by Kara-Leah Grant
I’m in one of my favourite places in the world – Glenorchy. The sun is shining. The day is still. It’s at least 20 degrees, which passes for a good summer’s day in what has been the worst summer in years.
There’s so much in my life to be grateful for – a loving partner, growing son, supportive family, expanding retreats, selling books, thriving website, incredible friends. I am where I always wanted to be.
And yet, I am not relaxed. Nor am I enjoying myself. And I am excruciatingly aware of this.
When I speak about it on the phone to my man, or to a close friend, my voice cracks and emotion wells up. Something is preventing me from dropping down and being fully present to enjoy my life as it is. Instead, my mind is in overdrive, planning and organising and being all ambitious about the future.
This condition is not unique to me. It is endemic to our society. Very rarely are we able to relax and completely enjoy exactly where we are with a sense of spaciousness or presence.
At least, not without the help of alcohol, or other substances.
Today I sat on a platform looking out over Glenorchy Lagoon admiring the perfect mirror reflection of mountains and clouds in the lake. I’d walked for at least half an hour. I’d done my practice and meditated for more than 30 minutes at the end. Was I relaxed and enjoying myself?
Had I dropped in and was I able to feel what was lurking beneath the surface, preventing me from being present?
And this was despite repeating a mantra of ‘I feel’, ‘I feel’, ‘I feel’, during my meditation, in the hope that I would be able to sink into my body and feel whatever it is that I’m so scared of feeling.
Because there’s something. Something beneath the deep. It’s that thing which is preventing me from being present.
Or, from another perspective, my increasing day-to-day presence has now unearthed this particular shadow, ready to be integrated into wholeness.
I first came to Glenorchy in October 2004 to live with my Mum. I was 29 years old and had just spent two stints in Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Hospital with psychosis, and been diagnosed bi-polar. My fiance had broken up with me. I was in debt. I was unable to work. I did not want to come home to New Zealand. I did not want to come to Glenorchy. I did not want to be living with my mother. I did not want to be where I was.
I handled this situation two ways.
The first was I started running every day, 50 metres or so the first day, then an extra 20 metres or so each day, until I could run the entire Glenorchy boardwalk. Seems admirable right? It pulled me out of utter despair and depression and got me out of bed before 2pm. It helped my brain chemistry and gave me a sense that with each passing day I was “getting somewhere”. Anywhere but here right?
The second thing I did was get myself up to Auckland as fast as possible and start applying for media jobs with the hope that if I could just land a good job, then I wouldn’t feel like such a shitty failure. That mission backfired miserably. I couldn’t cope with Auckland, and I fled back down the country less than a month later and holed up with my grandparents in Blenheim. My plan to stop myself from feeling miserable through attaining professional success didn’t work.
But that didn’t stop me from trying that same tactic over and over again though.
Feel like shit? DO something…. anything… just get away from the feelings. Run, create, make, organise, do, do, do, do.
The thing with this tactic is that sometimes it does work. And many great things have come of it over the years. But every useful technique, tool or trick we use to ‘feel good’… eventually they all stop being useful and instead become something we cling to and desperately use to “make us feel better”.
This is the juncture I’m at now.
I can feel it.
A part of me that was partly useful at helping me navigate a particularly challenging stage of my life is no longer useful. In fact, it’s causing me suffering. It’s time to let it go.
It’s time to relax and enjoy life and trust that life will unfold perfectly without me at the helm.
I don’t need to run anymore, nor do I need to be desperately productive to prove that I’m not a failure.
This scares me shitless. Because even though I know that’s what I need to do… I’m struggling massively to do it. It’s like I don’t know how to relax and enjoy myself anymore. I’ve been on this treadmill for so long that I’m afraid I might completely dissolve if I get off.
Which is entirely the point – when we let go of anything which we have identified with a part of us does completely dissolve. This is the death of the ego. This is why Kali has human skulls threaded around her neck. This is what it means to wake up and it is a bloody business. There’s nothing light and blissful about it at all.
You identify this aspect of what you thought was You and then you destroy it because it’s Not-Actually-You. Then you identify another aspect of Not-Self, and destroy it too. Over and over and over again.
Eventually, nothing of the Not-Self is left. And no-self remains. Because we don’t have one – not even a true self. That too is a myth, or to be kinder to those who enthuse about the true self, the true self is a stop off on the way to waking up. It too must be jettisoned along the way.
This isn’t the way most of us are living our Yoga though.
Despite the entire point of the practice of Yoga being about self-realisation, most of us are using it less for ego dissolving and more for ego boosting.
Our practice, our teaching, our studios and our businesses are ways that we define ourselves. The yoga has become the identity, the very thing it’s meant to dissolve.
But who would want the bloodiness of waking up? Who really wants to become self-realised? Most of us – 99.99% – just want a more comfortable life. A more secure life. A life where we feel good about ourselves. A life of ease and joy.
Hell, I would love that too… but I’m too far along this path. At some point, unknown, I went past the point of no-return.
And so I find myself here. Fully present to the reality of my daily changing emotions, which are sometimes enjoyable and sometimes uncomfortable. My ability to witness continues to grow, as does my ability to hold space for myself, and therefore others.
The only way left for me in this life is further and no-where.
Nothing is wrong. Nothing needs fixing. Nothing even really needs healing. It’s just life.
In this, I can see how far I have come from that 29 year old woman who could not acknowledge how she felt, nor could sit with how she felt, who did everything she could to run from it all. The emotions were the same back then – I just had better avoidance skills.
See, it’s ok that I’m not relaxed and enjoying myself. Nor am I putting pressure on myself to hurry up and relax already.
It’s enough to be aware of my state of being. It’s enough to witness the thoughts created by the state of being and choose not to act on them. It’s enough to have the desire to fully feel whatever needs to be felt. This is enough – all of it.
This is the practice. This is the work. This is waking up. At some point, I’ll start sobbing. Likely for awhile. Some kind of insight will likely arise. Some layer of not-self will drop away. This particular layer will be gone. I’ll be, again, for awhile. That’s all really. Life will go on. Until the next layer, and the next, and the next.
Because there’s always a layer, until there’s not. And then, enlightenment. When, quite possibly, that which remains might look fondly back on those days of layers…
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