There are moments in my life when I have felt like all was right with the world. I can remember vividly, watching a sloth in Costa Rica. My ex and I must have caught this gentle being in its one-hour of activity in the day. It moved with such tender, quiet ease, reaching its arms and legs in what looked like a yogic dance in the trees. We watched, mesmerized, for a half an hour before it disappeared from our view, blending into the many shades of green in the canopy.
I vowed to remember the sloth, which for me meant to remember to slow down and breath and most importantly, to try to hold onto the feeling of grace and ease this being brought into the world.
Like so many of my self-imposed “rules,” I tend to only remember them in the instant after I do something to counter them.
I have another rule I devised wherein I am supposed to wait 10 seconds before speaking. This was meant to try to filter out so many of the ridiculous things I say over the course of the day. Let’s just say I generally refer (out loud) to that rule after I have said something outrageous by way of explanation that I do have ?? put in place to try to tame down my propensity for the unmitigated eccentric.
The more time I have spent peeling back layers of external expectation to get to my authentic Self within, the more I have come to realize that most of my life I have been trying to be something and someone who would be deemed acceptable and worthwhile by other people.
It has only been in the wake of beginning to study the concept of self-sustainability that I have been learning the language of the Self and beginning to really honor what I discover. I believe that in order to truly honor my Self in all its beautiful, wacky authenticity is to embrace this Self completely.
When I teach yoga, I tell my students that practicing yoga is like learning several languages all at once. There is the language of the physical body, the language of the instructions from the teacher, and the language of the emotional body. These are all coming at you at once, and it can feel overwhelming and also confusing.
It took me years of hearing similar instructions from different teachers to finally begin to understand what they were saying and to begin to understand, how these often very subtle actions can feel in the body, and what influence the blending and embodiment of all of these actions can make me feel in my emotional body.
I tell my students that everything I say and suggest is an offering and an invitation. I also recommend that they not worry if they don’t understand everything they hear. Learning a language takes practice, repetition, and a willingness to place oneself repeatedly into the unknown, knowing that eventually this space of uncertainty will take on the shape of clarity.
This brings me to some of the concepts that still seem to evade clarity in my own path to authenticity. I listen dutifully to my own teachers, sometimes wondering, always hoping that I might one day truly understand and feel their teachings.
One popular word in yoga land is bliss. Another standard, especially in the study of Anusara yoga, is grace.
I have to say it is one that I have struggled with both of these sensations, mostly because I cannot remember many (if any) times in my life when I recognized the feeling of experiencing bliss and/or grace.
There are things in life that I try or hear or experience and feel instantly that they were meant to be a part of my journey and me. These two words have rarely given me that feeling of familiarity or comfort. The inner critique, a sense of not belonging in any of the places I have put down roots, these are sensations I am familiar with. These are concepts that are very easily internalized.
This begs the question, why? Why is it so much easier to embody the destructive elements of language and life, and how does one embrace or embody a feeling is totally foreign to their system?
Even when I know that a sensation may shift the negative to positive, it’s very difficult to embrace it with true authenticity. I might see a more curvy woman and think, wow, she is really beautiful, but if I see my own body becoming even a little bit more curvy, that inner critic jumps right in to remind me that while this may be ok for another woman it is not acceptable for me.
I would say that for much of my life I have I have obediently listened to the teachings of the internal and external critics. I have actively avoided both bliss and grace. It’s like I bought a special abbreviated guide to life without them, opting for terms like enabling, martyr, and self-sacrifice in order to make other people happy.
The problem here is that actually it is not possible for me to make anyone but myself happy. Believe me, I have tried. Each individual is the only one capable of choosing the path to bliss and grace.
In my years of self-study and layer shedding, I have begun to glimpse the notions of bliss and grace. I wonder if this is just the universe trying to cut me some slack by letting me know I’m on the “right” path and to keep going, a little cosmic carrot dangling just ahead of me, ever out of reach but now visible at least.
On the path to bliss and grace, I am not longer groping my way through complete darkness. But it’s definitely been bumpy, and I have shed some serious tears along the way.
There is a great deal of trust and faith involved in changing your life. This is something I have learned as well. My only real compass is the internal realm of the Self to guide me. What this means is that I spend a lot of time listening and paying attention to how my actions and choices make me feel, as well as how my system reacts to the actions and choices of the people who come into and out of my life.
It took a while to even recognize my system’s response to events around me. Like learning a foreign, however, with practice I have improved my response rate. After many years, I can tell pretty quickly how I feel about any situation in my daily life. This is the information I then use to determine how to respond. And I keep adding information from regular study. Kind of like taking extra classes to better understand the many subtle nuances of each language. And I can say for sure that I have some serious nuances in the language of my own Self.
I think part of the subtly in the language of the Self is realizing and accepting that one person’s definition for a word (like bliss or grace for example) may be entirely different than my own, and that’s ok.
For example, I grew up thinking of grace as a thin, willowy, ballerina. Grace was perfection. Grace was a model. Grace was unattainable for someone like me.
My definition for grace has shifted quite a bit over the years. I have begun to think of grace as the beauty of a being dancing its own unique waltz. Grace is looking in the mirror and seeing what’s right rather than all the things that are “wrong.”
I still struggle to place my Self and grace in the same sentence, but I am on my way. I have faith that I may just get there someday.
And there are reminders to help me return to this work when I feel myself drifting and giving in to those external definitions for bliss and grace that seem hell-bent on keeping me from ever actually getting there.
The other day, I received one of those reminders in the form of a piece by Joseph Campbell shared by a friend. I would like to share it here, just in case you might also need a reminder.
Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.
~ Joseph Campbell
Photo note: I saw the photo I posted for this piece being advertised all around my community shortly after the new year 2019. I am not quite sure what the deal is with the fashion statement….EU meets backcountry logger woman from the Pacific Northwest? I do know that I would never resolve to vacuum less. Vacuuming gives me a sense of calm and accomplishment in a chaotic universe. Yes, I know the action is relatively futile and that the natural tendency is toward entropy. However, I resolve to do things that are soothing to my fiery soul. End of note.