They say the best teachers are the people, or things, in life that really challenge us. So it doesn’t surprise me that while many people have said they’re happy to hear that I’m happy, one of my truest and best teachers, my teacher trainer Kara Sekuler, wrote to me with a challenge/suggestion.
She pointed out that there might be some reason why I couldn’t do handstand–perhaps fear. But whatever the reason is, the way to grow as a person and practictioner is to really examine both myself and my fear, instead of just pushing myself physically in hard classes.
She totally hit on something that is both a major part of my practice, and my life. (Which doesn’t surprise me, because I was just talking to a co-worker yesterday about Kara saying, “of my teachers, Kara is the one who really gets life.”) What I realized is that I have an attachment to the phrase, “I can’t.” For whatever reason, in some weird way, not being able to do things is comfortable for me.
So after I heard from Kara, I had to ask myself why I was afraid. And I realized that my real fear wasn’t of handstand, it was filling the space I’d find when I stopped being able to say, “I can’t do handstand.” I’d come to define myself with negativity, and the habit has grown so strong, I’m literally afraid that I won’t exist without it, as though my failure is as essential to my being as my right arm.
Of course, discovering this doesn’t mean I’m going to pop right up. It just means that I have to develop “an intimate relationship with fear” as another teacher told me. That seems to be the theme this week. Phenomenal anusara teacher Julie Dohrman taught class on Wednesday urging us to get in touch with goddess Kali. Kali, she explained, is the thing that we don’t want to face. Kali is black, representing both the darkness of our fear, and the infinite potential to create when we explore it.
And while all that sounds great, getting close to your fear requires a lot of work. But I think I have experienced something that has outlined this work for me, ironically, in Savasana.
It happened when I was in Hawaii, and went into one of those deep Savasana dreams. I was up on a mountain, and although I had been with someone else, he was scaling off it, and leaving me behind. I watched him climb down without reacting. Then, when I found myself alone up there, I started to panic. All my physical body wanted was to open my eyes and save the body in the dream from the misery of being up there alone. Somehow, I forced myself to stay.
I watched the dream body searching the side of the mountain for an exit, and the fear was so unbearable, I knew that the easiest thing to do would be to give up and come out of Savasana. Yet somehow, in that moment, I had the strength to stay. I told myself there was no eye-opening allowed, and slowly I let go of consciousness. The dream body paced on the side of the mountain for sometime, slapping her hands across craggy pieces of earth. And then after what seemed like forever, at the very edge of the mountain, I found a path through the rock. I crawled through the rocks and found a road, and at the end of the road was a village.
I suppose it had been there all along, but I couldn’t see it until I spent a fair amount of time facing the fear that I was left with nothing. The Catch-22 is that the fear comes from lack of belief that there’s anything on the other side (or, anything to replace the phrase, “I can’t.) However we don’t get assurance that there’s something there until we learn to move in to the fear. We can’t move on until we move in.
After Kara’s email, I realized that the reason I don’t want to go into handstand because I don’t want to put in the work to get close to my fear. Every time I give a half-hearted kick, it is the equivalent of opening my eyes as an easy way to get myself off the mountain. It’s the same old me that secretly likes giving up. The edge I need to find is not the edge you find in a 2/3 class but the edge of my own emotional core. And only when I balance on that edge will I finally see the village.