So today I was looking around for a quote or a picture to post on facebook regarding the theme of my class tonight, and I was astounded at what I saw, or rather I didn’t see. I started feeling like a person you see in the movies who breaks their head above water after almost drowning and starts to frantically look for their friend, pushing water and weeds aside screaming their friends name. In this case I wasn’t looking for a friend, I was looking for an idea- and so desperate at first and then heartbroken that I couldn’t find it. The theme of my class tonight is “Strength”. It seems so easy- this idea of strength. Indeed, strength is just the opposite of weakness- bigger, tougher,full of stamina, unable to be defeated, “I will never let them (or life) defeat me”, strength. This is certainly what we as a world at large perceive strength as- and there are millions of quotes that echo that. We are being fed the message of what being a strong person in this world is from the time we are born- so that by the time we are young adults we are so mired down in the idea of what strength is, and how to be strong, we have forgotten what it means to be alive. We are so scared to let ourselves or anyone else see our potential weaknesses we let that fear dictate our lives and we become comfortable in that fear, and call it strength.
This has been a hard year for many people I love. I have watched people struggle with more pain and loss than seems bearable. I would watch them move forward with a brave smile on their face, talking about how what they were dealing with was not so bad, catching themselves and apologizing when they had a moment that broke through and they sat in their pain, they held their fear, they mourned and softened. In those moments I was so blessed to have the opportunity to see what real strength was: authenticity, softness, fear, questioning, anger and above all compassion. In those moments when people sat with all of these spaces, allowed them to be and move through them freely felt as strong as anything I have ever seen. In the moments when someone would ask me to hold them in my arms and they would weep and scream and acknowledge that life didnt feel fair, and that it sucked and they were terrified, I saw fierce soul warriors, that made me catch my breath in awe. These amazing people have such compassion for themselves that they honor the moments when they need to fall on their knees and weep- they are so strong that they invited me in to be with them in that warrior state. They always would rise up and get onto their feet and be okay. Strength is not about never breaking down, not backing down, or never admitting defeat. It is compassion and a deep acceptance of what it means to be human. Diamonds are hard, but they are not strong….in order to be strong, something must be pliable and supple. Our definition of strong is often very much like the idea of a diamond and with enough downward pressure it will be crushed. It takes a strong warrior to know when to kneel down, rather than to scream with anger and puff out their chest with pride. In the moments I have watched the people I love move through spaces when they thought they were at their weakest, I have been moved beyond belief by their strength. Indeed, I know that I am feeling very brave, strong and compassionate when I allow myself and others to see my soft underbelly.
It has been in my asana practice that I have been able to work through my fear, my “pseudo strength”. I have had countless injuries that came from being a “strong yogini”- holding postures for too long, pushing my body into unsafe spaces. I have lacked the compassion and strength and been too paralyzed by the fear of judgement to take a step back, push into child’s pose, or take the less advanced variation. I would never let my body or a posture defeat me. Only with injury after injury did I start to understand that I feel at my strongest when I am compassionate with myself. Sometimes that means crazy vinyasa sequences and over the top postures, but more often than not it means pushing into child’s pose, finding beauty in the simplest of asana, sitting and listening to my breath. I have learned compassion in watching people who think they are at their weakest and not knowing that in these moments they seemed stronger than anything I have ever seen. So lets allow our idea of strength to shift and soften. Let’s have enough compassion for ourselves and strength to weep in someone’s arms. “In separation lies the world’s greatest misery, in compassion the world’s true strength” -Buddha