Mirror, Mirror

mirrorAs a teenager, obsessed with her appearance, I spent many hours in front of the mirror. It was during those years when I first heard the expression, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” I remember leaning forward toward the mirror to look more closely into my eyes thinking I might be able to catch a glimpse of my soul.  I began to wonder, “Who am I?” Was I my body, my soul or something else?

Spiritual searching often takes many forms, but defining the goal of a spiritual search can be tricky. I never really knew what I was looking for all those years of doing yoga, meditation, reading numerous books, attending many lectures. All I knew was that I wanted ‘Truth’ beyond what society puts out there for mass consumption. Actually, I’m a little amazed at how clueless I was in my searching. I wanted answers, but what exactly were the questions? If I had to be specific it would’ve been, “What is the meaning of life?”  I didn’t expect to realize that spiritual searching is essentially a search for Self.  I didn’t realize that all those years ago as a teenager I actually asked the right question, “Who am I?”

As it is now, society is structured to perpetuate the identity crisis in which we are all stuck. Everywhere there are distractions keeping us from indulging in any meaningful introspection.  The world is noisy, shallow, and divisive.  Any type of reflection is relegated to prayer on Sundays; however, even that is directed externally since we pray to something outside of ourselves. No wonder we don’t know the right questions to ask. When it’s all said and done, the struggle in life usually culminates with the question, “what was it all for?” since death appears to be the end. Impermanence abounds.  We are never taught that the continuity of the Self is the only constant.

Surprisingly, there are hints of truth from the mainstream media that you can catch. In the 1946 movie, “The Razor’s Edge,” Tyrone Power’s character is asked what he did during his time in India. He remarks, “I learned something about myself.”  As her time in India comes to a close in “Eat Pray Love,” Julia Roberts, portraying Elizabeth Gilbert, sums up her experience with the insight, “God dwells in me – as me.”

You probably think that once you discover who you really are you will find the answers to the rest of the questions. And you do, but really what you realize is that the rest of the questions don’t matter anymore. The struggle of finding your place in the world disappears when you discover your true identity. In fact, all struggles disappear once you become aware that there is no need to ‘strive’ for anything. You are already everything. It is the ego (personality) that is never satisfied, always doubts, and continuously struggles. It is the ego that believes society when it is told that it needs to do this or that to be considered successful or even acceptable.

It is the ego you see in the mirror.  It has nothing to do with who you really are.  In fact, the ego is the biggest obstacle to discovering the truth about yourself.  Next time you look into a mirror, try looking past the image. If you find yourself wondering, “Who am I?” congratulations, the quest has begun.

Open Up and Feel the Love

I’ve been subscribing to Yoga Journal for years and still get a thrill flutter when I open my mailbox to find the new issue waiting for me. I usually begin flipping through the magazine as I’m walking back to my apartment or car not being able to restrain myself.

In a recent issue, there was an article by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame in which she relates the experience of her very first yoga class.  It’s a great read for those of you out there who do yoga. Remember your first yoga class? Well, for Gilbert, that first class began a love affair with yoga that continues to this day. I was particularly struck, though, by her revelation of how she burst into tears during that class. She was in the lying spinal twist when the instructor came over and opened up her body a bit more as she held the pose.  That prompted a flow of tears and emotion helping Gilbert to release, as she puts it, the “longing, prayer, and doubt” she had held inside but never openly acknowledged.

Crying during a yoga practice happens from time to time.  We don’t realize how much “stuff” we hold in our bodies. I remember when a woman started to cry during a class I taught. Afterward, she came up to me and during our conversation she told me that her son had died during that past year and she was finding the yoga was helping her to release some of her pain.

Sometimes, though, when a painful experience is too new, it might be best not to practice for a time.  Some years ago, there was an article in Yoga Journal describing an experience by Thom Birch (late husband of ashtanga teacher Beryl Bender Birch). He was in Mysore, India working on his ashtanga practice when he began to cry. Pattabhi Jois (the late ashtanga yoga master) came over and Thom mentioned to Jois that he had just found out his father had died.  Jois stopped his practice and told him, “No practice. Three days.”

The cathartic release of painful emotions from your body allows for a transformation of sorts. You create more space for something else to come in. Gilbert called the “something else” shakti. I like to call it love. Love for whatever you can finally let go of.  Love for whatever you feel is missing in your life. Love for who you are and where you are in this present moment of your life.  Love for whatever may wait for you in the future. Just LOVE.  So during your next practice, open up and feel the love that is all around you.  I promise you will carry it with you off the mat.

Here is the link to Elizabeth Gilbert’s article in Yoga Journal

www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/2999?utm_source=MyYogaJournal&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=MyYogaJournal