A native Floridian though I may be, when I'm in the ocean I can't help but continually scan the horizon and my immediate surroundings for a fin or a big, dark shadow. At least if I see it coming, I have chance of escape, right? Or maybe it won’t hurt as much. Either way, something about seeing makes me feel safe, in charge and in control.
Now contrast the attachment to sight with the intention of savasana: body still, breath soft, thoughts quiet, eyes closed. Tongue-in-cheek, sometimes I refer to savasana as “nap time.” The metaphor works because it distills the essence of savasana into something familiar. I also qualify the pose as “the hardest ever” because, let’s face it -- it is (and don’t we all love a good challenge?).
As soon as our bodies stop, our minds begin. Thoughts whir by in spin-cycle mode. Eyes fling open and hearts beat out of chests when we remember that, in the morning insanity, we forgot to close the car windows...and didn’t the forecast call for rain? Great, now it’s pouring...at least the car is getting clean. To complicate things further, aside from life’s daily grind, our mind also hides more monsters than even the murkiest waters. And those monsters tend to creep up when all is still, quiet and we’re not looking.
Feeling down a few days ago with no discernible source, I decided to treat myself to a much-needed break. After about ten minutes of Viparita Karani (Legs Up a Wall), deep breathing, and no relief, I realized my eyes were not only wide open, they actually darted around the ceiling. Recalling younger students in class who can’t dim their lids during savasana to save their lives, I smiled, then heeded my own advice.
After a moment of just me, myself and eyes shut, the monster I had been unconsciously resisting surfaced. It wasn’t pretty. For a moment, it struggled in my throat, then let loose and burst out into tears. The process of the pain didn’t feel good. It hurt. But as soon as I allowed myself to fully see and express the shadow, the pressure dropped. I felt integrated, whole, more me than before.
Life has a way of giving us moments to acknowledge, respond to, and transform what we dread the most. About five years back, on a snorkeling adventure hoping to spy a sea turtle, I peered through my mask and, halfway between the land and me, saw a 6 foot, black-tip reef shark instead. Before encountering this creature with only water and no glass between us, I had imagined the scenario would go something like this: my screaming, flailing, gasping for air, swallowing water instead and possibly having a heart attack.
When I actually came face to face with one of my most visceral fears, my body relaxed. My breathing slowed. Time stopped. I entered a state of ultra awareness and connection. With barely perceptible, lazy flicks of her (yes, the shark was totally a she) tail, the shark carved out a path around me in slow motion. Transfixed by her sheer power and grace, I had totally forgotten to feel fear. After nearly circling me, the shark had decided she’d had enough, gave one solid swish of her tail, and disappeared, leaving me with one of the best memories of my life.
Before we actually see our monsters, they terrify us. We refuse to dip even a proverbial toe in the kiddie pool. Once we embark on this yoga journey, however, adult swim begins. In savasana, we plunge in head first, letting go of the need to be in control. We find ourselves still, silent and sightless. We surrender. We trust.
Relinquishing cold, hard sight for inner vision, we illuminate the monsters lurking deep in the caverns of our mind, the ones we fight so hard with our chattering thoughts and opened eyes to keep submerged. When we close our eyes, we acknowledge the existence of and get to know our shadows and suddenly they’re not so scary anymore. In fact, they just may be the most powerful, most beautiful pieces of ourselves we’ve never seen.