As students of life, we come to understand the journey is one of finding harmony, integration, and balance within paradox – fully embracing the dark and the light, surrender and action, being and becoming. In doing so, we learn to dance gracefully and passionately with Great Mystery – finding freedom beyond aversion and attachment, meeting all that arises with presence, love, and compassion.
But how do we release our grip on the steering wheel of life and surrender to a greater force, while also being actionable in the world, honoring our nature as creators and visionaries? How do we balance the recognition that we already have everything we need and were born in perfection, while honoring the impulse towards growth, evolution, and Becoming?
We navigate this paradox throughout our life, assessing when to soften and surrender, and when to dig in with effort to enable the change we seek. We experience illness or ailment and aren't sure whether to seek help from a myriad of practitioners, or whether to be patient under the assumption that "this too, shall pass." In relationships and work, we often find ourselves at a crossroads, unsure as to whether we should let go and move on, or recommit and reorient our engagement within them. And even at the end of life, we navigate paradox.
This past year, my friend Jody was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in September. A couple months prior, I had the honor of holding her hand and gazing into her eyes during a small gathering of “healing-oriented” friends and guides to support her. As our eyes met, everything in my being wanted to say LET GO – to trust the intelligence of her whole Self’s wisdom and to release into the embrace of the Divine. Yet Jody was a highly conscious (and probably fair to say strong-willed) woman who believed she should be able to heal her body. And as I looked into her eyes, I could feel the tension between surrender and the fight for life, holding the focused intention for radical remission. I can only imagine the hesitation and fear to fully surrender at that point, as surrender brings with it the possibility of death, or perhaps, the space and opening for healing. Observing and feeling this tension affected me deeply as I watched her navigate – the paradox reflected in the counsel of her friends – some encouraging her to try more new protocols and treatments, while others speaking the voice of softening and trusting the greater force at play.
The great spiritual and wisdom traditions offer helpful context for honoring the pulse of life, from stillness to movement, from Being to Becoming. In Taoist philosophy, it is said that the Tao gives birth to Yin and Yang, from which the “10,000 things” arise. The first passage of the Tao De Ching reads:
“The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of Heaven & Earth.
The named is the mother of myriad things.” –Lao Tzu
Similarly in yogic philosophy, “Shiva” refers to source consciousness – the “name that cannot be named,” while “Shakti” is the animating force that rises from the stillness to create the world as the “mother of myriad things.” While some paths of yoga (and many spiritual traditions, for that matter) orient towards achieving unity consciousness and merging with the infinite as the ultimate goal, the tantric yogis and mystics of many traditions recognize that ALL is of the divine, and in coming to know the eternal nature within our Being, we can then embrace manifestation in all its forms, knowing that nothing is outside of God.
These traditions teach that ultimate balance is achieved when we embrace the stillness and the movement. We are the ocean and the wave, and can cultivate our ability to release all identity to merge with vast expanse of the ocean, while also rising forth as a unique, singular expression. We learn to die while we are alive, and in doing so, find that we can hold surrender and action harmoniously together.
And at some point on the spiritual path, we observe that as we tend to our inner experience and anchor awareness in the Self, our external world starts to shift. Instead of spinning our wheels trying to affect change in our external environment, we do so by moving inward. It's like the Gandhi quote: "I have so much to do today, I will need to meditate twice as long."
For over a decade I experienced chronic headaches, and while spending time in residence at Tassajara Zen Center, I had the prestigious opportunity of a private meeting with a visiting Zen priest (it was actually a mistake - but that's a story for another time!). I told him about my chronic pain, and asked if he had any advice. His one word answer was "zazen" (meditation). I was so disappointed with the answer at the time – feeling there had to be a more proactive and productive way to target the root of my pain. And while lifestyle shifts did create positive impact, the unwinding of the tension created by mental processing was something that could only happen through the state of surrender and relaxation – not spending more time, money, and energy trying to track down relief from the outside.
In a world so focused on productivity, doing, achieving, and becoming, we must cultivate our ability to stop, sit, listen, surrender, and simply BE. The practices of yoga and meditation offer tools to do so, encouraging us to rest in the heart field while releasing the grip of the mind. Constriction (emotional and physical) is a result of trying to control our lives, and can result in chronic tension, headaches, illness, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and a host of other ailments. Relaxation and surrender become the gateway to experiencing the underlying current of creation, and that “which cannot be named” that is the very essence of our Being.
In Shamanic traditions, there is a process called “dismemberment,” essentially a guided visualization or shamanic journey in which you request to be dismembered by spirit helpers – often in the form of animals. It’s common to see or experience your body being torn apart by wolves or crows, or even the image of the density and matter of your body being blown away by a strong gust of wind.
Similarly, shavasana (corpse pose) in yoga is an invitation to release all effort required to “hold things together” – giving your body back to the place from which it came so that you may rest in the state of Being – of source consciousness.
These tools help us to learn how we can lead with the heart and receive with the mind, instead of the other way around. At that point, the mind can be experienced as an incredible tool for Creation, and powerhouse for manifesting new experiences and realities, for ourselves and ultimately, for humanity.
As we come to rest in the expanse of Great Mystery and become comfortable orienting from within the formless, our relationship to ACTION shifts. We pursue what engages our hearts and interests – not from a place of lack and needing more to prove our worthiness and value in the world – but from a place of desire to create and share our unique gifts. We help others because we see God in all and Love is simply the operating mode, and say yes to that which feels in alignment for our pursuit and engagement. We come to realize that we are responsible for creating the reality we experience, and as the Dalai Lama recently stated, “prayer is not enough.” We know ourselves as expressions of the Divine, and step into our power as co-creators. Even the drive to exercise comes not from a place of wanting to sculpt our abs or reflect a certain image, but because we recognize the amazing gift we’ve been bestowed – the vehicle of the human body – and want to take the Ferrari out for a spin, so to speak!
The path of engagement, however, is not an easy one of perpetual sunshine and roses, even if we’ve come to know a profound depth of Being. We will continue to meet challenges, fears, and difficulties as we express ourselves in the world, and for those on the forefront of this type of global awakening and evolution, we will undoubtedly feel vulnerable and exposed as we stand beyond the status quo. But the more we learn to die into the expanse of our eternal Being, we become fearless as agents and expressions of something greater than our own ego and identifications.
Thus, the practical application of Becoming is taking action, of taking risks and meeting fears. It’s one of courage and active engagement with life, not detaching from it. It’s engaging discipline as needed to provide the necessary structure for supporting our movement in the world and manifesting the dreams, visions, and inspirations that live in our heart and soul.
The word yoga means to “yoke”, or to “create union.” Hatha yoga denotes the yoking of the solar (ha) and lunar (tha) aspects – creating harmony within the inherent paradoxes of existence. The practice of yoga is not just exercises done on a mat, but a life path of learning to experience harmony within the paradox so that we may dance skillfully and with abandon. And while the framework and science of yoga offers a wealth of valuable tools to support integration, the greater path here is one beyond any spiritual tradition or modality.
As awakened students in the journey of life, we gain confidence and skill in becoming a practitioner of the light and the dark, the solar and the lunar. We are willing to meet what lurks in the shadows of our psyches and to hold steady in the absence of light. We flow gracefully with the inherent current and pulse in life, knowing what to eat, how to support our bodies, when to rest, when to engage discipline and tapas (yogic term for “heat”), and generally, what’s required to live our unique, authentic, and heart-centered path in this world. We understand that the only constant is change, and that regardless of what we experience, we are always Home. And so, we JUMP. We jump into the unknown, with the essence of Being alive in our hearts, and carried on the wings of celebrating ourselves as Spirit in action.