THE CRUCIBLE OF DESIRE
By Kimberly Johnson
Over years of yoga practice, I trained myself out of knowing what my preferences are. I was searching for freedom- freedom from the tyranny of my mind, from emotional ups and downs, freedom from the pain in my past. I developed a powerful and stalwart witness, who could withstand hours of sitting, hours of intense practice. When a friend asked me how my practice was afterwards, I didn’t have an answer. Wasn’t I supposed to be neutral towards my practice? It was simply a practice; I wasn’t supposed to judge whether it was good or bad.
Like you, I sat on the mat learning to observe sensations without preference. I developed a witness that could notice discomfort, and even pain, and move on, broadening my vision. I practiced in the Krishnamacharya tradition. The philosophical ground of Ashtanga is Advaita Vedanta; the philosophical base of Iyengar and Viniyoga is Sankhya. The first sees no separation and healing as a return to that undivided state. The second sees a stark separation between atma, the soul and brahman, the universal life force, and liberation as the reunion of the two.
And after years of practice, it was still rare for me to be able to identify specific emotions. I built a structure where I again distanced myself from what felt like the dangerous intensity of sensations. I observed those sensations and emotions, but I didn’t really feel them. I found a safe refuge in the praised neutrality. In my day-to-day life, I was a bit airy and flat; to my family, I was annoyingly untouchable in the neutrality- nothing could really get to me. As well, I have noticed that my students come to practice and build a structure where the body is folded into different patterns. We instruct about watching the mind, so the mindspace is introduced, but what about emotions and the soul voice? It’s no accomplishment to experience years of practice without shedding a tear. If we want practice to purify and align all of our koshas, then we have to permit all of them to enter the room. We have to lovingly coax them onto the mat also.
Only after becoming a mother did I realize how I had been swimming in the masculine current of upward-oriented Spirit pursuit. Motherhood was initially a descent for me, into the dark, earthy Soul-depths. Only through this deep dive did I finally recognize that my practice had been a wedge keeping me from the shadow-work that is as much a part of growth as the sky flying. Of course I had had dark times as I was practicing. But my practice did not equip me with the ability to fully mine the gifts that that darkness offered. I continued my upward connection, looking to the cosmic energy. I simply did not have access to the practices that would lead me to the depths and take me out the other side with the tangible markings of the dark nights.
The post-practice airy energy was not at all what my young daughter needed from me as a mother. She needed grounded, fully present, ready to engage in the world and roll-on-the-floor Mother Bear. My new baby certainly knew what her preferences were- where did I lose this internal compass? And how had I let practice strengthen this distancing from my most basic instincts.
You see, desire is deeply feminine, so it is no surprise that becoming a mother awoke this surge in me. Nor is it surprising that this one face of the Feminine essence is absent from the yoga texts that have been so readily adopted- Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika- outside of India.
Desire is uncontrollable, volatile, charged. It can feel dangerous. I invite you into this inquiry of how you welcome emotion, passion and your deep driving motivations into your practice. And I leave you with these questions:
Is it okay to desire? Can you be spiritual and desire something? Do you believe you can and should overcome your desires? Do you believe that it is un-yogic to trust and follow what lights you up, or is it all maya, world illusion? Do you use practice to protect you from your desire or do you use practice to clarify your desires and motivate you towards them?
“Cursos Sagrado Feminino” with Kimberly Johnson:
*This article posted at Yoga Journal Brasil