by guest author Emma Furness, former owner of The Dunedin Yoga Studio
She has been in hiding – except those inevitable moments when repressed witches burst out in frustration, or the times women get together and end up cackling about blood and childbirth and the dirty body.
As I felt into my wild, hook-nosed, barefoot old witch, I felt very earthed in my soft, dark, power-filled heart. This was strangely different from what I imagined I would feel once I let her loose to tell her story.
Instantly I was barraged with stories I have heard since I was a little girl; stories about not trusting witches. Or old women. Or the forest. Or the wild wolves. Or stepmothers. Actually, I realised, sweet women in fairy stories are already dead. Witches eat children. Stepmothers abandon them or are cruel and greedy for magic and riches.
I looked at the stories in my head about modern women; tired and sick and barely holding themselves together trying to be ‘good’ mothers, workers and partners.
And The Bible; whether you believe in it or not, is the foundation of our culture, and it has stacks of untrustworthy women filling it’s pages.
First there was Eve and her snaky apple. She ruined everything with her witchy natural connection, ability to talk to animals and desire to know stuff. Mary, the virgin mother, and the impossible perfection that implies. Delilah and her robbing her man of his strength, the painted whore of Babylon, Lots wife and her salty demise for being curious…
The Bible gave lots of people permission to burn witches, back in the day. And no wonder, witches were saying shocking things – like church or priests or systems in general were a waste of energy and that one could just trust themselves and a few weeds lying about instead.
This morning my inner witch told me, to my horror, that yoga was the man’s way to the heart.
As I felt into this I could see how right my witchy was. But because I’ve made yoga my whole life, I felt the desire to burn her too. Again.
Then I got thinking – all those systems for awakening. Where did the mess go? Where was the dark earthy core? Where was the chaos? Within that orderly masculine style of dance, where was the improvisation, the utterly spontaneous? For me, Yoga had become an effective way to hold back feminine chaos in favour of masculine orderliness. Powerful, yes. Effective up to a point… But, my witch asked me, why was I doing it?
To get better, I answered.
Why? She asked, better than what? What are you worse than?
I realised there was nothing…
Nothing to improve.
Within every system is striving. There is pretence that life goes forward from point A to point B and is not a wild untamed spiralling mystery. Yoga is a system. Can any system lead to freedom? I knew then I had become tired of my yogic lifestyle, which had allowed me to become excellent at systemising nothing. That has turned even a quiet moment among the trees into an opportunity to become something better.
Yoga did help me keep chaos at bay. Hormones were pulled into line, the body strong, flexible and lean, upsets less, I was able to drift along in a loving blur and if not I had the ‘tools’ to pacify my system. Up to a point…
Then chaos stepped in and my body took over. Life gave me a kiss on the forehead with lots of lovely spiritual experiences then pulled the rug out from under me once more.
I was diagnosed with a disease, despite eating healthily and doing yoga all the time. A disease where the body attacks itself. At that point I was getting up every day predawn and meditating for an hour and a half, teaching several yoga classes a day and ‘living’ yoga. I felt sure I was doing the right things. People advising me trusted my certainty. After sickness appeared, it became obvious to the people advising me that I was doing too much yoga. My ambition was a problem – true enough!
I was also spending many nights awake, experiencing uncontrollable back bending and strong sensations in my tail, spine and crown.
I was advised to stop meditating and told I needed a guru, a guide, someone else who is more experienced than me to guide me through. Someone who has ‘made it’. I was told when I was ready the guru would appear. I was told my problem was likely Kundalini – referred to as an outside power. (But I now prefer the term Kali and her repressed feminine chaos, wild symbols of death and ultimate witchiness.)
I was told that when a guru had led me through this dark night or when Kundalini had done it’s thing, I would be enlightened and better. Or go mad as a punishment for pushing myself too far without a teacher.
The message here was I wasn’t to be trusted, even though I had heard the most trusted teachers say ‘go within’, ‘follow your heart’. Who knew my heart had a witch in it?
Now my witch is telling me that my time in nature was what kicked off the ‘spiritual’ awakening, although she just calls it increased sensitivity.
That the yoga allowed me a way to express my ambition and feel like I was worthy because of my continued effort.
That my hanging onto yoga as a system too long was what made me sick.
That I am and was ready to dive into my feminine chaos and my heart will guide me. And not the sickly sweet dead-heroine heart, but the powerful dark and light intertwined, wobbly emotional, vulnerable sprout of a heart. One that oscillates even as it holds peace. My illness was gifted to me by my inner witch, so I would slow down, unable to practice yoga as I had been, and truly listen inside.
I am part witch. A witch that knows if I can trust my dark, wild instincts of forest and roots and dirt and weeds and wolves; my true femininity, that has nothing passive about it, then I will tune into the constant song of joy at my existence more often.
And as I give up practicing yoga I see during the day that I am experiencing;
devotion, to the bees and my sun and that dandelion,
selfless service to my son, my lover, my students,
self-knowing – there isn’t a moment I’m not watching myself even if I pretend I’m not,
balance – I know it by moving out of it
and the simplicity of being myself, just as I am.
These moments are common in everybody’s lives. They come and go. They are not invented or controlled by yoga. They exist in themselves. Yoga didn’t make you feel better; you did. Yoga won’t make you happy or unhappy; you will.
Every day, every moment you make a choice: to follow someone else’s certainty or your own wildly oscillating mystery.