This week I had the opportunity to take class with one of my senior teachers. Its been weeks since I have been able to make the one public class he teaches each week. Within this class, he started off as he normally does with a dharma talk inspired by something going on in his life and how it relates to an aspect of the yogic teachings.
This particular session, he addressed the Ashvattha Tree, also referred to as the tree of Life. Within some of the ancient texts, the Bhagavad Gita specifically, the Ashvattha Tree is known for its unique orientation towards space. Specifically, it grows upside down – with its roots extending up into heaven and its branches reaching down to earth.
Within the context of this class, my teacher was using it as a metaphor for how we could be firmly grounded in our selves (our highest selves, our spiritual selves that is) and through that rootedness perform our work in the real world.
After the class ended, I approached my teacher with a question. There was a pose that we’d performed in the class as a physical symbol of this upside down tree that has become one of the poses I do not practice often, perhaps because I do not enjoy the effects it leaves on my body. When I inquired as to why this might be so, my teacher reflected back two things: 1. That perhaps the pose would be one that I would never enjoy and thus should not do, and 2. That perhaps the only way to find real comfort in the pose would be to stay well beyond my initial discomfort. For as he reflected back, within my own practice, I typically modify most poses and rarely stay within a pose beyond any initial discomfort.
His comments left me in this somewhat liminal space. For on the one hand, I completely understood the idea of holding a pose for a longer period of time in order to allow the pose to work on you (mentally, emotionally, physically, and energetically). And this work typically only occurs once you’ve gotten beyond the initial discomfort and the thoughts that tell you to bail.
One the other hand, his comment about modifying every aspect of my practice left me feeling somewhat unseen and perhaps misunderstood. For as a somewhat seasoned practitioner (at least 15 years in counting, plus all my time doing ballet and modern – an additional 10 – 15 years), I feel I have experienced the pain that comes from listening to any voice but the one deep within.
All this got me to think: In what ways might our actions be misconstrued and how might we misconstrue the actions of others? How do we navigate the need to unapologetically honor our own needs and be who we are, while also honor the needs and expectations of our relationships – which often requires that we allow others to be themselves and honor their own needs? How do we walk the line between living in this world, while being not of this world? How do we actually remaining firmly rooted and connected to our highest selves, our inner knowing while extending our branches inward?
I believe that every person, whether we want to admit it or not, in some way serves as a mirror/teacher reflecting back certain aspects of how we are or how we show up in the world. There is no doubt in my mind about that. The larger question for me is: Is what they reflect back in alignment with the highest version of myself? Yes, my teacher was right in the sense that I often modify every pose when I practice. I do do this. Anyone who watches me practice can confirm his observation within the first couple of poses.
However, I do not believe his comment was in alignment with my highest version of myself – the part of myself that has struggled for years to get me to understand that there is nothing I need to do to be worthy. This version of me, this voice inside my head, is always working to get me to listen to and honor it above all else. For it is beyond my ego that says I am unworthy if I don’t do this, or unworthy to do that. It is beyond the thoughts of obligation or worry. This voice, is a direct connection, a root if you will, to my intuition, my inner knowing, my highest self. For while this voice is in this world, it is not of this world. It is firmly rooted in the heavens/spirit/my highest self – much like the Ashvattha Tree.
So the question that I have for you, the one that I am attempting to answer for myself is this: To which voice are you listening? Is it your highest self, your ego that has something to prove or protect, or some authority figure? What is it telling you? Are its messages creating more ease, harmony, and connection or are they creating further pain, disconnection, and separation? In many respects, I believe our tasks is to begin to separate the signal from the noise, for only then can we find the freedom, the peace, that we seek.