Like a Lotus, Born of the Mud

mary-oliverHoly Moly what a month we’ve had at Twist Yoga! We’ve faced a challenge or two, but on the flip side have experienced hundreds of moments of grace in the form of kind words and serious generosity, culminating last Sunday with a giant community hug. With all of your help we’ve recovered in record time and everything is back to normal; in fact, better than before! I’ve been moved to tears (sometimes very public tears) by the graciousness of you all. Thank you.

Over the course of the past few weeks, and especially during last Sunday’s epic community class taught by Heather, Janell and Alison, I did something really hard: I accepted help.

This experience receiving support has been quite the teacher. I’ve spent the past month pondering: Why is it so damn hard to ask for (or accept) help? I’ve meditated on it, spoken with friends about it, researched it… even used it as a class theme.

Many yogis at Twist have shared why they find it so hard to ask for assistance: “I wouldn’t want to burden anyone.” “Help always comes with strings attached.” “It makes me feel weak.” Etc. Etc.

But here’s the thing, I believe that all of these reasons –all of the things we tell ourselves – are just code for this: We somehow believe that we are not loveable enough for someone to want to help us.

So then we don’t bother. Because if we ask, and are rejected, is there anything more painful than not feeling worthy enough for help?

Yoga teaches us that we – our true selves – are perfect and loveable just as we are. If that’s the case, then, how do we get to the place of “not-enoughness”?

The short answer? Life.

Life – our experiences, our collective thoughts, our deeply ingrained samskaras – collect on our consciousness like tarnish on silver, concealing our True Nature. In yoga teachings, these layers, or “veils” are called Malas (not to be confused with the mala bead).

These malas act like the dust that collects on the studio floor. The floor that, after a good Swiffer sweeping, is still clean and shiny underneath.

I once heard a yoga teacher say that yoga is the Swiffer for your heart, and that dust bunnies are going to accumulate just by the very nature of you being alive. It’s easy to forget how miraculous we actually are, but then we get to delight in re-remembering again. And each time you remember, you grow, you expand, you become even more of yourself.

But the first step, as in many spiritual practices, is knowing. So, for your toolbox, here is what I understand about the Three Malas.

Anava Mala:
This is that layer that tells us we are unlovable – that we are not enough; unworthy. This mala gives rise to feelings of insecurity and sadness.

Can there be anything more “human”? We all do this – just about everyone I know wrestles with this “not-enoughness”…. That we are not smart enough, thin enough, kind enough.

What helps: Realizing that life is often bumpy, full of detours and obstacles and frankly, full of humanity. As a yoga teacher, I constantly have to remind myself that I am enough despite the fact that I can’t put my leg behind my head and my bathing suit reveals my pregnancy, sugar addiction and other wobbly bits. 

The good news: When you dust of Anava Mala, you get to see the root of the problem is only your insecurity and low self worth, and then….remember what a gem you really are.

Maiya Mala:
This is the layer that tells us that our experience as a human being is different than another, which creates separateness between us and the world. This creates comparison to others and a feeling that we don’t measure up.  It gives rise to feelings of jealousy and anger.

Heather and I see this all of the time in our 200 Hour Teacher Training program. As we mentor new yoga teachers, one of the most common themes we hear from students is the fear of not being “as good” as other teachers.

What helps: The understanding that we often compare what is happening in our insides (our thoughts) to our impressions about other people’s outsides. When we see someone whose outsides we perceive as beautiful, thin and successful, we forget that inside, they are astonishingly like we are: Neurotic as hell, and full of every doubt and fear you can imagine. AMIRIGHT?!?

The good news: When you dust off this Mala, you realize that sharing the authentic version of yourself, and the vulnerability that comes with that, may repel some, but it usually will attract many more. Most people want to hang out with someone who is genuine and comfortable in their own skin – warts and all.

Karma Mala

This is the cloak of helplessness –the feeling of inability to act, not doing enough. It gives rise to feelings of worry and fear.

Typically I have seen this come about as a result of the other two malas operating.  It’s how we go into denial as the world is falling apart around us: The typical head-in-the-sand approach to life.

The good news: Eventually we’ll pick ourselves up and realize that our Karma Mala has simply gotten the best of us. Then, we can allow ourselves (and the mess all around us) to be seen, accepted (here’s a good place to ask forgiveness), we can rebuild with baby steps.

Yoga is ultimately about expanding the person we already are.  To do this, we have to look at the veils that hold us back from this expansion.  The Malas, though usually painful, are really gifts that allow us to re-think our experience and beliefs about ourselves.

As we leave September behind, I’m reminded just how often that our challenges so often give rise to clarity. As Stephen Cope says, our greatest strengths seem to be paired with our greatest limitations and wounds. This means that many of us must discover our gift in the very heart of our suffering, our difficulty, our struggle.

The Eastern contemplative traditions have a poetic way of saying this: Our gift is like the lotus that is born out of the mud.