I am very good at putting up walls around my heart. As sensitive as I am to my own and the suffering I see in the world, it is a natural defense mechanism for my mind to tell me over and again that everything is alright; that I am alright; and in this way to keep a safe distance from the pain.
As adept as I have become at this practice, there are still moments when something or someone convinces me to let these walls come down, and to witness and feel the pain I have been ignoring as it is revealed in all of its beautiful rawness.
I seem to feel most open in practices that bring together my mind, heart, and body. When all three are connected and listening to one another, I am vulnerable and beautiful and can see and feel my own self with amazing clarity.
One such moment happened on a Saturday in the spring of 2012, when I attended a breath workshop that a friend in Gustavus, Alaska invited me to. I had no idea what a breath workshop was, but I was intrigued and greatly admired my friend. So I went.
We talked about the importance of our breath, connecting us to the rest of our bodies. We practiced breathing deeply, in and out. We worked in partners, each taking a turn to lie down and move through guided meditation deep into our breath, which led us deep into some of the darkest recesses of our memories. Our partner sat by us to lend support and a gentle hand on our shoulder.
A gentle hand was not enough to bring me out of the reverie I fell into. The profound inhalations had brought me to a dark place I did not realize I had been avoiding. It was a place of feelings of hurt and betrayal from a person who had promised their trust to me.
It took the work of our guide and several women supporting me to bring me back to the present moment.
I still recall the experience because it was a reminder of how easy it was for me to grow distance from my heart and my body. With my mind playing the role of puppeteer, I had convinced myself that I was doing alright in the wake of divorce, winter in Alaska, and abuse from my supervisor at work.
Moving into my breath and thus into my body told me otherwise.
Another moment of raw vulnerability happened yesterday, late afternoon.
I was attending a yoga workshop led by Andrew Rivin. He began the workshop by telling us a story about the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna is led by Krishna to the place where a great battle will be taking place. in this battle, Arjuna will be pitted against friend and family and will have to choose to live by killing the people he loves or be killed by them.
Andrew told us that Arjuna had a complete breakdown, which was to be expected, but Krishna told him not to worry. Everything was already alright. He had only to dive in and engage in the present moment and let go of control of what could happen.
I listened and took notes. Like Arjuna, I have a great distaste for conflict, and I like to imagine that I am in control of my destiny.
Of course, I am in control of my destiny, I am just not in control of how it turns out.
I choose how I will approach each day and how I will respond to the ripples of energy sent to me by the universe.
Over and over, Andrew told us that wholeness and spaciousness was our birthright and that everything was already alright, everything was always alright.
I listened to these words, and I let them pass through me.
I moved my body, opened my hips and heart in response to his guiding words.
I felt my hamstrings stretching and discomfort in my wrists when I pushed myself a little too hard.
And when I was thoroughly exhausted, I lay on a yoga mat in Shavasana, my eyes closed, hands folded over my heart.
Yoga opens my mind to my heart and body. All three are witnessing and honoring each other.
As I heard those words one last time, something opened inside of me to let them in. It was as though I was hearing them in a new way, hearing them as true, hearing a comforting voice telling me that it was ok to be present and whole and open.
In this moment of permission, a well of emotion opened, and I felt tears begin to fall down each cheek and onto the mat below.
Nothing was wrong, yet I felt a sadness that I could not explain.
I felt open and exposed, like I had been holding something very tightly and was slowly releasing my hold. And in that moment of release, everything began to pour out.
And as the tears rolled down, I heard my own inner voice whispering to me in a comforting tone, “everything is alright, marieke; everything is always alright.”
And in that moment, I knew with all of my heart that it really was.