Self-Love and the Effortless Practice of “Now”
Three weeks ago, Sunday morning, I woke to a rare emotion that jabbed a tiny hole within my habitual awareness. Something that could only be described as love. While love is not rare (if we’re lucky enough to find it), this love was of a different nature than anything I'd ever experienced. It had a how-do-I-say-this and hard-to-put-it-into-words kind of texture. Its energy wafted through my being, animating me with an intense, dreamlike joy. And it would seem that for an instant, the temporary plots that my mind perpetually concocts simply came to a stop.
Something that could only be described as love.
"Don’t believe everything you think” is a common expression, but when anxious, hurt, hopeless thoughts linger, dismissing them seems to be an unattainable feat. It was not until this momentary pinprick of awareness that I could see a malaise was building within my life. Who knows how long the feeling had been there (in fact, the feeling felt older than my own 27 years), and yet, with a simple, momentary flash of stillness, the pause in thought set what had grown tired and restless within me free. Even though the sensation lasted only an instant, it gave me a glimpse—a taste—of what could be.
I have read about the phenomena of stillness in spiritual texts, but my enthusiasm for study waxes and wanes. The scriptures are picked up and put down, usually half-finished. I’ll admit, it’s difficult for me to remain captivated. But I’ve been reading Patanjali's Yoga Sutra lately, and as I write now, it patiently rests on the edge of my desk. I glance toward its pages day in and out and my curiosity is perpetually sparked, stuck and cycling around Sutra 1.1: “Now begins the instruction on the practice of yoga.”
There is something about this concept that will not let me go. The words continuously knock on my door. When I make my first cup of coffee in the morning, something echoes, “Now.” When I watch a movie, the word creeps in, “Now.” At work, it’s there...“Now.” Sunday morning, it was even stronger...“Now.” But if "now" is yoga, what does that truly mean? And how do I cultivate a genuine and consistent relationship with it?
My teacher Ram Dass once said that the distance from the individual soul (jiva) to the One (consciousness itself) exists only in our own sense of separateness. That finding our way back to the ocean of the One is like parting gossamer. First, we walk up to the shore. Next, our feet touch the waves. And finally, we jump into the waters. “When you dip into the deepest part of who you are,” he said, “you become fingers of the consciousness of God.” But the frustrations that surround figuring out how to approach the waters sometimes end up drawing me even farther from the shore.
“When you dip into the deepest part of who you are,” he said, “you become fingers of the consciousness of God.”
Life can look a lot like yoga insofar as we may convince ourselves that we're devoted without ever really feeling it inside our hearts. Often I toy with an idea of the perfect practice, hoping that within it I will find my answers. I gaze toward the sky, arching my back in asana, and that sky, a small slice of form, becomes God. An idea unfolds that the more regularly I walk to the mat, the more regularly I sit for meditation, the more I contain the vast space I witness between each cloud, the more I can hold that vast space within me. But, inevitably, somewhere along the way my practice becomes subsumed by a thought. A thought that I am not enough and that I must remake and reshape myself to reach God.
Sometimes when I'm on my mat, its four corners only hold space for my body. I look toward the upward-reaching arm in triangle, “Is it steady?” “Am I holding this pose long enough?” I wonder. “My breath is shaky.” “I could be stronger if only I was more disciplined, like so and so...” Usually it’s the twinge in my lower back that releases me. “Back off,” it says as I step out from the pose. “Enough.”
What am I grasping for when something deeper tells me that I'm already so close? When that something says, it’s “now.” In quieter moments, effortless moments, Sunday morning moments, that voice is far more pronounced. If I were to slow down and stand still, would I be present enough to hear it more?
What does the text mean, then, when it says that yoga is “now”? Maybe the answer is within that essential feeling, that pinprick of a feeling which echoes and builds. Sort of like that line from John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
Maybe the answer is within that essential feeling, that pinprick of a feeling which echoes and builds.
It seems to me that yoga is like that kind of love, and that, in so many ways, it just happens to us. So I will honor the beyondness (the how-do-I-put-this?) of each moment, even when I cannot experience it. And when my mind races and reaches for God (and when my mind tells me I am not there yet, and that I am not enough), I will trust that something-like-love is within me: here, always, now.