Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Master teacher and author Donna Farhi wrote in her book, Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living: "One of the most devastating consequences of skewed perception is the longing that grows in us for someone to see us as we really are. We long to have someone, somewhere, even for a moment, really see us. When someone sees the "us" that is our essence, we say that we feel loved. My teacher taught that the primary thing to learn is how to be this loving, accepting presence. . . . When this longing to be seen by another is great, we become susceptible to chronic manipulation of our image. We may continually rearrange and reinvent ourselves in the hope that this new rendition will please our audience. Instead of being present, we perform." (pp. 179-80)

The Poet David Whyte says, "To be constantly explaining who you are is a gospel of despair." He further invites us to simply be ourselves and in so doing give permission to all around us to do likewise.

In yoga, we practice self-witnessing as we breathe, move through poses, and meditate. Without this self-witness, you can't see the true you. No amount of others seeing or perceiving you will supplement for a lack of knowing yourself. It's the paradox of rock stars feeling so lonely. Like a friend told me recently, it's as if in our quest to experience and really discover/remember who we are, we feel like being seen by others is synonymous to being. If people are seeing me, it gives the false confidence that there must be something there to see, right? But being witnessed isn't witnessing. Yoga philosophy suggests that who we are fundamentally is the ability to truly witness ourselves and everything around us.

I know what you're saying, "Thanks, Mr. Oblique Yoga Philosophy Guy. That's some awesome yoga thought but give me some real-life ways to relate that to getting up in the morning and facing another day of work and family and the every-day." Well, the easiest way to apply this is to just pay attention to your life. What does it feel like to sit in a warm shower and let the water flow over your skin? What do the blossoms smell like when you walk down the sidewalk? What does your breakfast taste like? What does it feel like when your boss walks by? Yoga practice is simply a condensed and refined way of paying close attention. Besides yoga makes us feel great, helps us have a healthy body, calm mind, and open heart. Here's the deal: once we start practicing this self-witnessing business in yoga, we won't stop at Namaste. We'll be feeling our hamstrings in practice one night, and wake up extremely aware of the way the shower feels or maybe start to see the deep feelings in your heart. These are the most real ways of just being. The deeper we pay attention, the more we notice what's behind the surface, what's animating the outer form, what's sensing, what's seeing. Eventually, with practice, we become more and more familiar with this Inner Self. What's amazing is how this knowledge of Inner Self gives us amazing confidence to just be. We stop trying to produce the image of ourselves, and we just be ourselves.

It reminds me of tales of Mark Twain giving lectures back in the day. He would walk out on stage in front of a packed theater and just stand there looking at the audience. The crowd would applause, would eventually quiet down and wait silently for him to talk. Instead of saying anything, he would just stand there and stare back to them, like he was staring down the entire audience. The tension in the room would begin to build second by second as he just stood there looking back at them all. One man looking at thousands. He didn't have to perform. He didn't have to say anything. He was Mark-Freekin'-Twain! Finally, when the tension became almost unbearable, he could say one word and have the entire audience in his hands because he was completely real.

Writers, poets, yogis all have this one crucial thing in common: they all pay very close attention themselves and the world around them.

I'll see you in class and we'll practice some of this self-witnessing. Maybe this is what John Lennon meant by "let it be."