transformed. I have work ahead of me. But I feel excited and thankful for finding new and old ways to practice the work of the Self. In so doing, I become more grounded and open to helping others in their own work.

McCrary, M. (2013). Pick your yoga practice: Exploring and understanding different styles of yoga. Novato, CA: New World Library.

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