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
Christine, I have been reading Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin, (an amazing book) and he talks about welcoming home The Loyal Soldier–the part of ourselves, formed in childhood, that kept us small and safe for good reasons, but now needs to be thanked and honored as we release ourselves from that old, too-small story. Your story of recognizing your older story and moving courageously from it was a great synchronicity in my day and I thank you for sharing it. And, I thank you for sharing your courage–it is a challenge that helps us move as individuals and as community.
As an afterthought, I think this idea of “true” speaks not only to what is “truth” but what endures, what remains. After all these years, you are finding (as am I) that your first creative loves still remain. I guess the question I’m asking myself is: will I be true to that which is true for me?
Thank you very much, Christine. You have given me some very helpful advice and suggestions. I really appreciate you taking the time to do that. These past months have been full of noticing the truth and unfolding, folding, unfolding. And now I want to exercise my body and my mind :)
lucy, I love your playful post! Yes, always more unfolding . . . :-)
christine–i love reading this and finding, as i have from the first moment i came to your website three years ago, a resonance deep inside my being. i was at yoga myself yesterday and our teacher gave much space for us to listen to our own bodies and decide when is enough. i realized that i, too, may not be “unfolding” as much as my body (and life) may be calling me.
speaking of “everything I love was present in my life in some way when I was a child” reminds me of my morning post. (written before i came here :-) ) if you’re up for a little play, it might be a fun exercise for your current space. i know it was for me. there is always more unfolding, huh? or at least new ways to fold. :-) xoxoxo
Thanks Roxanne, Kate I, Dianne, and Cindy. Cindy, yes the gift of this awareness is that what is true for us will shift from person to person and even moment to moment. The practice is staying present, which it sounds like you are doing in compassionate ways. The grief is a part of that truth too.
Bette, I would recommend trying out a few different studios and teachers. Because yoga is so ubiquitous, it has become prevalent as a physical fitness activity, which is not a bad thing since it certainly does engage the body in deep ways. It’s just that the whole system of yoga is a much more expansive practice and the teachings that undergird it are quite profound. You might begin by looking at the websites for different places and seeing what kind of feel you get. But really you won’t know unless you just try out a class. My two favorite places near me are Seattle Yoga Arts (where I am doing the intensive) http://seattleyogaarts.com/ and Samarya Center http://samaryacenter.org/ (you can look at their sites to get a feel for them). In general I find a yoga studio will be more committed to the full spectrum of yoga practice than classes at a gym (although my first yoga teacher was at a gym and she was wonderful). There are lots of different flavors or schools of yoga practice, I have really enjoyed teachers who come from the Kripalu (http://www.kripalu.org/find_a_teacher) or Anusara (http://www.anusara.com/) and both websites have a teacher locator so that might also be a good place to start. But really I would begin by committing to try out maybe 2 different teachers each week for a couple of weeks and then see how you like their class. My favorite teachers are the ones who can show you the pose, but who also have a gift for guiding the internal movements as well. The ones who are gifted at leading meditation and ground awareness in those opening and closing moments of class and then gently remind me throughout of my focus. Hope that helps! :-)
Ah yes, and noticing what’s true can move in many directions. Age 62, I went back to a yoga class this year with a gentle compassionate teacher. I thought -hoped – expected I could work within the multilevels of the class. But I found that even that required working at what the teacher called my “hard edge,” not my “soft edge” and was causing more pain than healing. So I’ve moved to the seniors and special needs class. At first it was hard to admit to myself that’s where I belonged, feeling somehow that I’d failed and mourning deeply for the dancer’s body I inhabited at 25. But–noticing and honoring what’s true for me now–being in this class is good, as is (harder to say) who I am now.
I was just saying to someone the other night that I notice myself viewing life less as an ascent and more of a spiral. It’s like I keep coming back around to the same things in life – the same truths, the same learnings, etc. But each time I do so, I realize I do so as a different person. I think you’re right on: our capacity for life and living is so much greater than we imagine. “Notice what’s true” – I’ll tuck that into my pocket and carry it with me. Thanks for this post.