I’ve been reading and re-reading The Heart of Yoga as I prepare my first philosophy workshop. Specifically, I’ve been reading and re-reading about avidya, misperception, or misreading a situation. Teacher TKV Desikachar writes that we can’t really tell when we’re in a state of avidya, but we can know we are by its characteristics, one of which is fear, another is doubt.
I think all of my fears and doubts about my abilities have come up as I’ve been working on preparing to teach something new and even louder in the last 24 hours as I actually step up to do it. I’d like to stay small and quiet and hidden. That seems safest.
I get scared. All the time. Right now. I’d really like a teacher, friend, someone to give me permission to take a step forward. And yet I know I’m the only one who can really do that. I started studying philosophy with my teacher Joy Stone because of something she said in an interview before the first workshop I took with her. She said the first yoga sutra, which translates as “Now begins the practice of yoga” really is saying no one is coming to save you. You have to do the work to save yourself. The sutras and texts of yoga philosophy show you the steps to do that. They show you how to walk through your fears, or limitations, by guiding each of us to something deeper within. My practice and yoga philosophy have become my guides when I feel lost or in the grip of fear.
A few weeks back I took a flying trapeze lesson that a good friend had gotten me as a birthday gift. She didn’t realize that I have a serious fear of heights and get nauseous just being in a tall building. I decided I’d give it a try though I was less sure of my decision the closer I got to Santa Monica and actually having to jump. I was shaking just walking up the ladder, 23 stories high on the Santa Monica Pier over the ledge of the Pacific Ocean. The woman had to yell “hop” three times before I finally leaped and then it was sheer holy terror as I screamed and begged for them to let me down. I walked off and sat by another good friend, in tears and in full on panic-mode for a good 20 minutes. (Which I was told, when I asked, was not the worst response ever.)
My friend told me there was really no need for me to go back — I live in LA so it’s not like I’m in tall buildings often. I sat with that, my feet safely on the ground, thinking I didn’t have to feel that terror ever again.
And then I thought about how I don’t just feel that fear in tall buildings. I feel that fear, my chest tightening, out of my mind, out of my body, whenever I’m doing something new. It’s how I felt when I started teaching. I lost my presence. I worked on coming back into my body by feeling my feet on the ground. And then, present, I kept practicing.
I sat there on the pier wondering how I could find my grounding when my feet were ungrounded, when everything felt uncertain. I couldn’t find a solid answer in my mind.
So I went back on the trapeze to see if instead of finding the ground I could find my center, that place yoga philosophy speaks of that I swear I’ve felt in meditation. The trapeze was putting me up against that ultimate question, maybe fear, of what I could hold to when all is uncertain and changing.
I held tight to the trapeze bar with my hands and I let go of the ground with my feet on the first “hop.” I swung back and forth breathing not screaming, seeing the ocean before me, finding my presence within me when all was uncertain and I couldn’t find the ground.
Avidya isn’t just fear or misperceiving a situation. It’s really misperceiving all that we are and how deep you take that depends on how deep you’re willing to go. Desikachar says when avidya is absent, “we feel a profound peace…for instance, when I am conscious of speaking slowly I sense that there is a spring from which quietness comes, and vidya, clear understanding is within me.”
I’m feeling that same fear I had the day of the trapeze right now. I’m going to leap. And by leap, I’m going to send an email because one day of trapeze was enough. And then I’m going to walk three feet over to my yoga mat and breathe.
My first Intro to Philosophy course is in session but send me an email if you’re interested in signing up for the second session in beginning in late September! Details to come.