Originally Published: March 1, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
Arriving a little after 7.30 pm, I’m confronted with a crowd of about 150 as people file into Semperviva’s beach yoga studio; excited chatter rising and falling as myself and a companion attempt to squeeze through the ebbing mass. We find some empty space in the middle and seat ourselves on top of blue yoga blocks; there we will remain for the next two hours. I look to the front of the class and see Michael Stone seated on a cushion, cross-legged and bald, under a spotlight. Silently, he surveys the crowd as the stragglers trail in and the doors close gently behind them. Michael opens with a guided meditation, leading us through deep breathing as we return to a centered space, away from the busy city lives that we have left just outside the now closed doors – or so I think…
As the meditation ends and we open our eyes, Michael begins to talk about the eight limbs of yoga – the Ashtanga philosophy that he’s studied so intensly for the last few decades of his life. He speaks of how these ‘limbs’ do not just apply to our yoga practice, they apply to every aspect of our lives. The angle he’s coming from is that there is no separation between yoga practice and ‘life practice.’ In other words, yoga is our whole life, and our whole life is yoga. What we encounter on our yoga mat emotionally, mentally, and physically within these in-depth postures, is the entire spectrum of our life. Since I’ve been studying Michael’s teachings for a while now, this concept comes as no surprise to me. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that this philosophy really forms the foundation of my writings: all aspects of our life lean on one another, just like all eight limbs of yoga lean on one another. Yoga opens us up to the very nature of this belief system.
When question and answer period arrives, I ask how we can overcome the mental compartmentalization that our mind so eagerly forms in our lives. How do we capture this sense of oneness that is so often spoken of in Yogic, Taoist, and Zen traditions? To paraphrase, my question went something like this:
“It seems that you are suggesting we construct bridges between what is occurring on our mats in the yoga studio, with what is occurring “out there” (“out there” is referring to life that is not literal yoga practice i.e grocery shopping, driving your car, taking out the trash). How do you recommend we construct such bridges so that one no longer sees spiritual practice in a yoga studio, as separate from the rest of their life?”
In short, I was questioning how we can bridge the gap that creates compartmentalization.
Michael’s answer was that this very way of thinking (that there is a difference between being in the yoga studio and “out there”) is a dangerous way of thinking. He responds that there is no “out there” in comparison to “in here” and we should never think there is. It’s all the same, whether you’re buying groceries or doing down dog.
While this was a great answer, I felt like he did not really hear the core of my question, which was looking more at how do we break down this dangerous way of thinking. It turns out, however, that he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t quite see it from my standpoint:
As I exit the studio I overhear two girls arguing about the validity of my question. One of them understands the angle I’m coming from, but the other is so perplexed by it, it has caused her brow to wrinkle into a contorted look of dismay. I observe this and decide to continue where I left off, in attempt to explain to the second girl what I meant by the question which now seemed to be causing her such discomfort.
I say how in my life, I compartmentalized what I was doing spiritually from the rest of my life because many people around me did not understand, or have interest in the spiritual viewpoints I was following. Particularly in my younger years, practicing yoga and meditation, and having ‘far out’ metaphysical perspectives was considered a little freaky. As a result, I would keep it separate from my social life, my partying life, my school life, and sometimes even my family life. I would refer to this growing compartment as my ‘spiritual life.’
Drawing such a dichotomy led me to believe that what was ‘spiritual’ was separate from the other facets of my existence. And I feel I’m not alone in creating this sort of categorization.
The girl with the creased forehead was trying very hard to put herself in my shoes, and her inability to do so was causing her great angst. She kept questioning why I see the world like this. At first, it was uncomfortable to be reminded that some people perceive the world in a completely different way from how I do. Her pained expression showed me this: that sometimes my questions only exist in my world and have never even crossed the minds of others.
Initially, I found this incredibly irritating; I found her so incredibly irritating, because she was yin and I was yang. But in the moment that we collided head on, I realized that this was perfect. That we needed each other. That I needed her more than she could ever imagine. I needed her to remind me that the world consists of infinite angles, not just one. And to really see this is to become the bamboo shoot in a hurricane.
And so, maybe those religions that butt heads, those political parties that despise one another; the Capitalist and the Socialist, the Democrat and the Republican, the hipster and the homie. Maybe they need each other more than they could ever imagine. After all, extremities serve as reference points and in the middle of them lies the Tao. (Way).
To answer my own question, I have found a successful bridging process and that is to write.
To write about the absurdity of such instances in my life, helps me to breakdown the compartmentalization that I create. And so I ask you:
How do you break down the compartments in your life to reach a sense of oneness?
Leave me a comment. I’d be interested to know.