This summer I was fortunate to be able to get back home to The United States and attend a retreat with my yoga sangha or family. We really are a family, we know the ins and outs of each other, we hold loving space for the light and dark sides of our beings, we have shared our skeletons as well as our sparkle and shine. We love each other no matter what. More than amazing, and yet so simply human.
Our humanness that holds our infinite soul nature. We explore that together.
One of the experiences we shared during that retreat was a powerful look into the concept of identity. At the core of yoga is the question “Who am I?”. Even if you don’t do, or care to ever do yoga, this is the ultimate question of a lifetime, for all of us. Isn’t it? What more could we be here to do than to experience this amazing life, and day by day, come to know ourselves. To know and express oneself fully is ultimate realization.
Who do you think you are?
No, actually beyond thought. Who are you? Who are you, really?
In the experience we spent a length of time looking into the eyes of partners, who would change at intervals, and asked each other to “tell me who you are”. We each had time to speak and we each had a turn to listen. We did this for three hours.
I found this exercise compelling, difficult, illuminating, frustrating, transformational, cathartic, joyful, above all mind blowing. As I spoke in a stream of consciousness manner I found so many pieces of my identity bubbling up to the surface, all these parts of my persona wanting validation, air time, so to speak. I heard myself talking about being a mother, wife, teacher, thinker, feeler, experiencer of so much. I gave voice to my inner little girl and paid visitation to my joys and my sorrows, my love and my anger, desire and grief. How fascinating, all the things that came through my field of awareness as expressions of my identity. I was quite shocked at moments at the very words spilling out of me, words freeing pieces of me I had disconnected from or denied my attention.
When I listened to my partners I felt such deep compassion and connection. Each person in front of me, so vulnerable, raw, honest and perfectly beautiful. I saw that person, their eyes, their deep soul nature and I saw myself reflected back. In speaking and listening, witnessing the energy moving through each moment of response, it was like watching the slow unfolding of a beautiful lotus flower. Every tender moment of offering, each emotion or sudden recognition like petals peeling back to unveil the core, the very heart of it, the deep unwavering center point. There in that point of origin resides the true self. Infinite, eternal and whole, love without limit, freedom.
Our true nature is love, we must endeavor to go inward and discover it. We must be willing to brave the stormy waters of our deeply wounded parts and fully appreciate and own our phenomenally joyful, intelligent, divine aspects as well. We are called to shine the bright light of compassionate consciousness into every corner and hidden alleyway of ourselves, leaving no part left in exile. Yoga, Kripalu Yoga in particular, gives us a path to directly experience our true nature. It takes dedication, it takes practice. It is the journey of a lifetime and beyond.
I carry this question with me now. The question “Who am I?” is becoming my constant companion. Sometimes it is in my back pocket and sometimes I bring it right back to that close contact eye gaze, deeply looking, intentionally seeking. I hear it whispering to me when I get off balance or wander into murky territory, moments when fear is getting the best of me.
I am continuing this question as a directed practice. There is a meditation on this very same question that anyone can do. Here is some simple instruction.
Arrange your body in a comfortable position, perhaps sitting on a chair or on a cushion with an upright spine. Feel your body and notice your breath. After a few moments of settling in, begin to drop the question “Who am I?” into your field of awareness. Drop it in without any expectation of receiving an answer. The idea is to use the mind to pause the mind, to begin to pierce through the thought identity, in order to connect with the deeper self that is beyond thought and definition.
Many ideas and images might come up, acknowledge them and let them go. Return to the breath, and again drop the question in, “Who am I?” Practicing this self inquiry meditation can take you to the essence of what is here beyond thinking, like that lotus flower opening slowly to reveal the beautiful essence of the self.
This journey takes time and practice as I have said. I am at the point where I still get lost in my thoughts and ideas, but every once in awhile I arrive into moments of clarity and deep peace. Those moments inspire me to want to continue. I want to continue to expand my light and step by step make the pilgrimage home to my true self, to the love that is at the center, the deep well of my own heart and soul.