At a New Years Eve Jivamukti workshop in Shelford, England, the teacher spoke of yogic concepts. She spoke of tapas – which in Sanskrit means work and has to do with force of will making things happen, the discipline of practice, the doing things you don’t feel like doing. The teacher said that great yogis of the past have written that all tapas with no grace can make you physically and mentally ill. A perfect handstand but no enlightenment.
It ignited an understanding of myself. I have displayed in my life a capacity to keep doing the work, regardless of the pay-off. I am like Churchill. I never give up. But somehow on New Years Eve the resoluteness, the square-jawed bloody effort of my life seemed more my destruction than my salvation. Or somehow it was both.
It is my destruction because I expect everything to be a real slog, an effort that tests my mental and physical limits, an ordeal. So of course like all humans I make it so – I deliver on my own subconscious expectations. Everything pushes me to the limits, everything is so much work. It’s just work.
And all that work without the experience of joy, ease, grace, play – well, too much.
I hunger now for the joy, ease, grace and play, for the movement of the universe coming to my aid. If I look for these things, I know I will find them. And I still honour my hard work, but I will imagine it more like a sparkling mountain brook bubbling over stones and less the Chunnel.
There is not an aspect of my body or my mind that I review even casually without criticising it brutally. My toes need a pedicure, my legs need shaving, I need a facial, a dye job, I mean, the very act of gazing at myself in the mirror becomes nothing more than a checklist of flaws and a resolution to make the time to buy the solution. I can get the haircut and the highlights, I can exercise, I can work at anything, right? I could work to make my bipolar symptomless, my immune system stronger, my plays brilliant and popular.
But work without grace can drive you crazy, like the yogis said. No grace of acceptance. My work now is to bring grace and love to my own body and soul, to accept it. In many ways it horrifies me to even contemplate such a slip in my standards as to accept myself as I actually am today. Yet I see no other way. I tire of the shame valley differential between the self I could perfect with infinite time and my imperfect self. Ich bein sehr fertig. The only German I can remember is slang for I am so exhausted. The literal translation is “ I am so ready.” It works here. I am so ready to put down the shame and pick up the joy.
My yoga teacher Pilar Carillo would say that we can dismiss from our lives that which does not serve us. This seemed a very godlike thing to say. There’s nothing wrong with it, she’s absolutely right, but the saying itself assumes a grand and total sovereignty over your life and your mind. The Christian me finds this shocking. A shockingly powerful thing to say. Very different from the deference to authority built into my psyche from my middle class Christian American upbringing.
The song went, “Jesus first/ yourself last/ and others in between.”
If I was going to write a slogan-y song like that, my song would go “reality first”, treating yourself as a valuable luminous being is second and service to the sacred business of justice last. Although I would scratch out that first draft as not good enough and get rid of all the hierarchical ranks. In fact I should rewrite this whole blog entry. It needs work.