"I rose up and said I have what I need to start again." - Viola Davis
Life is messy, some days it might look like fingerpainting with mud, and other days like a giant size coloring book with brand new markers. It's both kinds of days that show us how to live fully.
“There is mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus.” – Thich Nhat Han.
A short true story by Tracy Sender, Yoga and the Two Selves
My yoga journey is probably the same as yours. In fact, maybe everyone’s yoga journey is similar. After all, the word 'Yoga' is derived from the Sanskrit root 'Yuj', meaning 'to join' or 'to yoke' or 'to unite'. Thus, perhaps we are all united on a singular yoga journey. Details of our journey may look different, but they all lead to the same place – the joining of body and mind. Why? Because there is a division inside each of us that must be joined if there is to be peace within, both individually and collectively.
On my own yoga journey, I’ve found it useful to recognize the concept of my “Two Selves.” If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, maybe it would be helpful to quote a story you may have seen as a meme on Facebook or may have heard at some point in your life. It goes like this:
One day an old Cherokee man sits down with his grandson to teach him about life.
“A fight is going on inside of me,” he says to the boy. “It’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is full of rage, jealousy, arrogance, greed, sorrow, regret, lies, laziness, and self-pity.” He continues, “The other is good – he is filled with love, joy, peace, generosity, truth, empathy, courage, humility, and faith. This same fight is going on inside the hearts of everyone, including you.” The grandson thinks about this for a few minutes, and then asks his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replies, “The one you feed.”
This is a very powerful legend/parable, and when I originally read it, I knew I had already thought of and been living this concept on my own. My version, however, is a little different. I think of there being two selves inside of me – one is my ‘Sick Self’ and the other one is my ‘Healthy Self’.
My sick self is the evil wolf, but I don’t really think of it as evil. It’s just a weak and conditioned little puppy dog. It’s the “me that was created by me.” In short, it’s me that worries everyone hates me because they think I’m ugly. It’s these inner scars because maybe I didn’t get enough attention as a child, or compared myself to my sister, or the memory of every time I was criticized. For instance, I was called frog eyes in school because of my thick glasses. It’s a collection of all that. It’s different for each of us and too complex to ever list. But you get the idea.
Additionally, my sick self is a collection of bad habits I developed throughout the years. My likes, dislikes, and preferences. The fact I love sugar, am addicted to nicotine, like to binge watch Netflix, and no matter how much I try to discipline myself, I can’t seem to fully undo these negative habits. I can read all the self-help articles and books and invoke my greatest amount of willpower and self-discipline, but the best I can get is toned arms and maybe a few improvements. Nothing to brag about though.
That’s where my Healthy self, the good Wolf must come in. My healthy self is the self that can make lasting change. It’s the best me possible. The problem is my Healthy Self doesn’t show up very often. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been there in my life, but pops up only when I most need it most but least expect it.
For example, there was a time in my twenties when my life was in a downward spiral. I was at rock bottom in ways I could never put into words.
Let’s just leave it at my mom was taking care of my kids and I was bordering on suicide. I woke up one morning at some friend’s house I was crashing at and heard the birds singing outside the window. Suddenly, my ‘healthy self’ showed up, and in an instant, I only knew I was never going to wake up again without my kids in the other room. As a result of that moment, something shifted and with no effort or thoughts on my part, I just started doing the things I needed to do to lift myself up and momentum carried me the rest of the way. It carried me until I had my kids back, started working, and started living right.
In other words, my healthy self is my better angel, my saving grace which I don’t have access to at will. It showed up, did its thing, and left me better for it, but I still had countless other challenges to contend with. And to this day the challenges continue - up and down, like the merry-go-round of life. Sound familiar? It should because the merry-go-round is a universal experience.
And that’s where yoga comes in.
I’ve learned that yoga is not just the physical practice of asana. This is certainly part of it, but yoga is a lifestyle of moving away from the sick self and towards the healthy self.
The 8 Limbs of yoga are: 1. YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines, or moral vows (living healthy); 2. NIYAMA – Positive duties or observances (rituals); 3. ASANA –Physical practice; 4. PRANAYAMA – Breathing Techniques; 5. PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal; 6. DHARANA – Focused Concentration; 7. DHYANA – Meditative Absorption; and 8. SAMADHI – Bliss or Enlightenment.
Sages and seers throughout history developed the words for these pathways for all of us. They didn’t know us, but they had taken the journey inward, so understood that they are us. And we are them.
The goal of yoga is to help each of us connect to our healthy self and put this better angel in control instead of letting the ‘sick self’ take over indefinitely. I used to think my healthy self was a phantom out of my reach. However, my yoga journey has shown me it is simply there, patiently awaiting my return.
Admittedly, I still live with the sick self at the wheel most of the time. And maybe you do too. In fact, most people I know are trying desperately to be healthy - but struggling like me. People upset us, work is hard, and we are busy and consumed in a fast-paced world of media, overstimulation, and anxiety. I’m ashamed of my bad habits and worry the evil wolf will win in the end. Therefore, it is important to take a compassionate view of ourselves and others.
As I mentioned before, I try to never think of the first wolf as ‘evil.’ In fact, we are not evil by any means. Yes, we may be full of rage, jealousy, arrogance, greed, sorrow, regret, lies, laziness, and self-pity – but it’s all born of fear and conditioning. Our sick self is the product of everything everyone has ever said, done, or even thought of us including ourselves. And most of it is unconscious. It is true that tuff we don’t even remember has programmed us to be fearful, and we all react to this in different ways. In fact, the only thing that makes us different is the way in which we react.
Thus, the yoga journey is about learning to respond instead of reacting. If we can quiet the mind long enough to really feel all that deep unconscious stuff, then we can release it. Yoga leads to the re-emergence of the illusive Healthy Self - the Good Wolf – the savior - filled with love, joy, peace, generosity, truth, empathy, courage, humility, and faith.
In short, this part of ourself is waiting for the sick self to forgive itself, to love itself and finally to release itself in love.
What can each of us do?
Learn about the 8 limbs of yoga. Figure out how you can quietly and simply incorporate the path of yoga into your own life. Learn what you can do to embrace the path and let go, to invite the healthy self to enter more and more until it occupies your being. Maybe it’s a cliché but yoga is a journey, not a destination. We get there little by little.
Just remember to feed the good wolf. Feed it love and feed it daily until it grows from the tiny miracle inside of you to the full reality of bliss that is our true inheritance in life.