A post written for Super Soul Yoga
If you have practiced yoga more than once, you may already have experienced what we could call its cyclical aspect. You return to a pose, to a breath, to a sensation knowing you have been here before, yet this time it feels slightly different.
If we scale that up to a few more years or decades, the cyclical aspect of your practice becomes even more apparent.
A long-term cycle could go something like this: First, something awakens your interest and you go into playful exploration. Then you (often more or less subconsciously) commit yourself to an idea of what yoga is really about. You devote yourself to a routine, a system, a group, a community or a teacher. Then, you plow that furrow deeper and deeper until one day you are stuck. Then, you hang there, like a spider’s web in a windless night, open, vulnerable, empty. When you let go, it all begins again. Awaken, explore, commit, get stuck, empty, let go, awaken.
Depending on where we are in a cycle like that, we express different takes on spiritual practice with glorious conviction. For some of us, yoga is all about awakening. For others, true spiritual inquiry equals exploration and any system of teaching yoga seems like an appropriation of the very freedom that yoga has to offer. In contrast, others will say that yoga in nothing without devotion to a teacher, a lineage, or a method. Others again will insist that yoga is always and only a practice of openness and letting go into the empty void.
We all have our preferences. But, hold on to one for long enough and it will eventually slip through your fingers. A preference may even flip into its opposite. What felt right will suddenly feel all wrong. What felt free and playful will suddenly feel confined. Stick to yoga for long enough, and you will change your mind. It’s a humbling process, it can look inconsistent and crazy but that’s perhaps just how it goes.
Seeing clearly where we are in the cycle is tricky. For example, I can be deeply convinced of my “stuckness” and not see that I´m deep in transformation. I can claim my devotion to a teacher and not see my resistance to being taught. I can be identified with free exploration outside any system or “church” and not realize that this idea has itself become my new religion (a church of no church). I can cling to the emptiness of the windless night as if there was something to grasp. I can hold on to letting go. Only in hindsight do we see our position.
Our friends, family and loved ones often can, though. They laugh their butt off when they hear us preach our latest truth like it was the first and only. Many conflicts over spiritual beliefs could be avoided if we learned how to listen to our loved ones; if we learned how to laugh a little at our own ideas.
Because, in the bigger picture, any fresh, newborn form of spiritual exploration will eventually settle into structure and hierarchy. And any structure will eventually dissolve in order to make space for the next windless night and letting go.
In the span of centuries and millennia, the unstoppable transformation gives birth and death to spiritual practice systems. It fuels the transformation of a human life. A cycle can complete itself at micro-scale in a single day. You can see its loop at the return of every exhale. Slow or fast, big or small, it takes more than a few rounds for us to soften around the edges. To be ok with watching our most brilliant ideas dissolve. To engage curiously with other people’s ideas even when they don´t match our own. If yoga moves in circles, each round extends a deeper invitation to love the people around you wherever they are. Chances are you will be going there next.
(And yes, the concept of cycles is just another idea).