With the state of the world today, should the main focus of our work be done on or off the mat?
The inner work on the mat needs to be used and translated in to the rest of our life.
Is the real growth and transformation on our spiritual path actually done out in the world, in relationships and in the challenges of everyday life rather than in the serene and “easy to be blissful and one with the universe” space of the yoga mat?
I have never understood the point of being able to perform complex asanas (poses) on the yoga mat, if off the yoga mat one can not show compassion and humility not to mention basic kindness and sensitivity. With the state of the world we live in today, should the main focus of our work be done on or off the mat?
I went on a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat last summer hoping this was going to be the big spiritual hammer to crack me open so I could let everything fall apart only to be built up again—more aware, more present, more light… more steps taken along my spiritual path.
It was indeed challenging sitting in meditation for 10 hours a day starting at 4:30 am, no talking, reading, writing or yoga. However it was generally a lovely experience—being silent and gazing internally for that length of time. It was something I had never done before and would love to experience again. But it didn’t challenge me and transform me in the way I had hoped or expected.
The demons didn’t rise up to engulf me before being burnt in the fire of knowledge and self realization.
Maybe this was the problem—I had expectations—and this spiritual path is not one that unfolds itself in a logical and linear fashion. Also, maybe my layers of protection had been so built up; just one round was not enough and I would need to jump in that fire again to burn a few more layers away. Either way, I will admit I came away thinking “that wasn’t so bad, but where are my deep rooted patterns and all that stuff to process out?”
“Show yourself I am ready to deal with you!”
The work I had been doing on my path of yoga had started to build an awareness and yearning to peel back the layers of conditioning and reveal a truth, uncover what was really going on, so I could subsequently let it all go. I was ready to own my stuff and burn it in the sacred fire of truth. Kali, with her sword, was rearing her head and I wanted to chop away all that I didn’t need—I just wasn’t quite sure what or where it was.
I came to the conclusion that maybe closing my eyes and shutting off from the world was already something I was far too good at.
Facing people, looking them square on, speaking my truth, being challenged and facing challenging situations with friends and loved ones was far more difficult for me. I mean, I had an almost life long block with calling to place takeaway orders, against catching cab’s as there was potential for chit chat and I always chose the self check out at the supermarket—‘ahhh, no risk of awkward social interaction here!’
I had grown up, like many young women—to “be a good girl and not make a fuss.”
My unhealthy desire to make everything okay and please everyone had choked my voice and made me fear confrontation to the extreme. So going away for 10 days and it being required to not talk to anyone was bliss. No getting to know people at meal times or chit chat in tea breaks—I hated the chit chat. Being encouraged to not even make eye contact with others but stay focused on our internal state was my dream. Not having to go through those awkward moments walking towards someone and deciding the point at which to smile and say “Hi,” do I stop and talk? What if I say hi too soon and we have to walk another 6 paces towards each other smiling, do I keep eye contact? Arghhhhh!!!
No, eyes closed in meditation for 10 days please—much safer. I will stay here thank you very much.
I didn’t even want to talk to anyone after we were allowed to come out of silence. With my prudish, not make a fuss English ancestry, was closing off into meditation not actually that helpful for me?
Was my real work to be done outside in everyday life?
Was transformation to occur not when I closed my eyes and went inwards but when I went out and faced the world with my eyes and heart open? Was this where I would find my demons?
I found myself later that same year in a relationship. The first time I had been in a meaningful and committed relationship for quit a few years. Also the first time I had been in a relationship since making some big leaps on my yoga journey. All of a sudden I had to face myself through facing a partner.
My patterns and habits of old were triggered and brought up. There it was; all that stuff I had hoped would
come up in the safe enclosed (and invisible to others) space of meditation retreat was coming up on a Wednesday night after dinner. I was so exposed and so seen and it was not the growth
However, because of the inner work I had been doing on my yoga journey,this time, instead of being sucked in to the drama, I saw things more clearly, observed my reactions and named the feelings coming up in me more impartially, experience I expected! Who was this five year old having a tantrum I had turned into?
Kali! Kali! I need you and your sword now!
The inner work is vitally important; it is what gives us the sensitivity and clarity to see things as they really are. But the inwards gaze and reflection can not be used to hide from the external world and real life situations. We can not limit our spiritual practice to the time spent on the yoga mat and think advances there are all that there is. If you can put your leg behind your head and sit in meditation for an hour but can not be polite to the person serving you at the supermarket or have patience with a child, then I think something is very wrong!
I wanted to face this stuff—eyes and heart open.
I think the inner work on the mat needs to be used and translated in to the rest of our life. In doing so we can hope to transform and grow in all directions, including influencing those around us. But this is not something new, the yamas and niyamas (the first two limbs of the eight-fold yogic path) are there to help us interact with the world with respect, compassion and love. On the other side of the coin though, too much time spent facing only out in to the world can stop our sensitivity and skills of quiet observation.
Like all things yoga, it is about the balance of opposites—the balance of internal/external reflection and awareness. Then maybe with the practice of balance, we get to the realization that these two worlds internal and external are in fact one and the same and there is no separation at all—but that is another post for later….
In the mean time, let us continue seeking to find that balance as we face the worlds inside and out with eyes, hearts and minds wide open.
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Assistant Ed: Stephanie S./Ed: Sara Crolick