When #planbe initiated in response to the first lockdown last March, like everyone, I couldn't have known that, after exhausting all the letters in the alphabet, life would be so different from anything that I could have imagined only one year earlier. While the outer changes have been profound both in the world and my own life, it's the inner shifts that have surprised me the most. Not for their significance, but for their subtlety.
Sometimes people experience transformation like a light turning on suddenly; this kind of spontaneous awakening is a holy grail that entices and eludes many seekers with its' promise of an instantaneous release from the confines of conditioning to live free of suffering. More often, change is a steady and slow process that occurs over a lifetime (and perhaps many thousands of lifetimes), fueled by dedication and discipline and marked by moments of recognition that feel more like tuning into a radio frequency than flipping a switch.
This has been my own experience too, especially in the last year, as I’ve devoted more time to tuning my instrument of awareness. While there’s still static sometimes, I’m able to listen more regularly to this simple and true song:
There is no other time, but now.
There is nowhere else to go, but here.
There is nothing else to do, but this.
There is no one else to be, but me.
And all of it-- time and here and this and me--changes continuously. We are never NOT transforming; we are always in transition, always cycling somewhere between beginning, middle, end and the great pause. It's when we try to fix our hold and our hearts on here, on this, on me and mine, and on anything other than NOW that we suffer because we resist the one thing that we cannot change--that change is the only constant. It's a cliché for a reason.
I've always taken the call to action (inaccurately attributed to Mahatma Ghandi) to “be the change you want to see in the world” to mean that, to change the world, you have to be different in order to change the world. But lately I've got a new perspective: being the change means being wholly present as you are in the world as it is, and through your presence and your participation, the world, and you, will transform into something beyond what you could have imagined.
None of us has managed to come through the last year, let alone life itself, unaltered. To evaluate and compare the gravity of our individual situations misses the point that whether you are currently sipping lemonade or lamenting the rotting lemons in your pantry and wondering when things will go “back to normal” is determined not by the circumstances themselves, but by how you relate to them. What Ghandi actually said is that it’s not about changing the world, but about recognizing that:
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness.”
That we and our world will change is certain; whether we experience greater suffering or greater freedom is the question. The answer depends on our ability to remain present, connected, and clear. If this sounds challenging, that’s because it is. As Ghandi points out, happiness hinges on changing our human nature. But first, we need to look inside, starting with the body/mind.
This is where Yoga, and every other embodied spiritual practice, comes in. And when approached as a technology for contacting truth, these practices train and develop our capacity at every level: physical, intellectual, energetic, and spiritual. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly in our modern Western culture, this approach to Yoga is the exception and instead, this ancient wisdom tradition is regarded as yet another tool to be used in a futile and endless project of self-improvement.
I should know: from taking my first Yoga classes at age 17 as a way to relax and stop grinding my teeth, I’ve been approaching my practice as a way to “fix” myself. As this embarrassing fact became more apparent to me in the last year, my intention shifted from practicing Yoga as a way to change myself and the world to practicing Yoga as a way to be with myself and the world. Pretty much everything looks the same on the outside; the difference is how I feel on the inside. After more than twenty years of practicing Yoga, and teaching for half that time, I am grateful to be able to start again at the beginning, to revisit the postures and the philosophy, and to evolve beyond chasing an idea of how the pose, or I, or life should be and instead, meet myself, my practice, and my life as it is.