THE RAZOR’S EDGE
Ashtanga Vinyasa has a razor sharp edge, and when we fall over it, as many of us do, it cuts us to the bone. There are many among us (myself included) who have been drawn to that experience of being cut, opened, exposed. There is a silent exhilaration in that experience, after the practice is done, when the nerves sing, the tissues tingle, and the organs hum. That experience becomes, for many of us, the thing that draws us back—and not without reason.
The Ashtanga practice reopens old wounds, just as any primitive rite of passage does, and when wounds reopen, there is an opportunity for deeper healing. The practice is supposed to teach us to hold those reopened wounds with a soft and gentle heart, so we may leave the trauma behind and integrate the experience of being wounded back into our consciousness. Then we can awaken to a more ennobled way of being, in which we relate to our own suffering, and also our own impermanence, with a certain openness and grace. We can awaken, in other words, into another phase of our emotional maturation.
But as with any such rite, there are signal dangers. The experience of reopening the wound, after all, is just another experience of being wounded. And we are likely to be traumatized further unless we are held and supported by a gentle and loving consciousness.
In primitive rites of passage, that conscious support was usually given by elders, often shamans, who had not only been through some profound passage of trauma themselves, but who had learned to relate to the trauma, exorcise it from the body, release its energy, and emerge more whole. These were people who sustained a relationship with the other side, the side of the disembodied, the side of the open wound, and they could communicate through the wound without being traumatized themselves. They knew how to work around strange energies without losing balance, working with open channels and kind hearts.
In this age of isolation, in which emotional maturation is more rare, few of us have any supportive elders toward which to turn. So we drift with numbed feet above the earth, sometimes calling out in lonesome cries, not knowing what to do with our wounds. When our wounds call out for us to nurture them (as they all eventually do) we find ourselves going at it alone, making our own rituals, reopening our own wounds, without knowing what to do with them. Having no guidance, we can become intoxicated with a the promise implicit in their potency, a promise we do not quite understand. That is, we can become intoxicated with the power of these practices to open us up, to leave us exposed, and give us that potent chance to confront our own darkness. In consequence, we wound ourselves over and over again.
When this pattern is pointed out to us, or we simply discover it on our own, there is often a certain shame reaction, which often depends on the thought, which can feel like a realization, that we were simply punishing ourselves, trying to make ourselves numb. And perhaps we were. Or perhaps the truth is perhaps more subtle than that, or at least more complicated, because it involves another dimension—that we were consciously or unconsciously reopening the wound, to look deeper into it.
And there is not only something forgivable in this, but even sweet in this—the deep longing to overcome the wound, to exorcise the trauma, and to move into a more expansive mode of being, one that no longer shrinks around the dim memory of the experience, and remains bound by subconscious reactions to the past, but one that instead holds the experience with love and generosity, and allow it to become part of a more expansive sense of ourselves. And so when we see this in ourselves, we should take heart.
So if you see yourself in this pattern, you might look closely before you condemn yourself and further project. Perhaps it is not simple masochism, or hatred of who you are that led you here, but a burning desire to be uplifted and evolved. See it with soft eyes, with tenderness and an open heart, and the truth may become more plain. Then remind yourself that the way is hard, that you can expect to stumble and fall, and that there are countless others around you doing the same, countless others who can relate, and who are already holding that space for you in their own hearts.
Then go back to that edge, and stand upright and calm. There is no need to wound yourself again. The art is to walk lightly around the edge, and hold the wound with an open heart. And if you learn to do this for yourself, you can become, for another, that elder you never had, the one who guides you toward the light, and welcomes you to the forgotten world of those who have so sweetly and so courageously left childhood behind.