‘All are clear, I alone am clouded.’ – Lao-tzu
Like many people who practice yoga I found a whole new world opened up for me through practice. So much so, I decided that I wanted to deepen my understanding and experience of practice so I decided to do a month long teacher training. Initially, I had no plans to teach, I simply wanted to know myself better. I wanted to place my relationship with myself at the center of my own life, rather than always feeling like my life was defined by supporting other people and their needs.
I was at a transitional point in my life when I embarked on my training, which is a bit weird to say since my entire life up to that point had been one series of transitions after another in my blind attempt to avoid myself. Part way through the training I realized that I could actually do this for a living and decided that I would make a go of teaching.
Like many teachers though, once I began teaching full time I found that my personal yoga practice began to fade away. Rather than coming to the mat freely each day, my practice now felt like an obligation that I must adhere to in order to be a ‘good’ teacher. And that feeling of having to do something, anything really, every day soured my natural impulse to want to practice resulting in a steady wall of resistance that stopped me from getting on the mat at all. Soon the only time I was practicing was when I was teaching which left me feeling a like a fraud.
With no direct experience of learning what the practice had to teach me, I found myself constantly looking outside, in search of new ways to approach the same old tired routine my teaching practice had become. I felt the pressure to ‘perform’ for my students, to be the kind of teacher that I thought they needed and wanted me to be. Rather than be fully present with them and willing to see them clearly so that the practice could reveal to us both what it had to offer. For many years I struggled with my resistance, failing to commit to a daily practice even when I could see clearly that my personal experience of practice and my teaching practice required me to do so.
Over the past two decades, I’ve come to know my resistance well and can now see clearly, when I allow it to override what I know I must do if I want to benefit from the practice at all. There is no benefit without work and practice does require effort on our part for it to be sustained. And why wouldn’t we want to sustain our practice? After all, did we not begin practice in the first place because it provided something useful and meaningful for us?
Oftentimes our resistance is so strong though that we forget why we want to practice at all. Adding to that dilemma is a lack of understanding of what’s required of us to be fully engaged in our practice. Not knowing what our practice is or what is required of us leaves us open to the voice of the ego which preys on any little bit of leverage it can use to stoke the fires of our resistance and stop us from practicing.
You might wonder why the ego would use so much energy trying to stop us from committing to a daily practice. First, let’s define what we mean by practice.
A practice is anything that we do consistently, day after day, with the clear commitment of learning how to see ourselves clearly. We can do that through our painting or sculpting practice, our meditation or martial arts practice, our writing or yoga practice. There are infinite ways that we can practice because all life is practice when approached with the intent to see ourselves clearly.
The words on the page that we write, the pots we throw on the wheel, the way that the paintbrush meets the canvas or the poses we do on the mat — all become a metaphor, a window through which we learn to see ourselves clearly. To know the truth of who we really are.
So a practice must have enough structure or definition for us to know when we are hiding from ourselves, to know when our resistance has gotten the better of us. And it must be done with commitment as a part of our daily lives. It must be a priority if we are to truly know ourselves, for the ego is continually obscuring our perception of self and the world we live in.
We must also know how to take rest but breaks in our practice need to be purposefully scheduled into the structure that we commit to, rather than randomly thrown in anytime we don’t feel like practicing. Which will, of course, be as often, if not more, than when we do.
So if the purpose of our practice is to provide us with a consistent and reliable container through which to observe ourselves with clarity, then a part of that process of clear seeing must also be the willingness to confront and sit with the parts of ourselves that we don’t particularly like. The parts of ourselves that we’ve invested a great deal of time and energy avoiding being with. By making the time and space to sit with all that we have been avoiding in ourselves we come to know how our resistance manifests and we learn to recognize it before it has the chance to derail our efforts.
Our resistance shows up as the voice in our head that will try to convince us that there is any number of perfectly legitimate reasons for why we should put off our practice, just for today. But every time we heed the voice of the ego and we allow our resistance to get the better of us it gains greater power over us and makes it that much more difficult to follow through on our commitment to practice the next day.
So ask yourself, what is your resistance wanting to stop you from being, doing, feeling or experiencing?
Day after day as we commit and recommit to our practice, we strengthen our understanding of why it matters that we persevere despite the intensity of our resistance. Eventually, over time we soon come to see our practice like an old friend. Like old friends, there are days when it feels so good to see one another. We’re comforted by their presence knowing that we need not explain ourselves, for they know us almost as well as we know ourselves. But then after a while of being together again we begin we feel our irritation stir. Suddenly what felt comforting now feels constrictive and we lash our knowing that we can say or do anything and they will forgive us, for they are a true friend.
In all friendships that endure there will be times when we hurt one another and apologies will need to be made. What distinguishes our enduring relationships from those that fade over time is our willingness to put in the effort to keep them alive. And in the same way, our practice demands that loyalty and commitment, that willingness to return to it day after day, putting the effort required to sustain it.
Over a lifetime, like our friendships, we may fall away from our practice for days, weeks, months or even years at a time. But something in us longs to be reunited with our old friend, to know the intimacy of allowing ourselves to be fully seen for who we are. The shape and structure of practice may change, much like we do as we age, but we return to face ourselves in the mirror that our practice provides in the hopes of seeing ourselves clearly and being able to take that clarity with us into the rest of our lives.
Once we know why it matters that we commit to our practice, we begin to develop a new understanding of our resistance and we’re no longer willing to negotiate with it. We know now that all life is practice and the formal structure we work with, is simply a microcosm that allows us to see clearly. The more subtle nuisance of our nature so that we can retain our ability to see ourselves clearly off the mat or out of the studio.
With this clarity firmly rooted in us, we are not promised perfection, simply the ability to recognize that it is we who are obscured, not the world around us. Through practice, we establish the capacity to stand rooted in ourselves despite the changing circumstances around us. We learn what it means to be in our own abode, to know that our true home is within us, and therefore unaffected by all that happens outside of us. We no longer need the world or others to conform to our preferences as our sense of self is not dependent on outer conditions.
Without a daily commitment to practice we fail to ask the right questions, to see ourselves and others clearly and to know the truth of who we are. Only when we fully understand why we practice in the first place are we able to make the commitment necessary for our practice to sustain us. Each day our practice reveals to us the fluctuating nature of our minds capacity to see ourselves clearly and to know the truth of who we are, that which is beyond the minds thinking. Through practice, we cultivate the ability to observe our thoughts and the emotions they give rise to without becoming entangled in the stories they create and perpetuate.
To see oneself clearly is at the root of why we commit to practice. For in doing so, we free ourselves of the pain and suffering created by our false or separate self that the ego and all the many forms of resistance it uses to keep us loyal to the belief in our separateness.
If you would like to connect with Siobhan, she’s going to be joining us @ Janati Yoga in April 2019. For more details click here.