The Meditation Mantra of the Month is the concept of Avidya; smudged perception. It is the notion that we are all looking at the world, and ourselves in relation to it, through lenses that are always dirty. The smudges on our lenses come from our preferences and aversions, experience and inexperience, arrogance and ignorance, and our fears. We all have smudged lenses and the smudges themselves aren’t necessarily the problem. The problem is when we mistake the smudges in our perception for truth.
Avidya is to mistake the impermanent for the eternal, the impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-self for the true self. The core ignorance we call “avidya” is the inability to experience your deep connection to others, to the source of being, and to your true self.Sally Kempton, Yoga Journal August 2011
Last week I became aware of a big hairy smudge on my lenses. I’m part of an online running club (please wait before you start shoulding on yourself about running, online clubs, or whatever. — press pause on the flashing SHOULD in your brain, and then come back to this moment) called The Public Run Club and the really insightful coach (her name is Karly Borden) uses running (and/or moving your body, in general) as the platform for asking bigger and better questions about yourself; running is simply the activity that prompts the curiosity and exploration. I hope that I teach yoga (asana) in a similar way. ANYWAY. She was posing questions to “make peace with our body”, and asked this set of doozies —
What do/did you rely on your thinner body for?
What can’t you rely on your reality or current body for?
I knew pretty quickly what it was for me. ugh. Feeling pretty. When I was thinner and felt like I was my “right size” (do you hear how I make myself wrong and bad there?) I felt pretty. I could rely on the size and shape of the shadow I cast on the sidewalk to make my hair and skin also look better, good, and right. In my current body size and shape, nothing can look pretty. Somehow the extra weight shows up even in my hair, in that I have way too much of it. The “too much hair” is not about needing a haircut, it’s that my whole person; hair, belly, and booty are All Too Much. And my smell. As long as I am heavier than I think I should be I will always kind of smell like That Person on the city bus, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
So that very day I did a few things that were counter-intuitive. The first thing I did was to shower, even though I hadn’t done anything other than wake up. Back in the idealized time of my body and mind, I showered because I did a sweaty workout. I needed a shower to wash off the glorious stink of my lean, sore muscles. The smell of sleep somehow did not “merit” a shower. Well, what the heck I said — let’s try the shower anyway. In case you are wondering — soapy armpits do smell better than sleepy armpits.
Next, I used the hair dryer for less than 5 minutes. I normally let my hair dry naturally, for a number of good reasons, and a really dumb one – I Don’t Want To Appear Vain. Here’s my “logic” — if I look too nice then people will assume I’m really vain and only care about my appearances…which ironically is exactly what I am doing, just in a strange direction. When my hair is left to it’s own devices, I bear an uncanny resemblance to Jon BonJovi, back in the day. I don’t blow dry my hair for volume and lift, I blow dry my hair to give it some direction and to calm.it.down. Much like the unearned shower, blow drying my hair did in fact improve the situation. I looked a wee bit closer to who I want to be in the world, and a little less of a victim of my own very dense, wavy hair. And, here is the key — I also did not look ready for Glamour Shots (as opposed to my creepy h.s. graduation picture). I still looked like me.
And THEN I did something even more unexpected. I found a small vial of perfume oil in the waaaaayyyyyyyy back of the cabinet (covered in dust, hair, and band aid wrappers). I dabbed the tiniest bit behind my ear and on a wrist. I could barely smell it, but it instantly brought back memories of many years ago (decades) when I always smelled a wee bit of Water Lily.
Then I quickly ran out the door to meet with the assistant principal of my kids school, who I had just met the day before. She is really pretty. She has long, smooth ribbons of blond hair, clothes that obviously match, and jewelry that completes the outfit. And she was soooo kind, gracious, and smart. I liked her so much. I wanted to stay in her office all day because she was so kind, organized and smelled so good. I assumed it was some delicious hand lotion she kept in her desk.
I thanked her profusely (for just existing) and ran to my car. And then something completely unexpected happened. I still smelled her glorious smell. I hadn’t even hugged her and it was on me. WAIT A MINUTE. It’s on me?! Yes — that amazing smell was not her hand lotion, it was coming from my own glorious neck and sweet wrist!? I SMELLED GOOD. It was me. ?!?!?
The thing about avidya (smudged perception) is that as soon as I can recognize it for what it is and clean the lens, it will show up again. Or a different smudge will get my attention, like how I’m bad with math, or have a temper. It is a constant practice of confusing the smudge for reality, seeing it, wiping it, and getting smudged all over again.
The next Saturday Morning Retreat is Saturday, February 15th, 9a.m.-noon, at Philo Presbyterian church. We are going to look at the smudged line between self-care and self-sabotage. Is that bottle of wine after a miserable day at work what will make you feel better or just different? When I am in a bout of insomnia, is it caring for my mind, body, and spirit to have a latte after lunch? What are your “comfort foods” and what comfort do they bring you? Self-care can be really complicated for me because of the smudges in my perception, and all of the shoulds I place on me.
You have a few weeks to make arrangements to get here for the retreat. Please don’t should on yourself or others about it. Please don’t should on the yoga. If you decide to come — let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are more than welcome. The retreat is most suited for people who have some experience with yoga, and can get up and down from the floor with relative ease. The cost is $30. If the cost is prohibitive for your current finances, please still come. Let me know, not to ask permission — assume I WANT you to be there — but so I can affirm your decision to take care of you, especially in this vulnerable time.
And with that, I am going to take a shower for no other reason than I want to feel fresh and clean! I might even blow dry my hair a little, unless I decide to go for the Bon Jovi look today, who knows.
Peace on your head – no matter how it smells or how big, little, curly, or straight your hair is – Peace on ALL of it. —- Rachel