Lately I’ve been noticing two different layers to my mind. There’s the one that’s pretty chatty, and fairly loud–like the one I can hear right now as I write, or the one that says “don’t forget to buy bread on the way home!” And then, there’s this other one, a layer deeper, more quiet, and therefore something I’m only aware of when I’m being really aware and really honest with myself. And I’m finding that it’s not usually saying things I’m terribly proud of. I’m actually downright ashamed of the thoughts I’ll share with you below–this is a very vulnerable post for me. But I’m also so grateful that I’m able to see these thoughts, and excavate them. My hope is that sharing here will help others with similar self-examination. We have to look at this shit, or nothing will change.
The other day I unearthed two huge quilts that were handmade by my mom decades ago, and because they stunk “to high Heaven” as she would say, I stuffed them into the back of my car to drive them to the laundromat, where the washers, unlike my own, would be big enough to wash them. Unpacking the quilts in the parking lot of the strip mall that holds the laundromat, it began to pour–like, reeeely pour. As I tried awkwardly to keep the heavy quilts in my arms, hugging them closer and closer to keep them from falling as the rain soaked into them, their moldy smell seemed to multiply. I felt the stinky water soak into my shirt and jeans as I scuffled through the puddles and humidity, and all at once I felt a wave of self-consciousness crash over me, imagining what I must look–and smell–like. Mascara likely down my face, moldy funk all over me, and a drenched T-shirt, with no bra. (I tend not to wear one at home as I’m nursing my baby so often, and just didn’t think of it as I jumped into the car.) It’s amazing, really, to think of it now: a moment of doing a-ok, humming along to myself, even in the rain, and then POW–that self-consciousness, insidious and unshakeable…it can’t just be undone once it hits. At least not for me in this situation–not if I’m being honest. And right away, my ego came to rescue, like a pompous knight on a horse, head held high. Here’s the part where a much quieter and mischievous mind slips right in. It was just trying to help, I suppose…to keep me safe from the fear of being the weirdo, being laughed at, being scorned–essentially the fear of being rejected by my society.
But how incredibly disconnecting it is. The thought was not so much a thought as a whisper… And actually even a whisper would’ve been easier to filter out… It was more like a sudden and unseen transplant into the mind, which I didn’t process fully until later. The message was something like “Well it doesn’t matter what these people think of me anyway.” Now, I’d love to say that it was in a kind and reassured way–as in “I love you all, fellow humans, and at the same time I know that I cannot please you all.” Perhaps it was this to some degree. And it’d be fairly easy to delude myself that that was all it was. But with attention and honesty (satya) I know there was more to it, under the surface, tricky and hidden. It was just a tad more like “it doesn’t matter what these people think.” Based on who was around me, I can guess that by these people my mind meant people without the money to own washers, and/or black people, and/or Latino people. (Did I mention that I’m not proud of this?) And get this: my psyche seems to know that this kind of hierarchical, “I’m better than you” judgement is unacceptable to me, so my mind quieted down the tone of it just enough to slip it in without my dismissing it as terrible right away.
The ego. It swoops in to protect me from my fear of not being connected to others, and in so doing, disconnects me from them all, before anyone has even has an opportunity to judge me.
So…what does this all have to do with yoga? Well, we will never rid ourselves of the ego. But what yoga can help us to do is to hear these whispers, these thought transplants, these ugly or ridiculous or fear-based messages when they creep in. Yoga can help us to examine our own racism, classism, and a zillion other judgements we make so quickly that we might otherwise take them as truth. This is svadyaya, or self-study. As practitioners of yoga, we get good at listening on the mat, when things are more quiet, so that we might have a shot at hearing them in other moments. We try to practice coming back to our “witness consciousness” when thoughts take us away, growing this wiser and more expansive part of ourselves so that it might just be available when we’re slogging through the rain covered in mold, or in an argument, or dealing with a frustrating boss or whining child, or whatever. We hope to operate from this higher place, the place of “the observer,” a place where labels of good/bad, better/worse, and so forth start to fall away and we are simply left with what is, satya, a truer, and simpler reality. We hope to spend more time in the “anandamaya kosha” or “bliss body” instead of only in the physical body or mental body, so that we might grant ourselves and all other beings the compassion that is, in the end, the only real answer to our struggles.
What are some thoughts you’re not so proud of? Willing to share? While I realize the automatic response may be “Hell no!” the more we all share our shadow sides–which each and every one of us have–the more we can normalize these things and support one another. And, of course, you don’t have to share with me, but I do encourage you to share with yourself. Namaste as always.