(Part II of a series on my journey on the mat.)
As my yoga practiced developed, I learned to let go of more and more. I could easily shake off a mood of frustration at a parking ticket, a rejection from a job I had applied to or a broken wine glass. I let go of my concerns about money and my obsession with categorizing the items in my grocery cart. I stopped nitpicking over a fight I started with my husband or a comment someone dropped that displeased me.
But, despite all of this “surface progress,” there were some things that simply did not melt away in a deep hip opener. There was the guilt of the way I had treated my parents, the anger at the way they had treated me. There was the self-loathing for the A’s I missed in college, the six-minute mile I never achieved. There was the continual, deep-rooted sense of competition. The need to be better than others, whether they were my fellow yogis or my sisters. And there was wine. And the beer. And the highs and lows that went with them. These things were not so easily shaken off.
“And they shouldn’t be,” I thought. “They are part of who I am. They have collectively created me. It is my nature to be competitive; if I lose this, I lose myself. And the anger? It serves a purpose. I use the trauma and fear and anxieties of my past to fuel me today. They are the source of my creativity. They are the reason I work hard and focus. They will remind me of what I want in this life. Killing off these parts of me would be like killing my very self.”
So I stood at a crossroads in my development as a yogini. Able to release the surface stress of life, but blocked by a wall of ingrained samskaras just under that surface that didn’t want to budge.
It was around this time when I began reading the Gita. Within this text lies the answers to a plethora of world problems; but for me, today, I am only looking to one. The story begins as Lord Krishna encourages Arjuna to go to battle at the onset of the Kurukshetra War. On the day of battle, Arjuna looks out onto the field and sees his cousins, those he loves, looking back at him. While he admits they have done wrong, he asks Krishna if the battle is truly necessary. There is still good in them, and perhaps the war could be avoided. They, like my past trauma and fear, can still be used productively. If only Arjuna could destroy the bad in them, he wouldn’t need to murder them altogether.
To this, Lord Krishna answers:
“You are greiving for those who should not be greived for, while uttering would-be words of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the living nor the dead.”
“Whoever truly knows the Self – indestructible, eternal, birthless and changeless – in what way would such a person kill, Arjuna? Who would be killed? … Weapons do not affect the Self; fire does not burn it, water does not wet it, and the wind does not dry it. The Self cannot be pierced or cut; it cannot be burned, moistened or dired. It is endless, all-pervading, stable, immovable and everlasting.”
At times, a yoga practice is less about simply letting go and more about digging your heels in, facing the demons in your life, many of them dressed as cousins, friends and maybe even yourself. A yoga practice may require you to hold up a sword to those elements and say, “I will kill you now. This is the way a self-realized person would kill.”
I looked at my life and realized those parts of me dressed as my helpers were just that – dressed in cloaks of familiarity so I would not see the true nature of their role in my life. Addiction has a way of becoming familiar to you. Of giving you friends and comforts you never before achieved. It creeps under your skin and gives you a false sense of security. Even after you know you’d like to quit, you fear you will lose yourself in doing so. You cannot simply let it go. You have to kill it.
Trauma wants to be your friend. It wants you to remember it so you may not be so traumatized again in the future. It wants to change your patterns and behaviors so you will put up walls and protect yourself. It will not release easily. You have to kill it as well.
Fear, anxiety, hatred, competition. They are all elements that have served you in the past, and you will desperately want to keep them along for the ride. They will want to come, they will say they can help you. You cannot allow them to simply slip away. You will have to kill them.
So along I went on my yoga mat, slaughtering the familiarity of my past, wondering each day if I would be someone different in the end. If I no longer despise my parents, will I be as creative? If I no longer suffer the embarrassments of drunken evenings, will I be as funny? If I no longer compete with everyone I see, will I be as successful?
The answer is, “No.” You will not be as creative, funny or successful once you let these samskaras go. But you never were those elements, either. You were always something else, someone else. “One may perceive the Self as full of wonders; another speaks of It as marvelous; another hears It is wonderful, yet none completely understand it. This Self, which exists in everyone, the indweller, is invulnerable. Therefore, you do not have to grieve for anyone.” (Bhagavad Gita 2.29)
Today, I can happily kill myself over and again on the mat. And I emerge no different. For the self I killed was not the Self I am. So hum.