Yogi Marriage.

Via on Jul 7, 2010

Yoga Brooks

Do you, individual personality, take the universe to be your lawfully wedded spouse…

My individuality is made up from the stories that define me, and yoga practice helps to go beyond the stories into a more expansive and connected sense of myself. Yet the word ‘yoga’ describes a joining or balancing of being an individual and being a part of a larger connected whole.

I can see why the practice leans toward gleaning insight about that which is beyond form. After all, we do tend to be mesmerized by the physical world. So to balance us we tend to need a spiritual practice, lest we get wrapped up in the daily tasks and then think that that is all there is to our lives. ‘I am a bill payer’ would be an example of an aspect of this kind of reduction.

At the same time I recognize that my warm and cuddly human form with all its unique expressions is a part of this connection. So it’s not about blotting out my individuality in exchange for some kind of compassionate one without a past that informs the present. On a less-than-completely-conscious level I misinterpreted the teachings of yoga in this way. These teachings are an aspect of a total process that includes my earthly existence. Yeah!

The reasons for my past misinterpretation are twofold. One reason I made this mistake is because I read each teacher as if they had “it”—meaning the whole story—when individuals always have a particular take on things. That’s just the way it is. And another person’s take cannot be my own. I have had to integrate my own understanding. So while I was trying on the ideas of other yoga and spiritual teachers I was a bit confused about how to live this kind of excellent life that I was seeking. So my unsophisticated and underdeveloped sense of myself gravitated towards self-rejection under the aim of becoming the best person I could be—which turned into some things that were against the me that was born and will die. And it was under the good intention of helping others. But I have done that at the expense of developing my personal life. I have been Brooks Hall the yoga teacher, and now I’m just trying to be myself: a woman in the world who lives life, enjoys life and teaches yoga.

And as contradictory as this might sound I also recognize that my immersion in spiritual teachings is now part of my life path. Furthermore it is a blessing, and for any confusion and struggle that may come as I continue to assimilate and integrate what I am able to in my life, I am grateful—because this adventure is one I want. I want to see how far I can go, and live what I can learn.

The other way I got off track with the teachings of yoga was my misinterpretation allowed me to hide from hurts from my past. If I can be a yoga-inspired person I can be totally healed and happy, right? There is something false and Pollyanna-ish about the commonly advertised image of yoga yielding a perfect and always-happy life. For me, there was self-denial present. I was fooling myself to think that my old painful self would just disappear—I still have to deal with that one. It also was an easy fit for my self-loathing. Self-loathing loves denial! This way you can hate yourself without feeling the rawness. Have you ever seen someone with the fake yoga smile (the fake smile exists in other places of denial, too)? It’s the kind of smile that holds pain in the eyes—like they’re afraid that you’ll see what’s really going on there.

I understand this because I’ve lived in the fear that others will see just how pathetic I really am—of course that was never true, but was instead a particularly pungent self-judgment. I am who I am. And plenty of people like me and there are some who don’t (exactly as it should be).

What is called for is a sacred marriage or union within myself between the stories that give my life form and the great mystery that is formless and beyond any one person’s comprehension. And while I recognize this I also think that the mystery is something that we hold together, across people. This is an important reason for us to come together and to listen to one another—to explore the mystery and wonder of life!

Together we hold the total understanding of our collective humanity. Separately we only understand a piece of it based on our individual viewpoints.

* This (somewhat improved since it was first published) article is offered with love from the archives of Yogic Muse. *

About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.

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21 Responses to “Yogi Marriage.”

  1. Hi, Brooks.

    I have to confess I was pleasingly startled by your subtitle Do you, individual personality, take the universe to be your lawfully wedded spouse…. I guess it's the natural conclusion to the title to my review of Mitchell's Bhagavad Gita:

    Falling Head-Over-Heels in Love with the Universe

    And of course this is the theme of much of Gita Talk, especially in the poetic crescendo of Chapters 10 and 11.

    I really like your blog. Please keep bringing us your best blogs from the past like this. Don't let them gather dust in your archives when you have such an enthusiastic new audience here on Elephant.

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

    • Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

      Thanks, Bob! I’m so glad to hear about your reaction. Yes, and the choice to “marry” means a sort of commitment that is intended to last as the first blush of love meets the challenges of life…

  2. "I read each teacher as if they had “it”—meaning the whole story—when individuals always have a particular take on things"
    I think this is why I generally prefer poets to gurus–as they don't (usually) claim to have anything more than what seems to be a really good "it" at the moment…and, as for people who do think they have the big "it"–I try not to take them as seriously as they (and their followers) take themselves, and often find that they do have some good stuff to share despite all the bowing and scraping going on. And, then, people with the "fake yoga smile"–that's a challenge for me, since I've always tended to see those people as judging me for not being as spiritual as they are (and, certainly, I've found myself, quite unhappily, in new age hippie communities where fake-happiness might has well have been enforced by law…needless to say, I wasn't appreciated)…so it's taken a while to see the desperation and pain in a smile so forced.

