Last night a small group of us gathered for the second ‘satsang’ session, and set the seal on the first of our chosen themes, after the first ‘vinyasa’ session before Christmas. The theme was Action/Surrender, and present were Helen, Jill and myself, as well as the usual sacred container of those-there-in-spirit. January is a busy time, when most people don’t have a lot of energy to spare, so I wasn’t expecting large numbers.
Having set the scene last time, we spent most of the session discussing how the project was going – how we felt and what we were all learning from it. It’s exciting how much the work is already bearing fruit. There is a sense, for me, of spaciousness, time and contemplation – of profound realisations being birthed into stillness. And so, on the Facebook group, there have been occasional, but very reflective, thoughtful postings from people, and I’ll include some of those thoughts here. In general, in person and online, discussion flows easily from this new way of experiencing yoga to the specific theme and back again.
It’s interesting that Suzanne talked in the same breath of the vinyasa session feeling both uncomfortable and calm, and Helen pointed out that this, for her, is part of the essence of yoga: the calm, measured contemplation of things outside one’s comfort zone. I believe this is what expands that zone of comfort – makes us more able to do more of what we want to do, and Suzanne’s experience bears this out.
There’s a common sense, voiced by Jill, that action and surrender are part of the same process – on a continuum. She says “This surrender allows me to re-inhabit my physical body in an animal way”. Helen says “when I surrender, strength rushes in”. Rachel links passion to the strong foundation and surrender to the expansive expression of a pose, showing again that the two are linked.
We talked in satsang about where in the body we experience action/surrender, and drew maps of bodily sensation accordingly. What surprised Jill, Helen and myself is how different these somatic-emotional ‘maps’ were. Action we felt, variously, in the arms and back; the belly; or the legs. Surrender felt like water running inside the torso; or an opening in the heart and hips; or in a million little moments of release all across the body. I wonder if the difference isn’t as great as it might appear – that in ‘action’, for example, we are describing, not a moment, but a whole process that begins in the first seeds of intention, growing and building until the first step taken forward. Which part of this process we label as ‘action’ may well differ just as much as the experience taken as a whole, if it can even be separated from the general flow of sensory impressions that our experiencing selves are made up of. In any event, it’s exciting to find ourselves sharing across depths of difference we had no idea existed.
And for yoga teaching, this is exciting, because the holistic emphasis of yoga means we often aim to share our best knowledge of a physical-emotional-spiritual experience with a group; yet the way we have been taught to teach means we often only have our own and our own teachers’ routes along the path to guide us. Sharing more feedback of this deep, reflective kind within a yoga group is a rare joy, and part of my aims in creating this experiment.
We talked, as I said, also about the experience of the vinyasa session. Personally, I felt a spaciousness and stillness and, yes, surrender, that came from not having to hold and weave every aspect of the session alone. It felt like I no longer had to micro-manage the flow for each and every student, and instead could guide the group more delicately, effectively and holistically: guiding the banks of the river rather than placing each rock in the stream.
I had seen the ‘follow each other in turn’ section of the session as a bridge between my initial leading and the free movement, but we are finding a wealth of revelation in this practice in its own right. As each takes their turn, the student has to become intensely aware of the rest of the group – of finding asana that work for us-as-a-whole, rather than just a personal practice. This counters the isolation that can be a strong feature of yogic practice and teaching.
Both Helen and Jill discovered this, and Jill also talked about the gap of vinyasa that hadn’t been apparent to her as a student in class – how we transition with grace from pose to pose, or movement to movement, whilst not breaking the ‘flow’ of the yogic experience – this becomes more difficult than finding the thing-you-want-to-do-next. I find this revelation very exciting, because this is something teachers work with all the time, and we try and point this out to students by giving them a flow that is as accomplished as possible. Of course, it turns out that as soon as we allow students to find their way across the gap alone, they suddenly notice it has been there all along.
