To be not who I thought I was, but who I became.
Worldly life, keen-edged chisel. And I, the chiseled,
a garden tended by a master gardener.
How much lovelier now than it was
before the passing of fire and flood, before the pruning.
Turning ourselves inside out takes courage, and a willingness to accept ourselves as we are without blurring the lines of what-is with the stories we tell ourselves. Transformation is difficult because what the ego labels as “truth” in any given moment is subject to change.
The mind has a way of taking you down whatever road it finds most comfortable – in other words, whatever mirror reflects the ego’s current beliefs, that’s the mirror it looks at. The ego must surround itself with those reflections in order to strengthen and qualify its current version of the truth, its version of what is real. It’s as if the mind picks up a handful of – well, whatever it can get hold of – and calls it “the truth”, labels it “the world”, classifies it as “the way things are”.
Yet it seems that truth is highly subjective. One person’s truth might contain grains of another person’s truth, or fragments of a larger truth, or be shared among large groups of people. But any one person’s individual version of truth cannot help but be small, narrow and limited, because as individuals we cannot help relating all information back to ourselves somehow. We are unable to perceive things as anyone other than ourselves, and we cannot process information with any perception other our own. Not to mention the fact that our field of experience is a field of opposites because we live in a dualistic world.
No one’s truth has anything to do with anyone else’s, and yet we are all headed for the same ultimate, inevitable truth of death. As Prince sang in his song Controversy in 1981: “life is just a game, we’re all just the same”.
So, can we not be a ghost of ourselves? Because all the ghost does is forever haunt the same old unresolved house of all the thoughts, emotions, and beliefs we once had. Resolving emotions doesn’t mean abandoning the house, though – it means repairing it before you move out, fixing it up better than it was, and then leaving it behind like an insect larva shedding its exoskeleton so it can grow and assume a new form.
To loosen our grip on what we feel so certain is the truth would be to allow ourselves to change, to become “unstuck”, to actually go ahead and love the hardest person there is to love: ourselves. And instead of playing it safe and always only being one version of ourselves, we may as well be all of it: our whole self, every part that’s ever been, and every part still to be discovered. Could it be possible to make contact with the deepest parts of ourselves?
It’s a scary prospect, a stone our controlling ego would rather leave unturned. We may not meet the world’s approval of what we find there. We may be judged, disliked, even hated by those who choose the easy path of judgment over the strenuous path of understanding. Why take ourselves to an uncomfortable – painful, even – place, and try to stay there? The mind would much rather lounge in the warm glow of synesthesia – a stimulating confusion of the senses – than to broaden its understanding of itself.
Yet it is possible to open more fully. Go on now. Shine a light in the darkest corners.
Friends who I have left behind, friends I’ve not yet come to know,
these drops of rain upon the hill come likewise to the valley,
to beat against your doors, streak your windowpanes,
set aglow your lighted lamps.
Return now to your visionary dream, song of your heart’s voice.
Return now to your body, at once solid and transparent.
Return now to the music in every prism at the end of every string
held loosely by the fingers of every wide-eyed child.
These are not the days of old maps and heavy leather-bound tomes,
gold fabric of late afternoon unsheathed, only to be slid back into a scabbard of mist,
clearing the way for a midnight sky of shattered crystal and baby’s breath.
These are days of cold mumbling rivers that know secrets,
cabins in the mountains, their wood beams rotting too slowly for us to see.
While walking in the morning I digest this vastness, this solitude,
this gravity that presses against the muscles around the eyes.
Friends, I toss myself aside for you. I become available for you.
I eat, drink, run hands through hair for you,
scramble up the gully for you,
carry wood, fold socks, scrub pots, ever-fearless, requiring nothing.
These are days of time’s inhalation
pulling way up under the world’s collarbones,
stitching together the fibers of memory and intention.
These are days of emptying the mind, distilling the essence.
What does it matter if the world hears your voice?
We all belong to each other. Your voice is here, mine is here,
as great, small, and equal in worth as any other.
The voice is in your heart and so the world’s heart knows it,
as surely as you know the heart of the world.
The line is cast before the coming of a great fish,
a sudden tug is felt through our hands
and our withered husks give rise to something new.
You don’t have to rush. You don’t have to be in such a hurry all the time. You don’t have to feel pulled in a hundred different directions. It’s only the energy of the society around you, and has nothing to do with the conversation your life makes with the world.
When you give up the habit of rushing and the need to be in control, it creates space in you for peace.
Notice how any system has rules and limitations, and must operate within its own boundaries in order to control effectively. Notice how weak – or how strong – any single aspect of a system becomes when approached in a non-systematic way, or when it is removed from the system to which it belongs, revealing just how limiting a system can be.
Fear, desire, and the need to be in control are like obstructions in a river, blocking the full potential of the water’s flow. You can always be less rigid and more fluid, less like stone and more like water.
To live less systematically – and let go of the rush – is to allow the space and flexibility for peace to flow more abundantly into your life.
“May I be the tiniest nail
in the house of the universe.
Tiny, but useful.”
“When you let go of everything you think you know about yourself and stay with what’s left, when you willingly abandon the contradictory evaluations of who you are and courageously reach deeply into yourself in order to experience yourself directly, you will come upon a new experience of who you are.”
Ubuntu is an ancient South African term meaning “connectedness to others”. It points to the human virtues of humanity and compassion.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “union”, “connection”, or “to join”.
Between all the reading I’ve been doing and my recent journey into yoga teacher training, I have noticed an idea that comes up again and again. It’s the concept that our ego constantly tries to convince us that we are all separate (the ego’s effort to build and maintain any self-identification that supports the illusion of control), when actually we are all interconnected in ways that are beyond our conception.
For instance, having your body tattooed with an image that is meaningful or beautiful to you. I have several tattoos. I like my tattoos, but I also see them for what they are: my ego’s effort to qualify the identity it thinks it is. It’s my ego working hard to define itself, to project a self-image it finds favorable.
The identity our ego insists is real, is of course not real. It is an illusion brought about by the fact that we exist in a world of forms and so our thinking is limited to forms. Who we truly are is beyond forms, and is concerned with awareness, not thinking. When one recognizes the illusion as an illusion, it begins to die. It dies because its survival depends upon it being thought of as reality.
The power of a yoga practice is that it teaches you to be vulnerable and humble. From there, you begin to open up. Stuck places inside you slowly, slowly start to move, like a dam being deconstructed one stone at a time. Maybe life has hardened you in certain ways, and these hard edges start to soften, as you devote yourself to returning to the practice again and again. Your awareness increases, and you begin to notice the difference between awareness and thinking.
“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.” –Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“Don’t seek the truth, just cease to cherish opinions.” -Zen saying
“Our separation from each other is an optical illusion of consciousness.” –Albert Einstein
“Give up defining yourself, to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You’ll come to life.” Eckhart Tolle
“Don’t become too narrow. Live fully. Meet all kinds of people. You’ll learn something from everyone. Follow what you feel in your heart.” -Yuri Kochiyama