Last week, I arrived home from hosting my third Yoga Retreat. It was my second time hosting it on this special little Island off the coast of mainland Belize called Thatch Caye. The island is one mile long and only 11 acres. There are just 15 guest rooms so when you arrive on this island it feels as if it was put on this earth just for you. It truly is a magical place that lends itself to letting go and the transformation that can come from that. In the opening circle on our first evening together I asked everyone to think about one thing they wanted to leave on our tiny island at the end of the Retreat and one thing they wanted to take with them off of it.
So in my classes this past week I asked my students to think of their mats as their own little island and to use their practice to allow them to leave one thing they were holding onto that was not serving them on the mat. Every time we step into our sacred practice we give ourselves the chance to let something go, to surrender what we may be holding onto that is not serving us. We also have the chance to take our practice with us off of “our island” and out into the world where the real practice can serve us.
On retreat I led a two-part workshop using some of the principles of Buddhist Psychology to help us identify our unconscious roots of suffering and begin to transform them. I shared one of those roots, Grasping, with my classes this past week to help guide them in the practice of leaving something behind. The Grasping or greed temperament is constructed around desire. We experience grasping as a sense of seeking, of wanting more, and in extreme cases as addiction. With grasping we often discover a constant hunger for what we are missing.
As they began to warm up with cat/cow and then opening Sun Salutes, I read to my classes a wonderful poem that one of my retreat participants had written and shared with me. She had gone boating one afternoon and found a beautiful piece of driftwood. She had really started to see the unconscious suffering we cause ourselves through Grasping so when she brought the driftwood back to her room, she was inspired to write this poem;
Grasping to see what I could make out of it
A votive candle holder
Where would I place it in my home?
How will it look?
How will it make me feel?
Will it dry out properly before I leave this magical place?
More seeking…more desires
What if I leave it behind. Leave it behind with the story I create in my head.
My real desire lies in the truth, in peace and joy.
The Driftwood and my story will remain where they belong…at this magical place.
Each time I read the poem out loud this past week, I could feel myself begin to choke up. It was such a beautiful representation of how this practice can transform us. As we continued to flow on the mat this week, we explored a sequence that took us through some deep binding and twists. Both of these are powerful ways to release what is stored in the body.
We hold our grasping tendencies in multiple ways. Some things that we grasp for, we hold in our hearts and minds and some we hold deeply in the body. In addition to the back and shoulders, the hips are often a storage space in the body for powerful emotions that we keep inside us. Sometimes anger, guilt and frustration get housed there until we make the time and space to release them. We grasp for these emotions to protect us from feeling vulnerable, but once we see that vulnerability is how we grow and move forward, we begin to see we don’t need them anymore.
As the students transitioned into a deep pigeon pose, I told another story from retreat. I had noticed as the days went on that one of my students seemed to be having a hard time settling into the space and finding some much deserved calmness. Finally, on the last full day; after our morning practice, she came to breakfast with a big smile. She shared that her hips had finally opened after 4 days. As soon as the words left her mouth, she felt a huge rush of what she had been storing there and began to cry. As I hugged her through the tears I told her that this was good. This is exactly what she needed and why she had come on Retreat. Sometimes we grasp so tightly to emotions that don’t serve us and when we release ourselves from them, that is when we are truly free.
On the last night of the retreat we walked to the beach for a celebratory bonfire. We each wrote down on a piece of paper the one thing we were going to leave on Thatch Caye and prepared as a group to throw them into the fire. As we did, I saw the driftwood log was set on the top of the wood pile. I looked over at my student who had written the poem and we smiled at each other. That driftwood represented suffering that she was going to set adrift from herself. I was so grateful to witness the start of her transformation.
At the end of each class this week as my students settled into the stillness of Savasana, I again reminded them to leave something that caused them suffering here on their “Island” and to take something that brought them joy with them out into the world. As we sat together for a final moment in meditation I felt a beautiful wave of gratitude. Gratitude for the gift of teaching students and helping them to let go of suffering and gratitude for this practice that allows me to do the same in myself. I thanked my students for taking this time to step into their practice and create space so they could let go of suffering and I thanked them for sharing that space with me. Namaste.