"Even the act of placing my hands in the Anjali mudra at the end of a yoga session makes me cringe, it’s someone else’s truth. It’s someone else’s practice of bringing a yoga or meditation practice to a close. It’s a beautiful practice, but now it feels false. I feel like an imposter."
I have been practicing yoga on and off for about 20 years. As a teacher already, I always wanted to complete my yoga qualification and make the transition into a giver of yoga rather than being a recipient. In 2016, I enrolled in a course and within the first few workshops, I knew that something was not right.
It started when I wore my beautiful necklace with an OM pendant into the petrol station and the Indian attendant looked at me strangely and asked what it meant to me. He looked uncomfortable and moderately offended, I felt like I had violated something sacred by wearing it. Shocked and surprised by his response, I failed to capture how I felt about the symbol in any recognisable word form, it was a feeling I had about Om, not a thought. He nodded. I left, feeling like I had taken something that didn’t belong to me and started questioning our appropriation of Hindu culture, particularly in the yoga and western spiritual community. They wanted their teachers to be of a particular style and I didn't fit it.
It wasn’t overt. It wasn’t intentional. All of the people in my training were very well meaning and loving, but the culture that was created was an extension of the bigger issue and that is, everything we think that we know, we learned from someone else. The culture of yoga is something that is constantly evolving, but for me this is more than having a serious look at yoga culture and our appropriation of something that isn’t embedded in our modern society.
Increasingly I started questioning all of these things in my life. Everything I thought that I believed in, were being stripped away. I felt like a caterpillar emerging from a long metamorphosis, where I was shedding everything that I thought that I was. I was questioning my spirituality and the “spiritual” community with their loving intentions but behaviours that they have learned from others and how, in the way you react to someone, tells them whether their behaviour fits the culture or not.
What I’m feeling now, is that everything I know, I have learned from others; from people, books, media, culture, socialisation but what about what I KNOW? Where is honouring who I am deep within and the resonating truth that exists in me? Even the act of placing my hands in the Anjali mudra at the end of a yoga session makes me cringe, it’s someone else’s truth. It’s someone else’s practice of bringing a yoga or meditation practice to a close. It’s a beautiful practice, but now it feels false. I feel like an imposter.
And if it doesn't feel authentic to me to copy the rest of the class, where does that leave me? How do we, with our reaction to their behaviour, suppress who others are, their infinite beauty as an individual? And if people don’t comply to a set of behaviours, how do we exclude them from the social group?
I didn’t fit in the yoga culture of that studio and unfortunately I may never finish my qualification, but I have gained something infinitely more valuable, myself. My sense of self and knowing who I am and what I stand for. But this is bigger than the yoga or spirituality, it’s about acceptance of everyone on Earth, who they are and where they are on their human experience journey. I am so tired of so-called “spiritual” leaders telling people to “find their passion,” or “wait for the right one” or any of the other seeking-type behaviour. As the wise Alan Watts says, the only purpose of life is just to BE and every time we tell or show someone that they don’t comply with a social construct, we are asking them to put a mask on, to play the game how someone else wrote it.
It’s time that we took charge of who we are and really OWN who we are and share our gifts and not continually look to others to try and give us the answers. We need to stop looking to others to tell us how to be and trust the innate knowledge that we have within. And for me, learning yoga through teacher training, doesn’t honour who I am, and I’m okay with that.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2017
"What I’m finding that the only thing I know for sure is where I am now. I cannot make any promises for the future or plan too much because ultimately I will die, and the path that I take there will be dependent upon my decisions and reactions in the now."
Richard Dawkins, in his 2006 book, The God Delusion, proposes that all religion, particularly those with a creator of some form, is a kind of collective delusion, “that a belief in God is both irrational and profoundly harmful to society.” This theory is often applied to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but increasingly I’m finding it coming up in the worlds that I inhabit. I have always been, I suppose, a spiritual person in the sense that I appreciate nature with a huge sense of gratitude; I am in awe of this planet from the microcosmic to the macrocosm of all that science has discovered. But I have never been religious in the traditional sense.
When I was about 10, I discovered that I was the only one of my primary school friends who wasn’t Christened, and I was mortified. What was I missing out on? I attended Sunday School briefly and after my parents discussed it with the minister, who astutely advised to wait until I was old enough to make my own decision, I didn’t get Christened. I vividly remember writing a poem about Jesus and was quickly put in my place by a girl who asserted her literary and religious dominance.
I needed to convert to Islam when I was about to be married, as my ex-husband is a Muslim. However, Muslims believe that all people are born Muslim and nobody converts, they revert back to what they always were. Needless to say, I didn’t take this reversion seriously and said all the right things to become Muslim so I could marry. But I didn’t revert from anything because I have never had a label attached to my belief, so in my mind, nothing changed.
Religion has skirted the edges of my life and I have met some wonderful people of all faiths but I wonder if Richard Dawkins was right all along and we are all under a delusion? If I transfer that thought process to my recent growth and development, I am very influenced by Buddhist and Hindu teachings, particularly around my yoga teacher training. Interestingly, I think all religions originated in India and the big five; Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are just a different interpretation on the same thing. Somehow the message gets warped and it turns into its own version of events and wisdom. The culture that is developing in the new age or spiritual community is an interesting one and I’m asking myself now if we too aren’t under a delusion of belief; if the things that we all started out believing are being warped into this ego-version of what it originally was. Our shared stories are turning into something else.
