I have fallen in love with this pairing of words devised by Drake, an attendee of Tuesday night’s discussion at Shambhala Meditation Center of New York. In being asked who he was and how he aspired to be, he offered those two incredibly specific, and perhaps uncommonly paired, words: Gently. Resilient.
As an artist and yogi, and as a teacher, I find these words to be quite relevant and stimulating. Making an effort to be this way in the world excites me. I appreciate the suggestion of nonviolence (ahimsa in our yogic realm) towards ourselves. Between the heat of the summer and the tug of war between all of the opportunities and responsibilities that lay before me, I have been reaching for gentleness in a myriad of ways lately and promoting that compassion amongst my students as well. Because let’s face it, roadblocks appear in our paths more often than not. If you haven’t happened upon any yet, I have to wonder if you are really human….
Whether we are growing older and dealing with the previous years’ effects on our bodies and minds, or we are young and wishing we could accomplish more professionally, socially, or financially, we all live an obstacle course sort of life. We can breeze through some parts mindlessly or joyously, then a moment, a day, or a month later bump into combatants that bar our passing. I believe each piece of our journey offers us a lesson, whether we enjoy it or not; each piece accumulates into the greater story of an inimitable life. But that of course doesn’t make our roadblock moments any less upsetting physically or mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron offers artists techniques to free themselves from creative blockages – techniques that I find can most certainly be applied to every individual. Plus, it fits perfectly with Drake’s aspiration: to be gently resilient. One of the exercises she endorses goes by the name ‘Morning Pages’. By journaling for half an hour or three pages at a time, allowing a pure, unedited stream of consciousness flow through, Julia says we can rid our minds of the clutter that enhances our artistic jams. We can glean more clarity by blurting out all that our mind is obsessing over and with that clearer focus, acquire a sense of empowerment, a realization that we have the capacity to continue forward rather than remain stuck, trapped by thoughts that tie us down.
She similarly promotes meditation as a means of finding clarity and empowerment:
We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe. Through meditation, we acquire and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world.
Julia Cameron’s methods have led me on a gentle, yet resilient path of self-reflection (svadhyaya) and resultant action recently. The way gentle and resilient work as two halves of a whole in the frame of progress parallels the nature of reflection and action that she promotes and that our meditative and mat practices similarly uphold. If we are gentle but lack fortitude, we will be stuck forever in the same place, and if we overlook the power of gentleness, we can become harsh in our thoughts, words, and actions, just as study benefits our actions and actions are necessary in sharing what it is we discover in our self and interpersonal studies.
The breath too has this dual nature. I feel like I constantly reference it in my classes these days, but I consider it such an essential reminder for my students and myself – to observe that which keeps us alive that we tend to pay little attention to. If we are contemplating this ‘gentle resilience’, we can look to the breath. This sinewy tissue that connects one moment to the next and molds our inhales and exhales into a cyclical pattern that continually drives us forward along the path of life serves as a perfect tool to practice such gentle resilience.
I would encourage you to try – this morning or sometime this week – to set aside a half hour to let your mind stream onto a page, just to see if you can discover if there is anything blocking you. It could be an experience full of surprises; it could bring up the same old fears, arguments, or confusions that come up every day. Maybe you will find your life filled with joy now - not such a bad thing. Or, you could try sitting with the breath for a minute or two, or five or ten. Regardless of your personal choice of practice, you can take your life patterns and choices into your own hands, gently. Such work doesn’t have to be thrown into the cheesy self-help category that has overtaken our society. As constantly evolving human beings, we can be resilient and persevere through the changes that occur around and inside of us and let our svadhyaya self-studying practices continue on and on, in order to stay present with ourselves and thus be able to share that genuine self with all those we encounter.
- Liz Beres