I want to unfold. I do not want to remain folded up anywhere,
because wherever I am still folded, I am untrue.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
I am currently participating in a two-week yoga intensive at a studio near my house. Monday through Friday for two weeks I arrive for my 8:30 class to commit to another day of my practice and see what I discover. We are moving through the same sequence of poses each day to deepen our attention to what is happening. Yesterday as we began with some quiet breathing, the teacher asked us to “notice what’s true” for us about our bodies, our minds, our emotions. Without judgment, we were invited to just be present to the quality of our experience and claim it as the truth for us in that moment.
This powerful little phrase has been lingering in my imagination even off the mat. I then ran across the Rilke quote above in two different places. One of the truths I am discovering is that I am much stronger and more capable physically than I had believed. I signed up for this intensive with some trepidation as I have been taking only gentle classes these last few years because of health issues, yet before that there was a window of time when my yoga practice was strong and vigorous.
But I have been feeling better in recent months and feeling a pull to challenge myself further. My spiritual director and I have been talking about the old story I am still living in and the new one that is making room for me to step inside. The old story was true for a long while and served me well to help me care for myself. But now it has grown too small and I am discovering there is less and less truth to find there. I am needing to unfold myself, stretch muscle, sinew, and bone into the new truth-bearing story and expand within its luminous borders. This is a hard task because I have become so used to telling myself the old story, the one where I can’t go past a certain edge for good reasons, where I had to build up a protective wall so I wouldn’t be hurt again.
“Notice what’s true.” I sit on my mat and become fully present to my body and its longings. I see the old story and new story there on each side of my mat. Each one looks so inviting for different reasons except the old one is folded over, trying to protect itself still and suddenly I see how much smaller it is. And I see how the physical dimension is only one part of the story I have outgrown, there are many other invitations blooming in me as well, awaiting my willingness to unfold fully.
I was having a conversation with another student in my class who asked me how long I had been practicing yoga. My first respons was 13 years, remembering when my husband and I moved to Woodland, California for a year while he worked at the local parish and I was healing from a serious bout of illness. There I found a yoga teacher who opened up a door for me into the capacity of my body. But as I told this story I hesitated, and realized that it was my aunt who first taught me yoga when I was about six years old. I remember my young body loving the experience yoga gave me of feeling safe, strong, and limber, and having a space in my physical being to stretch and reach both inward and outward.
And so the other thing I am discovering that is true, is that everything I love was present in my life in some way when I was a child – writing, photography, art, nature, yoga. In some ways the new story is also a very old story and I am re-membering my way back to that original unfolding. It is not that the strong and vigorous yoga is somehow better than the gentle kind. It is that the truth I am discovering — this new (and somehow also very old, maybe original) story — about my body being strong and capable also leads me to examine the other places of my life I have underestimated myself, the places where life and my capacity for living is far bigger than I had imagined.
© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts