We inhale and exhale, sweeping our bodies from one direction to the next, moving from one posture to another, we are making shapes, we are moving energy, we are slowly shaving off the excess with painstaking compulsion, the way an archeologist might excavate ancient ruins with a soft bristle brush, one careful stroke at a time, determined but wary of damaging the unknowable treasures that possibility lie beneath…
At least that’s how I feel on the days that I am patient with myself and with the practice–that each breath is a soft breeze blowing on my massive pile of dirt, gently carving out the me underneath it all, the one I’d really like to get to. The other times, well…I’m actually shoveling away, pushing and prodding, making new mounds of dirt before getting bored and starting at a new spot. It’s tough work this business of personal excavation.
After years of yoga practice, I can honestly say that as much as I’ve uncovered (and the amount of discoveries have been significant!) there always seems to be more underneath the surface, more evidence, more history, and with every find, more questions. I’ve been big on digging deep, on self-inquiry and detective work. And because I can be quite heady and I like to figure things out, I’ve taken it all very seriously.
But even this noble intention of self-discovery has its pitfalls. Expectations are laced with disappointments. To look ahead towards a future destination pulls us away from the journey at hand and, ultimately, the present moment. I often wonder, if by throwing myself so doggedly into “process,” I have also pulled myself away from the spirit of practice, true sadhana.
On a recent retreat to Ardi in Dashour, Egypt, a group of us went to visit the nearby Red Pyramid. We went in and walked around, all of us in quiet awe of the 104 meter-tall (341-feet) structure built around 2600BCE, a precursor to the Giza pyramids. Archeologists, historians and Egyptologists have studied the pyramid extensively, they know its dimensions, what it’s made of, who built it and for what purpose, and yet we continue to marvel at the mystery of it, its strangeness, its un-fathomability.
What if practice were less about unlocking the mysteries and more about seeing them and acknowledging them? What if I simply accepted that I am my mound of dirt, my hidden treasures, my ancient stories, my lost city, or that there might not be much there at all, and went on to breathe into the whole lot of it anyway, enjoying the mystery of being, rather than constantly trying to figure it out? What if I looked at myself, not as a problem to be solved but a puzzle to revel in and dive into. The destination might be the same in the end, but I reckon the journey would be different.
Personally, I vacillate between the pull of my own ego and the spiritual practice. I know the lessons, not to grasp and not to reach. But I’ve also been taught to put in appropriate effort, to cultivate discipline and a healthy attachment towards my practice–a little too much effort, however, and I cross a line between willfulness and surrender, and there I struggle. And where is the joy in that?
In the end, practice is practice. We’ll shift and move even if we don’t mean to.
The ongoing excavations are unlikely to stop for me, not only have I been at it a while, I actually like digging. But I also want to cultivate more contentment being In Mystery. I want to understand that I don’t have to understand everything about myself, that not knowing has a function, that uncertainty contains magic and possibility. Once again, here is the recurring lesson, think less and just practice; all is still coming.