The Way it Is
by William Stafford
There’s a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change.
But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. Y
ou don’t ever let go of the thread.
I suppose it sounds a bit trite to say that I am grateful for my practice, given today is the day before Thanksgiving and expressions of gratitude are somewhat obligatory, but I do feel grateful for my relationship to practice. Keep in mind that for me, the notion of practice is not limited to asana but includes those actions in which I repeatedly engage in order to participate in the process of Self-remembering. From lifestyle choices to formal practices to the cultivation of bhav or mood, practice is multi-faceted.
Like any relationship, my relationship to practice has gone through many seasons-- from zeal to avoidance and back, from hope to disillusionment to acceptance, and from externally-referenced to internally-oriented. What I feel most grateful for today is that I have stayed connected to the thread of practice during the various seasonal cycles.
Staying connected to the thread of practice might mean being honest about the fact I am avoiding a life pointed toward consciousness. Staying connected often looks like doing some small thing in the face of seeming futility. Staying connected often means facing boredom, difficulty, and resistance in its many forms. And, of course, there are seasons when my commitment is renewed, when I can savor the sweetness of the fruits of my efforts and I want for myself those things that my practice requires and offers.
In a recent business meeting, I was talking about why I call my programs Live the Light of Yoga and how the name has evolved for me over time. I am no longer interested in living the prescriptions of yoga, in being defined by any one asana style, a set of dietary protocols, a style of meditation, or by notions of what real yoga is or isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, this level of practice is important, but to me, the do’s and don’ts of practice are not an end in and of themselves, but are in service to the awakening of the Light within so that I can truly live the Light.
So, I have landed this consideration smack in the middle of the great paradox of yoga practice— I can’t realize the fruits of practice without the practice and yet, the practice is not the only point. And yet, practice is the thread upon which so much hangs. Personally, I am in a season of finding my various practices enjoyable and enlivening. I feel a congruence with myself as I sit in the mornings for meditation, chant the sadguru arati, and do my simple puja ceremonies. I am enjoying time with my journal, time with my mat and the way these practices give me time with myself. Teaching, too, as many of you know, is another practice and when engaged in a certain way, offers a tremendous transformational pathway.
I am grateful I held onto the thread of practice during the darker times so that I am still in place now that the Light shines more fully. There is no easy formula for it other than to do some small thing, even if that small thing is simply telling the truth that you aren’t doing much of anything. And, as times has passed, one thing I have learned is that while a certain amount of force may be useful at times, that approach is not sustainable over time. I simply can not force myself into something— be that something a pose, a protocol or a perspective— that is not authentic without experiencing some kind of backlash. At some point, I stopped using practice to work on myself and started using it to work with myself. As obvious as it sounds, the pathway toward Love works best when it is, well, loving.
So, that’s what I have today. I know holidays can be a mixed bag for folks for various reasons so I wish for you your own love in the midst of whatever they are for you. I wish for each of us that we hold on to the thread of Love and that we keep practicing in whatever way we can.
I am home from a week-long trip to Texas to teach at Wanderlust Austin in Austin, TX and to help Dad move to Waco. Dad's move is the big news in our family life. After being here for three years, he decided to move to Texas to live closer to Anne and to be near some resources he may need as he need as he ages. It is a big transition for everyone and the move went as well as could be expected. His new place is beautiful-- located a few doors down from Anne's Waco residence, many Baylor faculty members and friends, and close to the church he plans to attend.
The weekend workshop at Wanderlust Austin went well with lots of students I have never met and many I have known for years. I hope to get a little more time than I have this morning to unpack some of my insights from the weekend, the November Intensive in Colorado and my time in Tucson before that. One common theme in each worksop has been the consideration of maturing in practice.
I define practice as those actions we repeatedly make to participate consciously in the process of Self-remembering. For many people the initial foray into practice is a process of learning new things, going along with recommendations, taking advice, following protocols, and getting integrated into a community. Over time, the process of sifting through the information, making more adult choices about what to disregard and what to include comes (often after a period of upset, disillusionment, etc.) and we learn to consciously participate in the process that is transforming us.
I am passionate about the shift from what I think of as passive studentship--waiting for the teacher to say all the right things, to give all the right cues, to create the best sequences (although, to be clear, as a teacher I am committed to doing a good job) to what I think of us as active, adult studentship. Active, adult studentship is collaborative between teacher and student, between the student and the teachings and between the individual and the community in which we practice.
I recently peeked in on a Facebook thread from a seasoned student who was upset that the teacher in whose class she was practicing got upset when she modified a posture and did her own thing for a while. On another thread in the same group, there was a long discussion about what one should do as a student if they needed alternative alignment (such as feet slightly turned out to adjust for a variation in their knee) and the teacher kept insisting they turn their feet straight ahead in classic alignment. And, most of us have been been considering touch, consent and the sticky wicket of hands-on adjustments as of late.
There are a lot of nuances and needs inherent in each situation that are too numerous to name this morning and yet, I am struck by the differences in how I handle those things now compared to how I was trained to deal with them over twenty years ago. Somewhere along the way, I started asking students, "Hey, are you turning your feet out for a reason?" before adjusting them verbally or otherwise. And sometimes the reason is "I had no idea I was doing that" and sometimes the reason is "Yes, because I need this for a structural reason" and sometimes the reason is "I learned it that way" and so on. (And, as a student, I always let my teacher know if I am hurt, tweaky or worried about some type of posture. )
At any rate, that little pause and question has been a revelatory unfolding in my teaching life, allowing me to enter into a dialogue with my students which empowers us both to participate consciously in the teacher-student relationship and saves me the nightmare that comes from assumption-making. None of what I describing is easy, nor has the process of my own maturation in practice, studentship and teaching been smooth. Anyone who knows me knows that I am full of fire, opinions, and perspectives and no one formula works all the time, no matter how sincere the players.
More on these considerations soon.
If you are still reading this entry, then here is my shameless plug for my upcoming program. This program is designed to help support you through the holidays with simple, short, effective means to stay in touch with yourself. Each week, you will get a mantra practice, a breath practice, a writing practice, a visualization practice and an asana practice-- each under 15 minutes and recorded for download. Its a great way to stay connected to yourself throughout the upcoming season so if you feel to busy to do it, that's the best sign that it might be a good thing to do.
Anyway- we start Monday, so sign up!
Off to move some boxes and move some furniture.
“The 15 minutes of practice that you do is better than the 2 hours that you do not do.”
- Christina Sell
Begins November 25
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The course begins November 25, with the week of Thanksgiving and continues through January 5 to take you through the holidays and into the New Year, riding the momentum of intention and the power of practice.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."