Are You Thriving or Trashing at Your Furthest Edge of Growth?
“The boundaries that divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends and the other begins?” ~ Edgar Allan Poe
When I first heard of Sigmund Freud’s claims that every human thought, emotion, and behavior was motivated by one of two basic drives — sex or aggression, Eros or Thanatos, life or death — I declared the man insane.
But now, at least 20 years later, I clearly see the silhouette of the baby that I too eagerly tossed out with the bathwater, especially when I approach-avoid the furthest edge of my growth in search of my soul’s deepest longing and highest integrity.
The best way to trigger and fully expose my private push-pull battle between epic forces of good and evil, light and dark?
Just say the wicked words: Bikram Yoga.
Well, yeah, you say, no one in their right mind would gleefully jump into a burning inferno in search of their soul’s purpose and shiny whole self. Most thinking folks would consider bolting out of a 100-degree-plus Yoga studio that teachers themselves refer to as a ‘torture chamber’ common sense.
Maybe so, but I have tried, and truly love, many other kinds of Yoga. Yet, this is the only one I’ve stuck with precisely because it invites an ugly face-off between the two main players in my We can either act out of love or act out of fear modern-day interpretation of Freud’s infamous sex vs aggression — think pro-creative, expanding forces vs protective/defensive, contracting forces — inner tug-o-war.
Introducing Opponent #1: Dodger of Dire Discomfort — wanting me to ditch my Bikram class this morning in favor of writing.
“You have been wanting to write this piece for a few days, and are on a roll. You have a headache that’s going to get excruciatingly worse in that heat. Just finish this up.”
Introducing Opponent #2: Feisty Frontline Fearbuster — wanting me to show up and attend class regardless of what’s happening in my life.
“You’re dawdling until it’s too late. Same story, different day. Don’t fall for it. There is always something, and that something just keeps getting better. Go now.”
So where’s the bloodshed, you wonder? I know. This sounds more like an account of Bambi’s inner turmoil. I learned over the years to duke it out and leave my hot mess on the mat.
Some days, it comes out in the form of shooting daggers at well-meaning teachers who dare to utter ridiculous demands such as If you can, you must, or make flippant comments such as: You are fine. Just think of your ancestors. You are the same person. You are only tackling your grocery list, not chasing food with teeth and four legs (and why are you — read ‘why is your mind’ — not staying in the room?). The only difference between you and the Zen god or goddess next to you is their trust in their deep inner knowing that they are fine.
Yeah, yeah, just shut up already, will ya? I’m trying to wallow in my misery.
After all your BS has arrived at the party, and been stripped down to its birthday suit, you may curse some more, weep and cry, cringe and clear the gamut of nauseating feelings that you didn’t even know you were holding hostage in some dark dungeon in your unconscious. All the while, your blood pulses and flushes toxins out of every joint, muscle, and cell of your body, dripping out in a steady stream of sweat.
And when you think you can’t take it anymore, you zone out, your entire being focused on finding a way to escape out of the hell hole that you willingly put yourself into. You hate that most teachers generally don’t fall for your I’m about to pass out pleading puppy eyes. The most they’ll do if they see that you are really about to faint is remind you to sit down and recommit to honoring your limits.
While that would be the mature thing to do under regular circumstances, Ms. Experienced won’t have it. Nor is she very enthusiastic about Bikram’s brutally level playing field that requires you to focus on nothing more than catching your breath, regulating your body’s mechanics, and letting go of shame — sometimes for the entire class — for stuffing yourself with food, booze, Halloween candy, you name it, the day before.
At some random point, it finally sinks in that there truly is no escape, and you secretly rejoice. Deep down, you don’t really want to escape. Just like you neither really want to, nor will, move to Canada, should Trump win the presidency.
Then what is a person to do when the declining downfall of all human decency, respect for life, and integrity rob you of your sovereignty, and won’t even leave you and your 2 x 6 square feet of sweaty Yoga mat alone for 90 minutes? You resign and cheat.
You stuff ice cubes in your sports bra, in your hair, under the nape of your neck and back when lying down, and inconspicuously drool ice cold water all over yourself. Just a moment of relief, or better yet, just a moment of hedonistic pleasure in the midst of suffering, and yet another, and another will do the trick. It’s the only thing what will pull you through, that you can count on to keep you afloat from one buoy to the next, and grants you the superior treatment that you truly deserve.
It’s not a pretty sight, but at this point, when sneaky wind tries to escape from either end during the wind-removing pose, looking and smelling pretty are not your top priorities. Your main priority is to stay soundlessly present in the room — emphasis on soundlessly — and reel your awareness back to controlling your mind and body’s stubborn impulses while your attention roams through every shade and layer of your psyche and life.
Then, most often, about midway through, Eureka strikes once again. It dawns on you like the slivers of a brilliant sunrise and brand new day that the best way to save the world is to focus on yourself and save your own wretched soul. You stop playing games, and become hardcore determined to preserve the very last bits of your integrity that neither succumbed under the pressure nor melted in the heat, and you do your bad-ass bestest while it still counts. You feel empowered and great, certain that you are the one to curtail a World War III — at least from breaking out on your mat.
You start to smile, tingly waves of endorphins rushing through every part of your detoxed and atoned body, your heart swelling with love and gratitude. For your wise and amazing teacher, the greatest ever to have walked this earth. For your fellow yoginis — isn’t it wonderful how supportive they are, each contained on their own little rectangular magic mat of blood, sweat, and tears, yet in it together with you?
Ah, and the heat, what heat? You hardly notice it, and may even thank it for loosening up and lubricating all your stiff parts, for reducing the risk of injury, for generating deep healing from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes, and for getting you here, feeling so alive and so relaxed.
You have no desire to objectify and sculpt your body like a piece of meat (and can’t see yourself through the burning sweat glistening on your eyeballs anyway), and prefer to revere it as the holy temple that it is — your sacred well, your cauldron of transmutation, humbled by all the deep mystery it holds, embodies, and wraps you in every day of your life.
And during your very last minutes of raw, salty, blissful Savasana, the Universe appears in a state of perfect balance and harmony. The polarities revert to their respective places on a psychedelic yin-yang twirling disk of light and shadow. No longer pegged into destructive opposite poles, they fold into one another in alignment with the true nature of reality and with an infinitude of life-death-rebirth seasons and cosmic cycles.
Here’s to harmonizing the universal forces of life and death at our furthest edge of growth, to finding a regular outlet for them, and to smoother sailing and greater mastery when giving birth — over and over again — in a world that is continuously threatening our wholeness, innate joy, and aliveness.
Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD, CHT, holistic psychologist, depth hypnosis practitioner, and shamanic healer from the Sacred Healing Well, is devoted to helping wisdom-keepers, healers, and seekers, including her tween girl and teen boy, dive deep into their self-healing potential and carve out their sacred dream paths in service of their dynamic whole self and the greater good. Her memoir-in-progress, Amazon Wisdom Keeper, is an eye-opening account of her spontaneous spiritual emergence and shamanistic initiation triggered by indoctrinating double-binds in the mental health field. What gives her story an added twist is her ability to anchor into her rich cultural background and mystical upbringing near the edge of the Amazon rainforest when standing her ground, challenging her field, and placing all bets on her spiritual integrity, intuitive resilience, and clarity: each one severely tested after escaping the chaotic aftermath of a military coup in her native Suriname, and losing almost everything that she knew and loved at the age of 13.