    • Actually, one thing I like about your writing, Brooks, is the generosity in it–while clearly you're extremely (or, at least, a whole hell of a lot more than I) knowledgeable about all (or at least most) things yoga, it's never presented as anything more grandiose than "here's my experience."

      But wait a second…all those damn triangle poses and I don't get a perfect and always-happy life for my trouble?! I been robbed!

      • Hear, hear on your comments about Brook's writing.

        (I had to look up "hear, hear" to verify my spelling. Here's what I found: Hear, hear” is a shortened version of “hear ye, hear ye,” which goes back to British Parliament in the 1600s, if not earlier. The expression was — and is — used to draw attention to what someone is saying. It implies agreement with the speaker or, in modern times, the writer.)

        Now, as for those triangle poses, you happiness depends on how perfect they are. So let's see some photos. If they're not making you perfectly and always happy, then perhaps you're doing them wrong.

        Bob Weisenberg
        YogaDemystified.com

        • Hell yeah, I'm doing 'em wrong! That's 'cause doing 'em right is damn near impossible! And that's exactly why I expect perfect happiness for my ongoing efforts! (Then, maybe that's just some kind of latent puritan ethic in my blood making me think I'll find salvation through suffering…)

          • You can find salvation through suffering. I've found that ecstatic public self flagellation with a razor studded chain works well for me.

      • Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

        YogaforCynics, Thank you and Bob for the kind words.

        From your comment, ‘it’s never presented as anything more grandiose than “here’s my experience.”‘

        That’s really important to me. It’s important that I speak from my experience. I think that it’s more powerful to speak that way and I like to listen to what’s going on with someone, so I tell about what’s going on with me in relation to the yoga.

        And I find myself going along with the idea (that is not mine alone) that the idea of an “enlightened person” is misleading. I think that we have to come together across people to find what we are seeking. Together we might become more “enlightened”. While there is a certain amount of good work that happens when someone is alone, to take things to the next level there is a responsibility to share ourselves, listen to others, and learn. 

  3. Eric says:

    Brooks~ wow. get out of my head, woman!!!
    where is this "understanding of our collective humanity"?? can we even agree on a BASIC understanding of what it means to be human, to love, to evolve or enlighten??

    let's say I am being the change I wish to see in the world, but the change I wish for is not 'mainstream'. let's say I am slowly shuffling off the mortal coil of convenient labels that place me in a comfortable frame of reference for others. let's say I'm living in the "mystery that is formless and beyond any one person’s comprehension". I find many do not have the inclination or the time to listen and share, it seems people today are too busy/too distracted. this is just my experience.

    in following the spiritual path, we place ourselves outside much of what is held "across people" because we are not merely submitting to the quotidian needs and desires of the dusty world. we are making a conscious choice to evolve in that commitment to the mystery, but many do not…they are unwilling to see or hear. so, this is what I am working with.

    thank you (as always) for a beautiful and thought-provoking post, and the best phrase I've read in a long time "a particularly pungent self-judgment" (…besides "let's plug the Gulf leak with BP executives" :)

    • Eric says:

      (sorry, should have written the first line with a Scots accent: "Git outta me heed, woman!", as it was meant in playful exuberance :)

    • Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

      Hi Eric! Thank you for your comment. I feel that I work with similar challenges in my experience to those you described. You are not alone!

      From your words: ” where is this “understanding of our collective humanity”?? can we even agree…”

      I am not suggesting that there is an “agreement” regarding collective humanity. Really, I see these thoughts as questing towards healing. And I believe that we need to open up our hearts to people we we think we don’t agree with. But, I don’t think that spiritually-inclined folks should sell out to the distorted expression of ourselves that is pervading society today, either. This is where the “marriage” comes in. I connect through my spiritual practice to my understanding and good values that flow from that, and I open my ears to people in my life wherever I happen to be. I might be teaching yoga, at the bar, shopping, walking in the park, and so on… This might seem a little chatty, but… I was in two bars during the past week, and it felt so empowering because it had been so long since I had done that. And the second visit to a bar was to see a friend for her singing gig. I went by myself (a big deal–never did that before), and while I was watching her sing beautifully men approached me. I said hello, listened, exchanged a few words, and drew the boundary where I needed to. This probably sounds small and unimpressive, but I see it as a way to start: 1) do something you don’t usually do and 2) talk with friendliness to people you don’t usually talk to. Of course it needs to feel safe, but let’s push our boundaries and see. And of course maintain your spiritual practice…

      As you can see, I’ve decided to start small and to have patience for this precious relationship to develop.

