Letting Go of Me

I’ve spent 45 years cultivating my “self.” I’ve developed pretty strong understandings of my characteristics and beliefs. I’ve established standards for my own behavior and defined what is and is not acceptable for me.

And yet, as a student/researcher of communication, I’ve long believed that the “self” is a socially created construct, which arises from our interactions with others. I’ve thought that standards of behavior, my own or someone else’s, are arbitrary and developed through culture.

More recently, as a yoga student, I’ve refined my notion that the attachment to the story of self (asmita) must be released in our process of becoming more connected with that which is universal. It makes sense to me that the emphasis on the me, the I, is counter-productive in cultivating union.

But… isn’t there always a but? But, it’s hard. It’s hard to let go of “me.” And I look around and see many other yogis having the very same problem. It’s hard not to attach to the stories you have built over time that explain the self. It’s hard not to feel and attach to a sense of personal accomplishment about what you can do (even in a yoga class, which has it’s own irony) or guilt/shame about what you cannot.

It all becomes more tricky, because there is an infinite regress of places where the “me” can pop up. Let’s say that you get comfortable with letting go of attachment to your sense of personal accomplishment regarding asana. Then the next level is to let go of the sense of accomplishment over having let go of the sense of accomplishment. Ouch. And it just goes on from there.

We also live in a world that will require you to create stories of you (what is a resume, after all), and will certainly create stories about you. That doesn’t mean you have to attach to the stories, but it does mean that you likely have to participate in them, and commit to enacting them, which makes it harder not to attach to them.

To some degree, the development of an understanding and set of beliefs about self is part of our humanity. Some scholars would say that the ability to abstractly understand and evaluate the self in relation to others and the world is what makes us human. Letting that go completely may not be possible, or desirable.

Maybe a more reasonable goal is to cultivate awareness of when the story of me is cropping up in a way that prevents us from seeing our unity with that beyond, keeps us from opening up to other possibilities, stands between us and our ability to truly experience the present, and blocks us from being able to understand and empathize with the reality that others are living.



The Self Unpredictable

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have a little competitive streak.  Well, I’m not sure it’s competition exactly, because it would be ok with me if everyone was the best at everything.  I just want to be really good at anything I do.  Since I’ve also grown up in a culture that believes in a consistent “self” at the center of being (even though I’ve been teaching about the absence of this center for 20+ years now), this has led me to reject – wholesale – activities that I’m not “good at,” in an assumption that I will never be so.  Sports is (are?) an example.

In school, I was really awful at sports, with the exception of individual things like archery and bowling.  Anything that involved speed or hand/eye coordination was a big no.  I always felt conspicuous and things like picking teams made me want to fade into the floor.  After high school was over, I tucked sports into the “things I don’t do” category.  The only exceptions made where for individual activities that I felt like I had a shot at doing well in.  I biked, because what I lacked in speed I could make up in determination.  I lifted, because my upper body isn’t so strong, but my leg muscles like  nothing better than to bulk up into huge knots (little did I know that this would be to my later sadness in yoga).  I avoided any sort of team sport or casual sport like it was a plague.  This was “me.”

And then yoga came along.  At first, it was about feeling better from RA pain.  And then it was about seeing what my body could do.  And then it was about calm and peace.  And eventually, it was about yoga.  I’m not saying that there aren’t still days when I get annoyed at myself because I can’t do a pose or feel envious that someone else can, but I don’t see those things as “me.”  I just see them as the moment.  Yoga does that for me, because on any one day, I’m a different me than I was the day before in a class, and I’ll be different again tomorrow.  My mind has a different texture, a different process, a different sense of the world.  In one class, I find it easy to be on my mat (mentally) and keep my focus in the present.  In the next session, I can’t stop worrying about work, or the curtains I’m sewing for the family room.  My breath will happily stay in ujjayi for a whole practice on Wednesday, and then on Friday I cannot maintain it for 2 breaths in a row.  My body can do a pose one day and then refuse to do it completely the next day (in fact, last Friday, it did a move 3 times in one hour, and then the following hour couldn’t even approach it).  It will shock me completely by going into a complicated arm balance on one side, and then refuse to even consider vasishtasana on the other side.

I guess if I was really intent on maintaining the sense of a core self, this would bother me.  But, I’m not.  I’ve rejected (rationally, at least) that idea for many years, so this simply reaffirms for me an idea that the self is not at the center (though I do believe that the Self – in the sense of the connection to the greater or divine – is there, but that isn’t about personality traits or abilities).  And it’s so freeing.  I don’t know what my body, mind, breath will be like tomorrow, or even in 10 minutes – not much sense fretting about it.  There is a certain peace in that.  The world of possibility is there.  There is a certain excitement in that.

I love yoga. Have I mentioned that?



I Said I Do Yoga; I Did Not Say I’m a Saint

As you know if you read The VeganAsana regularly, I’m currently wrapping up yoga teacher training.  Most of the people I spend my time with are aware that I have been going through this training.  And then there are people who don’t know much else about me other than that I do a lot of yoga (either because we only know each other online or we only know each other through the yoga community).  This means that there are a whole bunch of people who “understand me as a yogi.”  That’s  nice.  It means I can pester people about yoga and they will know why!

Saint Gertrude the Great - Also quite fond of learning but with a less than perfect temperament that she had to work on.

On the other hand, I notice that there is an assumption that, as someone who studies yoga, I should be above the negative and petty emotions of the world.  I shouldn’t be angry (or at least not without some major righteous reason). I shouldn’t be jealous or envious.  I shouldn’t be impatient.  I shouldn’t experience self-doubt, question my worth, or make statements that imply I’m engaging in self-judgment.  When I do express such emotions now, I get comments related to my yoga practice, or the raised-eyebrow  look, or general impatience.

I’m not going to say that achieving full equanimity isn’t a laudable goal, but I’m so not there.  I don’t actually know any yogis who are fully in that place.  Sure, some are great with not becoming very angry.  But, maybe that same person still has a lot of work to do on being prideful.  Perhaps another has let go of the attachments to the self that cause self-criticism and comparison, but has a hard time being patient with those who haven’t let go of such attachments.  We all have stuff to work on.  Being a yogi doesn’t mean that you have located fully that state of enlightenment that is in there somewhere, it means that you are engaged in actively working on it.  And that’s ok.