I met my yoga mat for practice with the intention of a quick practice to bring myself back into alignment before jumping into writing and painting. I greeted my practice, blending my movement with breath. My body was hesitant to embrace the fluidity of movement that I typically feel in my practice, but as the heat generated from my core, I felt the asanas (yoga postures) smooth out with each pass through the sun salutation sequence. I found the focal point of peace and I opened to my Spirit. Then, something shifted, and I suddenly felt tears flowing down my face.
I became aware that my breath was being impeded, and once I brought my awareness back wholly into my breath, I felt myself begin to sob. I gently muffled my sob, and pressed on through the yoga flow of poses. I felt the constriction continue against my breath, and finally gave in and allowed my breath to lead my movement. That’s when I found myself face down on my mat, my hands slipping in a mixture of tears and sweat. I still tried to rail against the crying, tried to force my body into the movements of a sequence of postures, but to no avail. The tears still came, my breath still seized up with staccato sobs punctuating my movements, pulling me back down to the mat.
Finally, I surrendered to my breath and allowed my body to go limp against the floor. I allowed the flow of my flesh to embrace stillness. I allowed my breath to be the gentle unencumbered sobs that accompanied to flow of tears I allowed to flow from eyes. I rode the wave of this non-movement into an awareness of my emotions, my spirit. I observed what I was experiencing, and finally I found the root of today’s practice, and the mantra that fueled my practice: I am alone.
I recognized this mantra. These words echo through the back of my mind and this sense of aloneness is something that I’ve become persistently aware of, to the point that I’ve become numb to it, as if it weren’t there. But it is. It is always there at the back of my awareness, patiently reminding me of my singularity. Here, in my practice, on my mat, I finally decided to respond to this singular litany. In this moment of recognition, I breathe into this space and embrace my awareness of being alone.
In my practice, I am alone.
When I walk down the street, I am alone.
When I am with my friends, I am alone.
As I breath in, I am alone. As I exhale, I am wholly in the seat of my self.
I greet myself and the divinity within with compassion. I am alone. But this does not mean that I am lonely.
I begin to move again pressing into the mat, greeting the flow of asanas with focus and acceptance. I find the limitations of my body, and I allow the heat to build within me through my breath once again. Though I am alone, I am not lonely. Each pose moves into the next through the gateway and momentum of the breath, a part of the flow but distinctly unique and individuated. Though I stand as an individual, I am a part of something bigger than myself.
After a much lengthier, grittier and more intense practice than what I intended, I sat in meditation and reflection. I am alone in meditation. I am alone in my thoughts. But I am not lonely.
Buried deep in this feeling, there is a fear, and I am not the only one who feels this fear. It is fear that drives the sensation of being alone into one of despair, of loneliness. But even as fear drives this sensation, it betrays itself. The world is populated by people who are afraid of being alone. We are all connected in this need to be connected. We are all one in our aloneness.
And we are all alone in our oneness. This practice taught me that. Even when I found that point of connection, I was independent. We have to be. We have to honor our individuality in our journey into connection. The leaves must be different than the bark of the tree, though no part is less important than another. Sangha – community – is comprised of all of the individuals that make up the collective.
We all feel alone at times. It doesn’t matter how surrounded by others we are, how loved we are. Feeling alone is not a reflection of how much others love us. Feeling this sense of aloneness has nothing to with any other person. This sense of aloneness can be scary, but only to that part of us that seeks to validate ourselves against the measure of others. The fear of being alone arises from ego.
When we are able to pause long enough to just feel the sensation of only ourselves –without the expectations of others, without the fear, without the illusions that we are not connected – then the experience of this state changes. This awareness can become a tool to help anchor us, to help us see past the illusory shadow cast by our fears, to slowly become aware of the difference between our egos and our true selves.
Once we can center our focus on this awareness, the illusion that we can ever truly be alone begins to unravel. As a community, we move as one. As a world, we all breathe collectively. Each of us individually breathes the same air inhaled by our siblings, by our ancestors, by our neighbors, by the trees, by the oceans, by the Earth herself. And each breath draws us closer to that divine nature that is succinctly unique, yet paradoxically universal and all encompassing.
And so the journey is written – what began in the fear and pain finds it’s resolution in the breath.
The Flower Prayer
Who is this flower above me?
And what is the work of this God?
That I would know myself in all my parts. – Victor Anderson, oral tradition