You Can Go Home Again!
By Heather Eilering
The practice of Yoga is not about strengthening the values of the ego, even if they appear to be well intended. The practice of yoga is about releasing the restraints of the body, mind and heart thus freeing Spirit to Be.
It’s true! I’ve just spent the past week touring the Midwest visiting friends, family, people I have not seen in years; you can indeed go home again. I’ve lived in Rhode Island for five years now, so saying soda instead of pop is natural to me, even though when I say it in front of my Aunt she cringes. Every now and then I even omit an R from a word. I’m a Yogini, my job is to integrate, right? I’ll be honest, it’s not always so easy, I’ve watched myself struggle relating to friends and family because of how I have changed.
Change… it happens to everyone. Our bodies change. First they get stronger and larger, and then they begin the long journey of becoming frailer and smaller. Our minds change. They begin open like a dry sponge and then over the years become so moist and heavy from absorbing water that nothing new and meaningful can be added. Our hearts begin closed like a bud and then bloom into a beautiful flower, only to wilt with that first heartbreak. Yes, change happens to us on every obvious level as a human walking in this wondrous world. The question then becomes, what is the atmosphere in which you walk? Do you fight against the changes in your body by trying to re-create the younger fitter version? Do you deny the fact that your mind is full and set in its ways? Do you stop listening to your heart because it tends to lead you to a lot of pain?
Fight or flight. It’s how we deal with change. We either try to make the change, change back or forward to a perceived better view, or we deny the fact that change has happened and run in the opposite direction. What’s the middle ground? Let’s explore that a little bit. I’ve discovered in my own yoga practice that even as I get older my body is staying fairly fit (a benefit of the practice, not a goal, something Yogi Desai reminds his students numerous times). I’ve discovered that the tendency for my mind to direct me to fight or run isn’t as strong as it used to be, I’m much less reactive in what I consider to be stressful situations than I was in the past. I’ve discovered that I feel more intensely; I feel joy more intensely and I feel pain more deeply. It’s appears like as I continue to practice, who I judge to be me has gotten larger and more accepting, dare I say I have integrated my world a little bit more!
Let’s go back to the Midwest for an example. I’ve traveled home many times since I have lived in Rhode Island and each time I return there’s always some type of conflict happening. In the past most of the time that conflict has moved from being internal to external as seen in some type of spoken altercation with family or friend. I’ve changed and because of that I don’t value the same things I used to with the people I grew up with. Notice I did not say I don’t have the same things in common. Those things are still a part of me, but what I choose to value within my world has changed, the sponge is a bit moister.
As a “spiritual” practitioner my values have, in my own mind, changed to a more “spiritual” endeavor. However, I’ve used those “spiritual” values as weapons to fight with those around me trying so vigilantly to change them to be like me. Why would I do that? Because no one wants to be completely alone. We simply haven’t learned how to release the water from the sponge, open the mind and let the blossom of the heart remain unaffected by the seeming rejections of those around us. If I can’t change my family and closest friends to believe the same things I do then I’ll be alone, my heart will be broken and I’ll wilt. That’s the underlying fear at least.
As I prepared for this tour of the Midwest I decided I wanted to take my yoga practice off the mat and use it. I came home not just for a vacation on the beach, but to visit a very dear friend, attend my cousin’s wedding, and spend time with my parents (they have given me all their time their entire lives). Knowing my values have shifted, how am I to spend a meaningful time with all these people, especially those I see at the wedding that I haven’t seen in many years? I took my most powerful tool out of the box and decided to practice using it… witness. The practice of Yoga is not about strengthening the values of the ego, even if they appear to be well intended. The practice of yoga is about releasing the restraints of the body, mind and heart thus freeing Spirit to Be.
My practice thus became witnessing this body, mind and heart as it interacted with those around it. To watch undisturbed by fear or excitement my interactions with those around me and even my own emotions and thoughts as they passed through my awareness without fighting them (oh, I shouldn’t be thinking that) or running away from them, as a fearful thought rises up from the depths (that person is laughing at me because…), and simply allow them to pass by unhindered instead of pushing them back down into the darkness only to wait in fear for the next time they pop back up.
Here’s a great example of where I had to put this to practice. I visited my friend who has in the last year found Jesus and was saved. She’s changed in a very significant way. She asked me if I would mind going to a Baptist service with her. I said I’d love to go, thinking in my mind this would be a great way to learn about her beliefs and what other practices are out there. I decided to use my practice of witness and observe what came up for me as I listened to a different religious doctrine I haven’t studied. I had to laugh because the universe threw me a doozey. The passage in the bible that was presented was about how if you do not take Jesus into your heart and asked to be saved, in my own words now, “you’re going to hell!” Ok, what is a Yogini to do with that? Use my own judgment to preach integration, tell my friend that if God sends me to hell then what kind of God is she worshiping, basically, preach to her exactly what I perceived the religion was preaching to me – just using different concepts? Many different thoughts have passed through my awareness around this subject, but I just said something interesting, “my awareness.” Who is the one present in my life through each change but me? Who has the power to be loving but me? I can either try to fight a whole organized belief system or laugh at my resistance to it and ask for help in the process of integrating it into my own awareness. As I practice the second option, the sponge stays the same but the water filling it becomes purer.
As Yogi Desai explains in his Posture of Consciousness, I also had an integrative intention while on this journey home. It was to be a helpful presence in all of my interactions. A lofty goal, one impossible for Heather to achieve because Heather still has an idea of what being a helpful presence means (I haven’t released all the water from the sponge so it can be filled with Spirits essence, not my own). But in witness I am free to release Heather’s ideas for a bit and just see what happens. Because, honestly, do I really know that if I had given up my seat on the bus to someone behind me in line that it would have been the most helpful thing to do? No, I can honestly say I don’t. There are far too many people involved in that decision for even the best chess player to determine every outcome and what the perfect next move would be.
So, this trip home I practice walking in an atmosphere of love. I practice because I still need to, I am not perfect and even though I have journeyed far, changed and integrated more into my life, there’s still a whole world out there to unite within my own mind. What could be a better place to practice joining than with those I love: My family, my friends, those who have had the most influence on shaping me to be the person I am right now? What could be a safer environment to practice, than around those who have always proved to accept me despite my quirks? The amazing thing I have discovered is that I had a wonderful time with my friend despite our different spiritual beliefs, I had a great conversation at the wedding about my practice with a relative I haven’t seen in years, and I am even more deeply touched by the love and acceptance my parents have shown me as I change, or instead of saying change, as my awareness opens to see that I have always journeyed in Love. I’ve never really left my true Home!