The most important component of my spirituality – the component that keeps my spirit healthy – is the courage to question. I am writing as a woman who spent many years devoted to a single idea. In my experience unwavering faith in one dogma is dangerous. Having the courage to question is not the same as abandonment. Questioning one’s spiritual path is an act of compassion towards oneself that allows the spirit to breathe. It allows the spirit to move and stretch even as it takes root on that same path.
My Knowing Self:
Embracing the Shadow through Art and Yoga
I have made a stunning personal admission. Stunning to me because had I acknowledged this twenty-four months ago the trajectory of my studies at Sofia University may have taken a radically different course.
I discovered that given the choice of gleaning information from the written word or a YouTube video, my brain prefers the moving picture. I retain knowledge with greater success if I am shown or told what it is I need to learn rather than if I am made to sit and read about it.
This is something I intuited and (given the number of books I own) denied throughout my academic career. It’s weak and lazy to source information from the Internet. Isn’t it? How can the information is trusted? It feels underhanded somehow – as if I’m cheating. But perhaps the sense that I’m not playing by the rules comes from the fact that when I watch a video – as opposed to reading a book – it feels easier. Cheating or not the result is a deeper intellectual understanding of the material.
But despite knowing I learn more efficiently through images and not words I denied myself the possibility of greater academic success. The lack of trust in my knowing stifled my learning.
We do a disservice to ourselves when we lack the faith to believe what we know.
Because what we know and what we learn are different. When I am young I am taught and I learn that 2+2=4. No matter my age I intuit and I know if the energy in a room full of people is filled with heart, hurt or something in between.
It’s easy to determine where the learning comes from. My teachers. My family and friends and from my own curiosity. But from where does the knowing come?
Proprioception is our unconscious ability to understand and sense where the physical body is in space.
Interoception is our unconscious ability to understand and sense what is happening inside. For example, individuals who have strong interoception skills can detect their resting heartbeat. This is not as easy a task as it sounds. Try it.
The website SmartPlanet (http://www.smartplanet.com) interviewed a post-doctoral researcher from the Sackler Center for Consciousness Science at the University of Essex. According to the researcher, studies indicate that individuals who are more interoceptive are also better able to detect and remember emotions. In other words, when we talk about ‘gut instinct’ we mean exactly that. Furthermore, individuals who are strongly interoceptive not only remember emotions but they may find that triggered emotions are more deeply felt.
Interoception supports the James-Lange theory of emotion, which suggests that it is the physiological response that arrives first, followed by the experience of the emotion. And so perhaps our knowing, our intuition and our gut instinct are preceded by a felt physiological reaction to our experience.
And just as we can develop better proprioceptive skills through exercise, we can hone our interoceptive skills through subtle observation of our heartbeat and biofeedback.
I wonder, though, if it is possible to improve both our proprioceptive and interoceptive talents simultaneously through yoga and creative expression?
What follows is the description of the activity I created to support this premise.
I believe Yin Yoga is particularly well suited for this task. It is a quiet, contemplative practice that cultivates deep stillness. There is a meditative quality to yin even though the shapes we hold challenge the body.
Yin Yoga shifts awareness from muscle tissue to connective tissue through the slow, settled stress of long held postures. Physiologically the practice improves flexibility, increases range of motion and supports rehabilitation after injury or surgery. Psychologically Yin Yoga soothes the nervous system and creates the space needed for healing to begin and for trust in the body and spirit to be regained.
What we believe about our journey is wrapped in the story we tell ourselves. “I don’t deserve this.” “Life is hard.” “Why won’t things work out for me?” This spiral of story telling affects our spirit, our health and how we perceive our world. Yin Yoga encourages us to settle into our body and to unwind. It teaches us to trust and honor our body and it prepares a path for healing. It asks us to re-write the story by tapping into our Knowing Self.
The process of learning to live differently in our bodies is supported by creative expression. Journaling or the visual arts peels away the layers and uncovers truth. Body movement supported by creative expression brings about self-compassion and healing.
The experiential activity I’ve created combines Yin Flow and mask making. The intention is to connect with our shadow through the Knowing Self by revealing both sides of our personal truths and deeper layers of our intuition.
Following a period of centering, reflection and guided meditation we begin the mask making process by working in teams to create masks by layering plaster-impregnated gauze over our own faces. Partners take turns assisting the other. The masks are removed and set aside to dry.
As the masks dry and harden the group moves through an expansive brahmana yoga practice. This asana sequence features poses that open the front of the body.
The practice supports us as we begin to consider what we choose to reveal to the world. What do we present to friends and family, co-workers and strangers? The images and ideas that surface from our intuition and deep knowing determine how the outer shell of the mask is painted and decorated.
We decorate the outer masks with paint, collage and found objects. The outside of the masks are decorated and set aside to dry and we begin our second yoga practice.
This practice is a soothing langhana practice that closes the body in comforting forward folds that create space for introspection. It asks us to move within and to consider the truth of the Shadow Self that is rarely revealed. The images that emerge from this practice determine how the inner shell of the mask is painted and decorated. Following another period of reflection and guided meditation we return to complete the inside of the mask. Through deep intuition and creative expression we explore the questions:
- “Who am I?”
- “How is what I feel internally reflected in the way I walk through the world?”
- “How do I honor my Knowing Self and my Shadow Self in my day to day activities?”
Trusting my Knowing Self is disconcerting. My Knowing Self reveals truths that I would rather keep locked away. Acknowledging my Shadow Self is unsettling and thrilling in equal measures. And if I want to bring to the world an individual that is whole and authentic then my Knowing Self, my Shadow Self and the outer façade the world recognizes as Mimm must be in relationship.