What can I say about Wanderlust? I write this with some hesitation because not all I have to say is full of the love and bliss that was the incessant mantra of this festival. Carl Jung said “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious”. It became clear to me over the last week what it really means to seek enlightenment by imagining, conceptualizing and talking about unity, love and bliss – sadly, I think, at its own expense.
Don’t get me wrong. The festival had some lovely components – wonderful music, lectures and earnest practitioners gathering in community as an expression of commitment and interest in yoga. I appreciated being reminded of the potential for bliss and unity – to imagine these figures of light. We do need to remember that one part of ourselves knows bliss as a reality, unity as truth and love as the foundation of our being. The point is to not get lost in it or be “blinded” by the light. No amount of talking about it – despite how sensational and charismatic the monologue you profess about it in class may be – can help your students embody it. Perhaps we do have the capacity to know joy, bliss and love, but the question is; how do we weave our way through layers of habit, emotional wounding and inattention to realize it? There is a great gulf between our blissful being, and the immense sadness, anger and angst our hurting world experiences every day. When someone in therapy comes to me in despair I don’t say “oh, but remember you are pure bliss!”. How damaging that would be. How dismissive, avoidant and blind.
At the same time that great emphasis was placed on notions of oneness and bliss, we were lead through postural sequences that were so rapid and acrobatic that my focus was kept superficial, just trying to keep up and prevent injury to myself or my neighbor. Little darkness can be made conscious in the midst of this. Just as I might begin to register my emotional reactions, the posture shifts, just as a habit begins to unwind a new muscle is demanded to stretch. Only one out of the 9 classes I attended guided attention beyond the physical during postural practice. My problem is not that purely physical yoga is done in the world. It really is great for strength, flexibility and blood flow – and that matters. But let’s not mistake the part for the whole. Working with the physical is indeed an essential aspect of spiritual practice – but it is only one aspect. What is the relationship between the physical and the spiritual? How does a posture create the conditions for enlightenment? In short, I believe it has to do with depth of awareness.
While the onus of awareness lies at least partially with the student, I believe it is also the teachers call to guide students into acknowledging their whole being. The Sutras ask us to cultivate witness. Witnessing the Self does not end at the hip joints or six pack – it only starts there. Yoga, guided consciously through the layers of our self, uncovering dark and nebulous places – exiled, forgotten and disregarded – is the embodied process of enlightenment. Remember, just because its yoga doesn’t mean it’s conscious. So, what creates a conscious practice? What does that really mean? I left the festival grateful to have played with new postural contortions – like a child who is thrilled by being able to stick their big toe in their ear while wiggling their eyebrows. It’s fun. But, I also left aching for depth, and was inspired to continue to seek it through my own practice. It may not sell as much Lululemon tribal wear, but every day I am amazed by the pockets of darkness it holds and tenderly ushers toward the light.