My yoga teacher shared her experience attending a new (to her) class. The unfamiliar instructor opened by sharing a vulnerability – then labeled it her “s.h.i.t.” Throughout the session she invited everyone to observe if their practice was bringing up their own “bleep.”
My teacher was struck by her resistance to this perspective. Why label a vulnerability as our bleep? Certainly we have “sticky spots” – limitations. Being vulnerable isn’t necessarily bad – isn’t bleep. It just is. We were encouraged throughout class to simply be with our vulnerability – see it; rest with it on the mat. Let it be; hold it – allow it to teach us.
All the stories we tell about ourselves are what Pema Chodron calls a “fixed identity” in her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. We hold onto this identity as a safety net. It allows us to accept how uncomfortable it is not knowing what’s around the corner in our lives. We cling to what we know “for sure” – even when we don’t know jack. Pema says this identity is:
“— a fixed view we have of ourselves as good or bad, worthy or unworthy, this or that. With a fixed identity, we have to busy ourselves with tying to rearrange reality, because reality doesn’t always conform to our view.”
We label ourselves – meeting the world armed with stories and identities. Pema says:
“In Buddhism we call the notion of a fixed identity ‘ego clinging.’ It’s how we try to put solid ground under our feet in an ever-shifting world. Meditation practice starts to erode that fixed identity.”
Meditation – sitting with my vulnerability on the yoga mat; allowing this discomfort; physical, mental, emotional, be my teacher.
“The purpose of the spiritual path is to unmask, to take off our armor. When that happens, it feels like a crisis because it is a crisis—a fixed identity crisis. The Buddha taught that the fixed identity is the cause of our suffering.”
Being in crisis is unsettling. No wonder we cling to who we think we are – repeating those stories, cementing old habits. Pema said that according to the brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor: “the physiological mechanism behind emotion … lasts about ninety seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course.” If we let it run longer it’s because we choose to keep up the dialog. To stop that chatter Pema suggests we:
“Acknowledge the feeling, give it your full, compassionate, even welcoming attention, and even if it’s only for a few seconds, drop the story line about the feeling. This allows you to have a direct experience of it, free of interpretation. Don’t fuel it with concepts or opinions about whether it’s good or bad. Just be present with the sensation. Where is it located in your body? Does it remain the same for very long? Does it shift and change?”
Pema and my yoga teacher tell me to let these feelings be guides; my “gateway to liberation.” Easier said than done. But when I try . . . I do feel better.
“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” – Agnes de Mille