January 12, 2012

Raise Your Hand if You Feel Like S-H-!-T

“Raise your hand if you feel like S-H-I-T this morning.”

Everyone looked around a bit hesitantly but a few hands went up.

I asked the next logical question–”Who feels GREAT today?”

More looks around the room, more sheepish smiles, then a few more hands went halfway up.

“Raise ‘em high–like you mean it.”

Still more hands went up when asked who felt like it could still go either way this morning.  That was a few months ago.  For some reason, I spontaneously asked the people in my yoga class how they were actually doing.

I often instruct students in this kind of silent self-inquiry as we begin class with our eyes closed:

“In the same way that you would ask a good friend, someone you care a lot about, someone you actually love,” I say, “Ask yourself–how ya doin’ today?  What’s going on?  How ya feeling?

This was different because I asked when all eyes were actually open, and people were expecting Sun Salutations not the third degree.  Instead, I asked people to be honest–publicly– about how they were actually feeling. Nowhere to hide. Admitting how we actually feel requires vulnerability. Vulnerability requires courage.

It was an interesting experiment.  Some were tentative admitting that they felt crummy–or that they felt great.  Some hands proudly shot up high.

There were prickles on the back of my neck as hands lifted.  Those prickles felt a lot like the odd jubilation I feel when someone writes to say they’ve read something here, and felt like their lives were being channeled.  Now, more and more, at the beginning of class, I take that same informal poll.

“Look around,” I say.  “Look around the room and see how not-alone you are.”  More and more, I have to resist the impulse to jump up and down like I’ve swallowed a jumping bean as hands go up.

The findings on a study just keep rolling in–a study I didn’t even know I was conducting!  I spent most of my life feeling like an alien from another planet but now I discover–with my heart not just my head, I mean–that I am not  in this alone! Like, really, really not alone!

That’s a whole lot like standing on the shore of the island I’ve been shipwrecked on, and seeing the ship on the horizon getting bigger as it heads toward me.

We can’t crawl inside each others shoes, or skin, but none of us are so very different that we do not share things in common–things like joy, and rage, and wonder, and fear, and grief.  Each of us has a secret life beneath the surface.  You may never really know who is in the studio practicing with you, but I can guarantee that they are one of the most fascinating, extraordinary creatures in all creation–just like you.

You may never know who is on the mat next to you.  I may never know what lies beneath that brave face you show to the world. You may never know what lies beneath mine.

But if we’re are lucky, if we risk it, we might both raise our eyes–or even a hand–at the same time, and catch a glimpse.

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Bernadette Birney  |  Contribution: 3,400