What is it to have self-mastery? I find myself asking this question often. It is a theme in many aspects of my life. Ultimately, self-responsibility and having mastery over our own actions, thoughts and words may change and transform our lives and ourselves for the better. In my case, it's what I do not do that aids in this process. In the yoga of self-mastery, I restrict my negative actions, or discard what is not useful. It is a paring down and a resculpting. I eliminate what is unnecessary to reveal the truth in a purer way.
When thoughts arise that take me down a road of negativity, my emotions can become stirred and my physical body settles into a reactive state. With mastery over the mind, I reign myself in and in my self-containment, the light within gets freed and becomes revealed. This is easier said than done. I am a highly emotional woman, who is very sensitive and who gets pretty uncomfortable feeling human. When I am ignited, the concept of being still, observing, and not-doing, seems completely counter-intuitive.
My lineage has passed down this sensitivity—and a temper—from my grandfather to my father, and from my father to me. After many years of trial and error, my findings lead me to this revelation: I must take responsibility for holding this genetic anger. This anger that may rise from shame and sensitivity can feel unbearable. I want to toss it like a hot potato so that I do not have to feel this burning inside of me. Pass it along to the next person to deal with. Perhaps this anger is a gift for me. An emotional weight that makes me internally stronger just by settling in to my seat.
My greatest teacher has been yoga and intense physical activity. Making intensity and difficulty tangible through challenging exercise is just about the best metaphor for me. I commit myself whole heartedly to the task at hand, as I set out toward my goal. Whatever rises during my 90-minute practice will bring forth my resistance, my desire to quit, my self-critical nature, as well as my ability to move through and persevere. I will not know that tenacity and the power of endurance unless I stay the course, regardless of my inner demons and sloppy habits.
When in a challenging posture, I try to stay blank. I notice my gaze. It is still. If I begin to waver in my mind, my physical body will follow. I do not give in. If I wobble, I bring more dynamic energy into the pose. I become MORE involved, and begin to breathe more deeply. I set my mind to the task, and focus on the present. I find that the more I involve myself in the moment, the stronger I start to feel.
So how might this apply to my life? When I see myself sitting on the sidelines, either by staying in my comfort zone (saying no to social engagements due to insecurity or laziness, or hiding behind knowing it all), I know that it's time to become more involved. Am I being asked to show up? Might I participate more fully in this moment? Can I be present and show up anyway, even if I feel shaky? Can I risk not knowing, and face the vulnerability with stillness? Perhaps it's just for 90 minutes a day. Am I able to put myself in an uncomfortable situation and allow myself the process of strengthening the psychic and emotional tendons and ligaments, be a little shaky and engage with more energy? More breathing. More self-observation of my thoughts. Yet at the same time do less. Can I be more, and do less?
This has been the process of my yoga. Be the yoga. Not do the yoga.
Self-Mastery is a process of becoming.