A student friend of mine recently shared that she had a breakthrough in a class when a teacher said “you can soften without collapsing.”
This concept, not just physically but psychologically, was a huge realization for her. And I’m so glad she told me this because I think it’s something worth teasing out a bit more.
Many of us are conditioned to think that softness or vulnerability means weakness, and that “not knowing” means that we are not confident or assertive or self-assured—all those things that we think a “stable,” “successful” person should be. That conditioning creates shame and fear around being exposed or trying something new.
In order to avoid feeling the tough stuff, some of us get really good at avoiding vulnerability.
We become bastions of judgment, covering a deep well of fear of the unknown. And after years of doing this, we may forget it’s there. But if we never find the courage to dive into the darkness, we will miss the opportunity to rethink and change as life reveals itself, and we will miss out on the joy and contentment and peace our hearts crave.
In yoga, we talk about balancing sukha and sthira: effort and ease. We do this in all koshas—all layers of our experience—the physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual. Often times we think of this as simply “the middle path.” But what does that require, really? We look to the yamas and the niyamas to help guide us in developing the qualities and virtues needed on our path.
But sometimes it doesn’t feel so simple.
It takes courage, humility and vigor to really face all of our humanness and stay hopeful when we find ourselves in the “valley of the void.”
In his book Finding Inner Courage, Mark Nepo writes about the Greek concept of Thumos, which can be translated as “spirit of fight.” It is the concept that every human being has an innate power to fight. Nepo writes:
“Whether it [thumos] becomes a destructive or healing energy in the world depends largely on whether that spirit of fight or struggle is directed in self-centered ways or in deeper, self-transforming ways. If that spirit of fight is not directed at what distances us from God/Spirit (our isolation and illusions), then it will be directed at others…. Our spirit of fight or struggle, has been a timeless source of war, evil, and unnecessary woundedness in the world.”
I can’t express how much I love this concept. We strive to be gentle and kind. But we are also fierce people, y’all. We’ve got a lot of natural power. And some of us have tempers. And grief. And pain. And disappointment. And injustice. And those things are not untrue in our world and our experience.
But if, when we are feeling depleted, “pissed off,” low in confidence, sad about destruction in our world or pain in our relationships, and not feeling as hopeful as we might wish to be, is it possible to pause and ask:
>> How am I directing my “spirit of fight?”
>> Is that fierceness being discharged at something or someone else in my life?
>> Is it useful, or is it perpetuating more pain and keeping me in illusion and pattern?
>> Is it possible that I could soften around those things and people in the material world, and redirect that fierceness to do battle with those things in the shadows that separate me from truth, from spirit, from joy?
>> Does it make it a little easier to believe that we have an inner warrior, ready to fight—that we have that strength, innately, to confront what needs confronting?
Just as we work with our energetic body when we practice asana—balancing effort and ease, building awareness, and releasing tension in order to gain strength, comfort and vitality—so too can we do this in our spiritual and psychological work.
When we are in the void, struggling with our samskaras, remember that each of us already has the light and the fight inside. We are wired for it. We need to hone our skills, be peaceful, yet vigilant in our interior space and trust our inner wisdom to decide when to observe and when to do battle.
I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Marcee Murray King / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Elizabeth Sattleberger