So if all oral and written stories aren’t true and there is no great God or Goddess, what are these stories? Are they just a way to explain our existence? Are they a way for our tiny minds to find some meaning in why we are here? And why are we here? What is the point of life? And why haven’t the beliefs of Indigenous populations become more mainstream? The reason for our existence is truly a question that has no answer and not one of us will ever find the answer. So many people turn to religion because it is familiar, it is comfortable, it creates community and there is historical evidence of sorts that the people in the stories were real or that they provide lessons in the best way to be human.
I’m finding that I’m questioning all of my beliefs at the moment and I think that is a healthy way to be, I get to be conscious about what I believe in. I love the human story, our collective history, and while growing up in Australia has been a fairly Western, Christian version of events, I’m constantly asking more questions about the human story in other parts of the world. We are all influenced by so many things and in this age of the internet, while we have limited censorship (at this stage), ideas can spread and, in technological terms, go viral. That, to me, is so exciting. We can start to hear the voices of other humans and not just from Western, English-speaking countries.
And the future? How can I be sure of the future and do I really want to know what will happen? If I spend too long worrying or thinking about the future, I miss the dragonfly that lands on my chair or my children asking for my attention, or being thoughtful as I vacuum the floor and being grateful for electricity and a home to live in.
What I’m finding that the only thing I know for sure is where I am now. I cannot make any promises for the future or plan too much because ultimately I will die, and the path that I take there will be dependent upon my decisions and reactions in the now. There is no delusion in the present. The messages that go to our brains from our senses; what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste and intuit that is true, it’s how we interpret and react to them that then defines us and our human experience.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2016
In the movie Chocolat, the protagonist Vianne is moved from town to town by the call of the wind...I am her...Some part of me wants permanence and stability but when I get it, I get BORED ...I get restless.
Some people are addicted to drugs, food, alcohol, sex or increasingly social media. The addiction brings about connection and a feeling of being alive when the dullness of life makes us feel numb. Humans want to feel and when we can’t feel we seek out stimulation to make us feel alive again. But I can’t claim any addiction to the above, but I do seek out variety, you could say I have an addiction of sorts to it.
To me I am constantly thinking about where to next? New house? New car? New suburb? New city? New adventure? New friends? New relationship? This need for variety even extends to my daily routines such as a new route in a bushwalk or different route to work…I get bored easily.
New, new, new…
What drives this constant driving for newness, for variety and why do I seek the feeling of being alive in newness. Has the variety been about running away; from my family, men, from being “normal”, of the familiar? Or is it simply how I am?
In 2015, I went to the Ignite Leadership Seminar led by the charismatic Brett Jones. He highlighted things that a person needs but it was divided into the Ego needs and Leader needs:
Certainty – control
Contribution – how may I serve?
He went onto say that each one of us is driven by one of these needs, particularly in the ego list. What do you need? Look through the list yourself. What drives your life? Are you coming from a place of leadership or ego?
I was surprised to find that in the ego section, that it wasn’t connection that I craved, but variety.
In the movie Chocolat, the protagonist Vianne is moved from town to town by the call of the wind until she finally finds a place to put her roots down. I am her; the woman who goes with the wind. Some part of me wants permanence and stability but when I get it, I get BORED and I think about how many other places and people there are to meet. Some people find comfort in routine, but I get restless.
Having teenage daughters have forced me to give them stability because it’s what they need at this time – a stable home, a stable mum, but always within me I’m seeking the next adventure, the next home, the next moment, do I run away from things that are too hard? Or do I seek variety? Or should I just sit in my boredom and observe what is?
According to Brett, it’s my ego, trying to validate itself yet I would argue (or is that my ego arguing?) that I feel like life is so short, that I need to make the most of it and have the full range of the human experience. The human experience can be ecstatic, so incredible and transformational but it also can feel heavy, dull, repetitive and without challenge. I’m not planning to come back for another life here after this is done.
I was speaking to a girlfriend yesterday and she observed that I was again looking to move house (only after a couple of months) and noticed that I’m always seeking outwards and not drawing in. I am not seeking the stillness within or loving and trusting where I am, right now. And she’s right, I need to trust that this is where I am and that everything is perfect. In variety, I get outwards movement, yet nothing within me changes.
Life is not about what we achieve, but how we grow as beings of love. I can’t say that I’m totally cured of my need for variety, but I am aware of it when it comes up now and need to make sure my decision making is not a result of a desire to run, but of a deep desire for growth within me. And maybe, just maybe, my next stage of growth will come as a result of putting down my roots and doing the opposite of what my ego tells me to do.
What drives you? Are you willing to do the deep reflection to find out? For more information about Brett's work and Ignite Leadership seminars click here.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2016
If you are finding that the world is getting you down, you need to check out these top ten tips that I use to maintain my homeostasis when the news of the state of world gets me down.
This blog was published in LifeGrid, please follow the link to see the full article.