      So, I don’t see myself as offering an answer, it’s more an avenue for pursuit (that I am trying). 

      • Eric says:

        Yes!!! I was positing the questions more from a place of "..questing towards healing. And I believe that we need to open up our hearts to people we we think we don't agree with." I'm wary of zealotry in any form, but I also want to remain open to understanding–to live in that challenge is growth. there seems to be so much hatred and divisive discourse going on today.

        a teacher of mine says, "you cannot brush your teeth by yourself"; and that we must "welcome all beings" *welcoming is not the same as attachment* we support one another~whether in agreement or disagreement.
        transcend and include.
        practice must extend to our everyday interactions of life–beyond mat or cushion–as your examples show.
        "an avenue for pursuit" ~yes.

        thank you again for your generous response!

  4. Charlotte says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I really like what you say about using practice to hide the hurts of your past. It's easy to layer the feel-good glow of yoga practice on top of whatever confining beliefs underlie our pain. But the only way beyond the hurt is to walk through it, feel it and accept it, not as what defines us, but to see it for what it is: energies that for whatever reason we have chosen to identify with. I feel very fortunate to have had a teacher who understands this and is a master at helping people through this challenging process. I think that the true yoga smile comes from accepting it all.

  5. ARCreated says:

    I love to read an experience that so closely matches my own…it's like the collective consciousness coming alive before my very eyes.
    Recently I too discovered that I was seeking in the all the wrong places — outside of myself, that somehow others were more enlightened or capable than me. But I discovered that IT is in all of us we simply keep practicing.
    I sort of relish in letting my students know that I am NO where near perfect. Has yoga helped me be calmer? happier? kinder? absolutely, but I was a long way out from those traits so I have further to go yet. I am know enjoying the journey more and fretting less about arriving. I live as "me" now…with visits to ME as often as possible…
    I am fond of telling my students that there is no such thing as "bad at yoga" you simply show up and practice and yoga will find a way, and most importantly that the person next to you that can do a handstand is not more enlightened, they can just do a handstand —- its what we do while we are in our poses that matter not what the poses look like. :)

    Thanks again brook great read to start the day :)
    Namaste

    • Very wise comments, ARC. I enjoyed reading this.

      Bob Weisenberg
      YogaDemystified.com

    • Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

      Yes, ARCreated! Are you my sister? Thanks for commenting!

      • ARCreated says:

        Traditional Spiritual Lineage is not right for Me because I’m Female.//// I just realized this was you too…and McYoga (my favorite word ever) I think YES we are truly cut from the same cloth :) Yeah Yeah we are all connected and one etc. but my individual personality really digs your individual self …nice to have a soul sister in the world — feels less like crying into the wind somehow!!!

        Blessings!!!

  6. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Wow, Scott! Thank you for your comment. It invited another level of understanding about what I called the “fake yoga smile”. I now see the layer of shame that might be there… Either the person wants so much to believe they are happy (in a moment when they’re not) so much that they are just smiling to make it so, or they want to make others think that life is perfectly happy the way they live it because they’d like to sell their tradition or convert others. And of course I think that we all need the space to have our full human experience including ups and downs, and the pressure to always appear ‘cheerful and “together”‘ as you put it is akin to self-flagellation or personal torture. It’s okay to not be happy sometimes, even for yogis and Christians.

  7. Charlotte says:

    Absolutely. When seen from "big" mind, happiness, sadness, anger, love, etc. are all impermanent energies passing through. It's perfectly normal for the entire range of emotional energies to come and go for everyone. Making some of these okay and others not okay keeps us in the attachment-aversion loop. Sometimes I wonder if the overprescription of antidepressants is at least partially due to our belief that occasionally being sad means there's something wrong with us. (This is not to deny that there are sometimes chemical reasons to use antidepressants.) Here in Utah, where the pasted-on smile can be quite prevalent in some areas, the percentage of women taking antidepressants is higher than anywhere else in the country.

  8. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Yes, Charlotte! From what you shared it sounds like forcing ourselves to appear happy (when we’re not) might actually be kind of depressing for us. But perhaps if we explore our true and authentic, ever-changing emotional topology with welcoming and care–instead of attachment and aversion–it might be possible to enjoy where we are standing, naturally. 

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