Be Still and Know
Anxiety creates a certain amount of chaotic movement. I've found that even when I'm sitting still, every molecule in my body can shake with nervousness. Fear can fizzle through every pore, leaving me to feel as if I'm attempting to crawl out of my own skin. Breathing can hitch, the heart rate can accelerate, the body can be readied for fight or flight.. all while I smile politely on the surface.
In a nutshell... Anxiety sucks.
This is why, in graduate school, I became interested in mindfulness practices. I could no longer tolerate the fearful feeling that seemed to control my life. Every decision I made, every conversation I had, every moment of joy could not be destroyed by this awful feeling of chaos any more. Something had to be done.
So, I studied. I read about Buddhism and contemplative Christianity. I listened to Cynthia Bourgeault and read the works of Thich Nhat Hanh. I played around with sand mandalas and singing bowls and prayer beads. I sang the psalms during compline and I learned about the 12 steps and I listened to audiobooks about prayer. I willed all of this knowledge to change my life. In many ways, it did.
Unfortunately, I found myself faced with the reality that despite years of study, I had not found the crux of the problem. Something was lacking. My body still felt chaotic.
And that's when I realized, that's it! The body!
I had not truly practiced embodiment. My knowledge was head knowledge. I had somehow not made the connection between my body and the role that it plays in my understanding of God. I was studying mindfulness without being truly mindful of my body.
I wondered how the great spiritual practitioners of history cultivated the discipline to sit? To observe? To listen and pray? Surely, I thought, I could find a method that worked for me.
Reluctant as I was to become another bougie, western, white girl to practice yoga, I decided to give it a shot. I committed to studying the teachings as much, if not more than, the movement itself.
It was, admittedly, a rough start with a lot of stops. Movement brought up anxiety and rage and all sorts of emotions that I had labelled yucky. The Yamas and Niyamas (the ethical principles of yoga) confronted some uncomfortable ideas I had about myself and the world. The discipline of a daily practice was shaky. I reminded myself to “be still and know” as I forced myself onto the mat for 15 minutes every day.
What was my body trying to say when I found myself anxious during a yogi squat (malasana)? Why did resting in mountain pose (tadasana) feel so scary to me? Why did five-pointed star pose (utthita tadasana) eventually make me smile?
I had spent more years than not being sexually abused. My body was a war zone even long after the violation had ended. Yoga became a form of prayer that helped me re-establish my body as a safe space. My daily practice became the highlight of my day.
I learned to weather and release the anxiety from a yogi squat (malasana) and I began to connect with the roots of my sexuality. Mountain pose (tadasana) grounded me in strength. I am here, dammit, and I will not be moved. Five-pointed star (utthita tadasana) celebrated the accomplishment of taking up space.
And in each pose... A reminder to return to the breath.
Inhale. Be still.
Exhale. And Know.
Be still and know commitment and discipline.
Be still and know that whatever arises now cannot harm you.
Be still and know that the body holds wisdom alongside pain.
Be still and know that there is dormant power waiting to be reclaimed.
Be still and know that the calm waters of peace are unmoved by the surface level storm.
Be still and know the present moment.
Be still and know love.
Be still and know God.