The tension between a deepening level of personal introspection and ever more delicate experiences of group connection is proving to be very special. We touched already in our satsang on how we judge and consider ability and diversity, and with my explanation of a little embodiment theory, we began to explore what Gendlin calls the ‘felt sense’ – what holds a sense of somatic or sensory rightness.
We discussed this, and Merleau-Ponty’s idea that an organism reaches for maximal ‘grip’ in the world. We universally hold to this experience of yoga, especially physical practice, as training, strengthening and exploring that connection to what has been variously called the inner teacher, the heart wisdom, instinct and intuition. It’s no surprise to me that students who come into the orbit of my classes stick around if they find value in this kind of empowerment, because it is the often explicit foundation of my teaching.
From this we come back to the question of action/surrender, and discussion about spiritual authority. It’s important to clarify that monotheisms can still be lived according to one’s sense of inner authority (the voice of God within, rather than the words of priests or the holy book); that polytheisms can be equally intolerant (there may be many gods, but mine is still better than yours); and that for the non-theist, be they animist or atheist or agnostic, there is still an authority to be discovered that governs the ethics of living, breathing, eating, dying and so on.
So, then, my question was, for three women who believe in the authenticity of inner spiritual guidance, to what are we surrendering when we surrender in the practice? Jill believes it to be the life force itself; the process of living, and I think for now, that is the best answer we have. My own felt sense tells me that there is something unsaid in that conclusion, but I’m not sure what. Certainly, in many spiritual traditions we find the metaphor of the drop surrendering to the ocean – the many of spirit that come together not in union, but com-munion – coming together. And Helen says there is, too, a sense of surrendering from – from structure, and theory, and analysis, into the lived experience of just doing.
This echoes Gendlin’s idea that the felt sense has a stuckness, and when we find the ‘life forwarding’ phrase or concept that we have been missing, there is an inner rushing forward and flow. Despite the usefulness of Gendlin’s ideas for our thinking, we all believe that the answer to developing inner knowing is less in the search for the right symbol or word; and more in the felt sense of stuckness-movement that we experience in a good physical practice.
And all this is so very hard to articulate. We struggled for words over and again. We are deep in the spaces between feeling, knowing and doing, where so few words remain; and so little of the territory has been mapped out. Perhaps the next theme – Embracing the Warrior, will feel more grounded, more certain; working at the sharp, obvious edges rather than the fuzzy, soft inner gaps in our experience.
And I must not forget, in both vinyasa and satsang sessions, the joy of sharing simple ritual. This is work I am very familiar with from my pagan journey, but to share it here, and have it embraced and enjoyed so universally, is wonderful. It does bring a new dimension and reverence to the sessions that is utterly untouched by any particular belief system – although I do find truly committed monotheists can be uncomfortable, not with the content of such ritual, but the open feeling of ritual where you bring your own belief system (or, indeed, none at all).
The most important aspects of such ritual is simplicity and stillness. So, again, at the end of the satsang session, after reading the same poems I had chosen for the vinyasa session; we came together and held hands. We began with gratitude: each of us giving thanks for that which held and brought us to the space in turn. I often form this by suggesting a set beginning and each person concludes in their own way. This means we need only the briefest of pre-explanations. I find people don’t need to be told the detail in advance – it renders the whole thing unnecessarily mundane, and indeed, it only adds anxiety as people try and remember lots of words. In this case, for example, we expressed our gratitude to what paganism calls ‘the spirits of place’ by using the form: “I honour and bless…” . Next we each completed the phrase: “In this time, and at this place, I discover…” and ended together with the druid prayer that begins: “We swear, by peace and love to stand…”
And barring the hugging, and the tea and chocolate, that’s all there is to tell! The next session is only next Wednesday, 4th Feb! Our second vinyasa session: Embracing the Warrior. What does fierceness look like? Can we channel positive anger? How do we burn for change?
Do come if you can: 8pm at Rowde village hall.
With warm blessings,