(This is nothing like anything that I’ve written before – and nothing to do with Pilates).
Logan Gelbrich, whom we’ve paid a lot of attention to over the past year, likes to ask “Who are you becoming?” The implication being that there’s always room for growth, or perhaps there isn’t room for the kind of stasis that “Who are you?” might imply.
Logan is also given to reminding us that growth involves “transcending and including” – as we develop we bring all of our past experiences with us. They do not have to be abandoned, disowned or regretted.
When it comes to personal growth I’ve definitely talked the talk. I’ve embraced the catch-phrases, spread the word and believed wholeheartedly that I was on the right path. Perhaps the path that anyone ‘serious’ should be on.
I’ve also been very interested in the ideas of both self-actualisation and embodiment. On Instagram I describe my mission as “self-actualisation, my own and in the people I coach.” As a movement teacher I believe that embodiment or having the capacity to physically manifest and experience principles, ideas and feelings is an important goal, or quality. The more embodied we are the more understanding we can have of our bodies and, by extension, ourselves. I would say that embodiment and actualisation go hand in hand.
I’ve even been collaborating with a friend in developing a course/workshop for practitioners and teachers of yoga and Pilates to encourage embodiment. So, as I mentioned, I’ve been talking the talk. I’ve listened to the podcasts, read the books, blogposts and downloadable PDFs and discussed these ideas at length.
I’m learning that this was too much of what Jay Griffith calls ‘dry knowledge’, rather than embodied, felt, hands-dirty ‘wet knowledge’. Ironic, really.
This learning has come about through the very same friend introducing me to a profound process of self-discovery and healing. There are a few words that I’ve had a difficult relationship with and am now repairing. Healing is one of them. In the past I might have had a subtle inward cringe at somebody being described as a healer, or a process or intervention being described as healing. This may be due to the disconnect of not feeling that I had anything to heal. I’ve spent some time in therapy and felt that my issues were fairly well resolved.
I might also call this healing ‘coming into the light’ because I felt as though things that I had hidden from myself were bought into the light for me to see clearly. (The process happened to begin outside under the blazing sun, which may have helped with the imagery. And, by the way, I now know that the sun is white-silver, not yellow as I’d previously believed…) In an interview I heard Dr John Demartini declare that “Our illnesses are feedback mechanisms to let us know that we’ve stored lies about the magnificence of the universe.” This phrase powerfully resonated with me at the time and begins to make even more sense to me.
I wouldn’t say that I was ill, rather that some of my behaviours and habits were unhealthy and that I was blind to them. Or I was telling lies to myself about the magnificence of the universe, and the beauty to be found everywhere, in order to explain away or justify my behaviour. I am now recognising this as an immensely egotistical defence – “This is the way I am, and everyone will have to like it or lump it. I’m not going to sacrifice my identity to make others feel more comfortable. I was guilty of what could be called ‘self-image actualisation’ – quite different from what Maslow was referring to. I had self-inflicted wounds that needed healing and the part that has bought me sorrow, along with the bliss (there’s another word I may have struggled to use before now) of discovering some powerful truths, is that I’ve been inflicting wounds on my friends and family as well. I think this is almost inevitable – that we use those around us to bolster our ideas about ourselves, and if some of those are lies there will be consequences.
As I mentioned above, a lot of my ideas about personal growth were quite dry. I’ve loved the workshops I’ve done with Fighting Monkey where self-discovery comes through very physical practice and even described the experience for me being akin to what I believe is the experience of a shamanic ceremony for others. In spite of that felt experience I had processed the information through my head, or tied it to intellect and theories. Heart is another word that I’ve been uncomfortable using other than to describe an organ, even though throughout recorded history it appears to have been recognised as the vessel of love and/or energetic centre. Ironically I wrote a Facebook post last year encouraging Pilates teachers to try saying ‘heart’ instead of ‘core’ while teaching. This was much more to do with my pointless personal crusade against the word ‘core’ than any insight into the nature of the universe and humankind – but maybe it shows that I was ready for an awakening. To come into the light.
Now it’s very clear to me that many of my ideas around teaching, running a business and trying to be a leader were very head-centred, leaving little space for heart. I’ve recognised that judging others is a spectacular waste of time. It has become remarkably easy for me to brush negative thoughts aside. I’m no saint, I still might think to myself “Oh dear” when, for example, seeing someone wearing unflattering clothes but it’s now almost instantaneous that my heart says “They’re okay” and the thought is gone. It’s strange to realise that feeling compassion is a different think from enacting compassion knowing it to be the appropriate and professional choice.
This may be a little hard on my pre-revelation self – I do believe that I was genuine in the majority of my interactions with other people who deserved some compassion, and I even felt it sometimes (looking back, there may have been a hand-on-heart gesture as well) but it was mostly reserved for professional interactions whereas now it feels nearly universal.
The process that I’ve referred to is still ongoing in that I had my eyes opened to many things in the moment – the few hours of ceremony – and as I process and reflect and remember more many connections are made for me and I seem to uncover more hidden truths about myself and my place in the world. Some of these discoveries have been painful – recognising, for instance, that I was not fully the considerate, gentle and loving husband that I believed myself to be. Part of what has helped me to see a new, heartfelt compassion in myself is that, while there is a lot of sorrow attached to the revelations of my selfish actions and other failings as a partner, I am able to feel that sorrow without beating myself up. With the recognition that I didn’t know better.
Part of the learning has been recognising that, too often, I didn’t listen well. I am granted some fresh insight and then my memory dredges up a moment when I was told where I was straying from the path but my ego persuaded me otherwise. There’s that self-image actualisation again – I suspect that my listening was impaired by the efforts involved in sustaining my own wonky self-image.
On a less troubling note, the sense of connectedness is both inspiring and affirming. All the books, workshops, podcasts and discussions all seem to be woven into a fabric that makes perfect sense and forms a map of where we should be going and who we must become. There are too many coincidences for them actually to be coincidences and I am recognising that we have received so many extraordinary gifts – even those that we’ve paid 100s of £s, $s or €s for have a value far beyond the cost, and I feel an immense amount of gratitude to everyone who has crossed my path and shared with me.
To be with someone for many years, and to believe that you know them ‘inside out’, and then to have a few moments (I don’t know how long it was but the image now lives in me) when you are able to see their infinite magnificence is an experience that I wish for everyone. I doubt that it’s possible to remain cynical about humanity (as I was) once you’ve had this kind of illumination.
I am writing this 5 days into this journey of discovery and, while they have been some of the most momentous days of my life, every morning when I wake up with fresh realisations and connections I know that the process will continue for a while yet. At the very least I doubt that the fresh insights and revelations will suddenly cease tomorrow.
‘Moving into the light’ hasn’t been like having a light switched on, even though the first phase was searingly bright. Instead, imagine sitting on the shore and seeing the first rays of the rising sun sharply illuminating the sea and realising how deep and wide, beautiful and powerful, and how full of life it is. As the sun continues to rise you see the landscape anew, shaped by millennia into its perfect forms, and you see teeming life that you’ve not noticed before and recognise that you are connected to all of it – a part of the same cycle that is life. And the sun has only been up for an hour and there will be so much more to see and recognise and remember – illuminating and exposing the lies you’ve believed such that you can’t believe them again.