A note from Erin:
Carl and I just attended a wonderful Embodied Life retreat in San Rafael, California. We’re driving home today and I’m so looking forward to starting Flourish, my new online course this weekend!
I shared a story with my Women Embodied group earlier this year that I’d love to share with you too.
A few years ago Carl and I attended a meditation retreat in Boulder, Colorado, with one of our teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It was a mahamudra retreat – considered as very high teachings about the vast nature of mind, taught experientially. At the introductory evening there were several people new to a practice like this. The teacher guided us through a powerful meditation and afterward there was time for questions. A woman approached the mic with some trepidation and nervously described what had occurred for her during the meditation. After sharing her experience and what she noticed, she asked the teacher, “Does that happen?”
He asked in reply, “Did that just happen for you?”
She nodded yes.
He said, “Then it happens.”
The phrase, “Does that happen?” became a humorous shorthand in my Women Embodied group for our tendency to look outside ourselves for confirmation of our reality rather than trusting our experience.
Don’t we all do that?
How funny and how tender that so many of us have been educated right out of trusting our own experience of reality.
During our retreat this week Russell used a few other examples of our tendency to trust outer authority rather than our own experience.
Did you like that movie? (Let me see what the critics said….)
Was that a nice wine? (I don’t know, what did Wine Spectator say?)
The funny thing is, we seem to trust people who trust their experience.
Why not just be someone who trusts their own experience?
Learn from others, yes. Absolutely.
But why not bow to the living truth of our experience?
There’s another question that I’ve been asked as long as I’ve been a teacher, whether of yoga, tai chi, Feldenkrais lessons or Embodied Life.
“What should I be feeling?”
What if there is no way we’re “supposed to” be or feel?
What if there’s just what’s true in our experience in this moment?
One of the things I love most about the Feldenkrais Method is this: It’s all about helping adults be adults. About reclaiming our human dignity.
To know what we know, to feel what we feel.
To stand firmly on the ground of what is true for us.
In Feldenkrais we do it in large part through movement lessons and explorations in how we pay attention. In Embodied Life we include even more.
Moshe Feldenkrais is quoted as saying that a mature human being is one who has re-appropriated inner authority. (Hearing that quote the first time knocked my socks off. Truthfully, it still does.)
While the profound benefits the Feldenkrais Method offers to our bodies and movement patterns are amazing, they’re truly just a fringe benefit to the main purpose. To empower us to remove outer authority from our inner life.
Is that as profound to you as it is to me?
Can you imagine how it would be to quit looking to other people for the answers to how you should feel and behave and what you should like and dislike and instead start looking to your own experience as a reliable guide?
One who has reclaimed her inner authority is unlikely to ask about what just happened to her, “Does that happen?” or “Is that ok?”
One who has reclaimed his inner authority is unlikely to do what the yoga teacher or physical therapist tells him to do when he can feel that it hurts. He knows his own experience is valid.
Maya Angelou said, “If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never discover how amazing you can be.” Could it be that amazingness is born of being true to our unique experience?
What if there are no templates for how to be?
What if there’s no pre-ordained path?
In truth, no one’s ever done our life before…
Here’s a favorite, wonderful poem by Octavio Paz which I first heard from one of my yoga teachers fifteen years ago. It still lights me up today.
“No one behind, no one ahead.
The path the ancients cleared has closed.
And the other path, everyone’s path,
easy and wide, goes nowhere.
I am alone and find my way.”
I adore his honesty.
We must find our own way.
The paths developed by wise ancients?
Well…. it’s not 1 AD in the Holy Land.
It’s not nomadic Tibet, pre-electricity.
It’s not the time of the Buddha in ancient India.
Those old paths? In some sense, closed.
They may offer some hints, but we can only walk our path on our own.
Well, there’s that other path, what Paz refers to as “everyone’s path.”
We could go shopping. Listen to fear-inducing news as our main source of connection with the outer world. Medicate our aching hearts with a remote control and a glowing screen, or enough alcohol or some mildly satisfying pastimes so that we can ignore the state of our world and our own inner life? I could read magazines and spend my days trying to perfect dressing the way the media recommends for this season, meanwhile ignoring the state of my own tender heart and emergent dreams. I could focus on celebrity gossip…
I bet you could guess that I’m totally not interested in that.
I bet you aren’t either if you’ve read this far.
It so obviously goes nowhere.
Seems to be the recipe for Thoreau’s aptly described “lives of quiet desperation.”
We must forge uncharted territory, foregoing the false security of someone else’s stamp of approval. There’s absolutely no template for how to do it. No one’s ever done it before!
Your life. My life. An absolutely unique opportunity.
Will I choose to trust myself? To walk my own path, bushwhacking as I go?
Discovering uncharted territories, trusting my own experience?
I damn well hope so.
Carl and I both love this poem by William Stafford. It’s so very alive, and presents such a generative invitation to recognize the beauty of our inner compass.
When I Met My Muse
by William Stafford
I glanced at her and took my glasses
off – they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.
May we take her hand.