Play, Always.

There is something magically exquisite in breaking the rules, refusing labels, sinking deeply into the art of intuitive living. The notion has been swirling around my imagination for a few days now, and took flight this morning as I broke my weekly social media fast and dreamily caught up on the musings of the Facebook, instagram and email world.

I was faced with how beautifully different we all are, as human beings. The myriad of different lives, choices, expressions and illustrations we embody. In this last month I’ve been doing a lot of spiritual work. Rather, a lot of spiritual work has been doing me. I’ve been challenged and questioned, I’ve been offered glimpses of my true nature and invitations to stay awhile in the serene space of inner solitude. I’ve begun to challenge and question ideals and beliefs that, I now realize, I have held as gospel for years. Karmic patterns that I have blindly marched along with for all of my 26 years are now suddenly burning with my sage.

I used to really be bothered by opposition. Even as a child; a friend with long hair like mine would cut her hair short, and I’d feel destabilized. I’d feel the urge to either copy her or defend my own long hair. There was a curse of comparison, one I trust I’ve carried into this life from burdens of another incarnation. I experienced but never outright noticed my tendencies to flinch in the face of opposition. When I came up against differences in other people, I would cringe. That may sound bizarre to you, I know it does to me. Admitting it is oddly uncomfortable and liberating all at once.

As an adult, living a practice of ever-digging for my truth, my tendencies continued to manifest but in a more “in my face” manner. The more I delve into self-inquiry and observation, the more apparent certain veils become. For instance, when I meet a fellow yogi(ni) who happens to be a runner (this one always gets me), or vegan/non-vegan, health-conscious/not health-conscous, spiritual/non-spiritual, my response is not one of dispassion. I’d, in fact, find myself feeling very reactive. I’d feel disappointed or validated, depending on whether “their way” was the same as “my way.” I don’t run or I don’t eat meat or I’m super health conscious and they’re not or they wear loads of makeup and I don’t or they’re gorgeously curvy and I’m not, so I can’t identify with them. It sounds so childish, so limited. But it happened. It happens for many of us.

For a long time that was a familiar refrain in my thought patterns. It would stem from uninvestigated, reactive, instinctual judgements. I’d feel inferior, threatened (strange but true), unintentionally discriminating and competitive. Such a weird little symphony of reactions to have in response to something that had, frankly, nothing at all to do with me. Just another human being living their gloriously unique life. It’s totally embarrassing to confess, but I’ve confessed weirder things, and I’ve found that sharing this type of honest self-inquiry has heightened my accountability immensely.

Cringing in the face of opposition is not a problem, it’s partially just human nature. But continuing to allow ourselves to be emotionally taxed by an unrealistic desire for opposition to vanish…now, that’s a problem.

Truth-telling and truth-seeking; these are the bricks on which the path to the discovery of authentic Truth are built, after all. We’re human. We have these odd little idiosyncrasies. Why not dissect them? Why not embrace them? Why not come to understand them so that we can see them for their worth, and then release them?

I have realized, especially in the past year, how natural it has always been for me to internalize things. Experiences, observations, belief systems, practices, emotions. If something triggers us – and let’s face it, a lot triggers the vast majority of us – it’s incredibly challenging to separate from it. It’s hard to listen to someone’s story of how they handled something or offer solicited advice when the matter at hand tugs at your own emotions, your own heart strings.

There is no one right way. There is no permanence. Permanence is an illusion. Change is the only constant, they say, so why do we crave permanence so furiously? Why do we build castles on granite that’s bound to shift?

A very key part that I unearthed in this mind-fuck of a self-observational exercise is that the restrictive judgements I felt move through me didn’t apply just to others. They applied to me as well. I’d find myself feeling very confused if, on a walk one day, I felt the urge to run the hills or sprint down a street. What the heck was my problem, right? It was that I had identified so thoroughly with “not being a runner anymore,” that I’d lost sight of the simplicity of existence. I’d lost my element of play.

This may seem trivial, it may be a sentence some of you glaze over nonchalantly. But to me, it was like a smack on the forehead. Oh. My. God. DUH. Play. Hello! It makes perfect sense now. I, Miss Type-A Perfectionist Label-Maker, want to title and file ev-er-y-thing in sight. Neat and orderly. Check, check, check. Tick off the boxes, make a new list, rinse and repeat.

But that’s not life. Life is messy. Life is shifting, changing, constantly growing and morphing and renewing. By labeling anything, we inherently limit it.

Since pulling this little nugget of wisdom from the stars, this lesson of worry less play more, I’ve found myself discovering more play in all sorts of places. I’ve invited more play into my asana practice. More experimentation. Before, I could be quite analytical. I began practicing with complete and utter bodily intuition. Then I was trained as a teacher, and my “teaching” brain infiltrated my every practice. Now I’m navigating back to a balance of intuitive play and proper instruction. There’s an element of experimentation that’s necessary for one to deeply develop one’s practice, I believe (look at how Iyengar developed the method, experimentation!). There’s something liberating and exhilarating in this. And it transcends the mat (as the asana practice is really just a laboratory for life, anyway).

This liberation, this exhilaration, are essential components. This candid self-observation is to the transformation process as preheating the oven is to preparing a feast.

Seeing ourself through a compassionate lens, holding space for brutal honest (like admitting foolish stuff like caring that someone else runs when you don’t, resisting the urge to shudder at this folly and even to label it as such), and then offering ourselves the understanding needed to process and purge these thoughts healthfully…this is the essential process in creating a recipe that’ll stand the test of time.

So, what’s the moral of the story this evening? I don’t have any grand moral. But I have a simple thought. Growth does not occur because we’ve micromanaged our lives. Growth occurs organically. Growth and transformation are not interchangeable. Growth is evolution. Transformation is unveiling. Peeling away the layers. Transformation happens with intention, and recognition of the shadows that inevitably darken portions of the path. Transformation happens when we find a recipe that works for us, and we get serious in the kitchen. I’ve discovered some invaluable tweaks to my cooking strategies in this recent exploration. Some steps that’ll surely keep me from burning a few masterpieces-to-be, and ensure my recipe does stand the test of time…

A handful of compassion, a reasonable dose of diligence, a sprinkle of pepper, and humility. Play, always. Limit labeling. And don’t forget to preheat the oven.

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