Humble Warrior (and the Holy Harrumph)

Finding balance between strength and humility…

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Humility has never been my strong suit.

Consequently, sometimes the universe harrumphs at me.

Quietly, but definitively, I often feel the affectionate exasperation of the cosmos aimed in my direction.

This year during Ramadan and my sporadic attempts at fasting, the closest I came to prostrating towards Mecca was on my yoga mat. When you’re hungry, every sensation becomes nourishment. And if the mundane is made profound by your burning thirst, the profound is even more so.

Yoga has been the one space that has remained constant through my spiritual transformations. It began in 2002 with Fred Hagstrom, an art professor at Carleton College who would move his students through the Ashtanga Yoga series with no variation. It was the same. Every. Time.

For some, routine is comforting. For me, routine is tedium. Usually.

But something about the fluidity of…

Sun Salutation.

Forward fold.

Flat back.

High Plank.

Low plank.

Upward Dog.

Downward dog.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Yoga managed to do the one thing no other spiritual practice ever could…

Quiet my Monkey Mind.

Yoga Toes

Yoga during Ramadan nourished me in a new way. When I visited former students at the local Mosque in Gambrills, Maryland, I witnessed their prayer cycles in person for the first time. Sitting in the back of the prayer room, I watched women in beautiful robes and scarves in a choreographed dance towards the divine…

Stand

Bow

Kneel

Forehead to ground.

Stand.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Soon afterward when I came to my mat…the parallels were pronounced.

The central tenet of Islam is Submission to the will of Allah. Humility is likewise a tenet of my root faith, Christianity.  I never really got it. Never really wanted to.

It may have been in part because being raised in a conservative faith in the Midwest, it seemed that those most expected to be humble were…women. I was strong like a boy. Brave like a boy. Smart like…myself. Why should I pretend otherwise?

I remember the distinct moment in middle school when I first had the “B” word lobbed in my direction.

“Barbara’s hot, but she’s a bitch.”

Huh.

I didn’t see myself as either of these. Could I accept one but not the other, my teenage self wondered?

Intimidating. Bitchy. Cocky. Crazy.

Bitches get stuff done

I moved through various whispers or second hand labels like these, mostly from males I only vaguely knew. At some point I learned that being “cute” could offset my power. Obscure it enough to make it palatable. I’ve been figuring out how to contain, explain, and tame “my inner mean girl” ever since.

My mat has become a space to face this part of myself. I’ve always found it difficult to practice on my own. I can only do it for about 20 minutes and only about once every two months. But give me a roomful of sweaty yogis, I can go for an hour and a half (and give me a trust fund and I could go every day).

Yoga is funny. It’s a practice, not a performance, so you are not supposed to be comparing yourself to other people in the room.

Tell that to Lulu Lemon.

In truth, We (read I)  watch out of the corner of our (third) eye as someone falls out of tree pose. Bummer. And then we wonder who’s watching us (and gloating) when we do the same.

I’ve been practicing now for 15 years…so I can do a Cosmic Dance or two. Balance on one foot. My head. My forearms. I can fold and bend in old poses and stretch and strain into new ones.

Like I said. Humility has never been my strong suit.

Still…

Something internal shifted in my 30’s. I think it was Kip and Ivy that maybe did it. Parenting is humbling. My leftover baby-belly is humbling. For the first three years of their lives, I was lucky if I could get to yoga every couple of months. When I did…the heat of the room was nothing compared to the warmth of my gratitude. To be in this space. To polish my heart with my breath. To be strong sometimes and wobbly others. Kind of like the two most important little people in my life.

I would begin my practice in child’s pose and end in corpse pose, the final resting posture, tears slowly seeping from the corners of my eyes, having moved through the cycle of life and death.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Humility came with the realization that the best work of yoga is invisible to anyone but myself. No one can see my heart grow bigger. My spirit expand. My affection, compassion, and admiration for my fellow yogis moving in unison around me. And no matter my triumphs or tribulations on the mat, they mattered not at all unless I could bring their lessons with me out into the world.

During my Ramadan Yoga practice I thought a lot about submission…what it meant that I sucked at it. How I should feel about that. And then, all of a sudden I found myself in Humble Warrior.

For those of you unfamiliar with yoga, every posture has multiple variations. Dogs can be upward, downward, walked, or flipped.

Warriors can be reversed, flying, or…humbled.

Humble Warrior

How do we accept our inherent human power without lording it over others?

That’s it! I thought. I am a humble warrior!!

(Cue Holy Harrumph)

Cue self-aware chuckle.

Okay, okay. Not just yet.

But humble warrior, I realized in that moment, ought to become my life’s aspiration.

To be strong.

To be balanced.

To be humble…because I may topple over at any moment.

Humility and humiliation are not the same. My humility comes not from thinking myself less…but from thinking all of us MORE. Being able to look at a stranger and marvel at all the realities and possibilities they embody. To see people’s failings (and my own) as both inevitable and evolve-able.

I am powerful because…aren’t we all?

I feel myself called to action on issues rife with peril. Feel a future trajectory that will require courage.  I will fail unless I am first, humble. Second, powerful.

May the Cosmos, in Her mercy, help me balance both.

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