One of the things practicing yoga has taught me, is that the more you give the weight of your body up to gravity and the need for its support, the more that surrender creates a rebounding momentum of energy, which rises through the body and realises itself in the extension into space. Likewise, giving up to the stretch rebounds back down through the body and reinforces the push into the supporting ground. Yoga teacher Donna Farhi calls this optimal, dynamic state of equilibrium in a yoga asana ‘yielding’. Either side of yielding she observes two imbalanced habits of posture which incarnate the limitations of either / or conditioning. ‘Collapsing’ sags inertly to earth, with no capacity to engage gravity as a force of upward momentum. ‘Propping’ – the habitual disequilibrium I begin from – pulls away from the earth, mistrustful or fearful of yielding to gravity, unable to accept its support, chronically wavering and unstable. Rushing for the refuge of the mind; always heading off, indeed, for elsewhere.
Learning to embody the dynamic of yielding in yoga reverberates in other areas of life. For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying more deliberately to yield to the condition of winter that I wrote about in my last Posterous post. Partly I’ve been fortunate to be able to do this, because I’ve not been at the behest of a job directing how I must use my time and energy; partly I’ve been pushed closer to it by living in Berlin, through much longer, harsher, more physically restrictive winters than I’ve ever previously experienced. Both last year – though later, towards the end of February – and this year right now, I’ve noticed that the more I’d given myself up to winter, the more strongly I felt a resurgence of growing energy and ability to focus, once the longer and milder days came rolling along.
Among the people and conversations I tune into, winter’s depths seemed to tug especially hard this year. Full moon and lunar eclipse coinciding with the winter solstice, the whiting-out of Northern Europe pressing an unaccustomed pause. Yet out of that amplified darkness a spreading sense of new momentum and purpose is already finding the light – only a week into January!
This year, however it unfolds, will bring me another round of big life changes: moving home and country, embracing another state of elsewhere. Sparks and unplanned possibilities are already arising, giving a shape and direction I wasn’t quite expecting to the never-ending roil of skin-shedding and letting go. (More about those possibilities if any fires take hold.) Strangely, these prospects feel like an invitation to choose – although the odds are not really those of a choice – between yielding to the bare, all-that’s-there fact of myself, or continuing to prop up a complicated roster of ego-defined duties and obligations. The latter feels much more familiar, as this person I believe I am when I automatically piece ‘me’ back together upon waking every morning; the former is the synchronous stranger you meet for the first time and feel you’ve know your whole life.
A quote or observation I can’t recall – Auden? Jung? James Hillman? – that turns on this critical hinge of middle life: the point at which you realise you have to give yourself up to your own limitations, and what a relief that it. Discovering the ground under your feet, the ground which is your feet; and that once you yield to it you can then expand to your fullest, drop the unsatisfying delusion of seeking to please a projection of others, of scattering yourself every which way but here.