By Alisyn Reid, YTT500 in training
The last time I came to Circle Yoga Shala, my life was in upheaval. It was the kind of upheaval that prompts you to impulsively buy an international plane ticket with a departure date in six weeks, and you only waited that long because you already made a commitment to live and study yoga for the next four weeks. It’s the kind of upheaval that interrupts your sleeping and eating; the kind that makes you avoid eye contact because if you let someone stare into your soul for too long, you think you might burst open.
But that’s what studying yoga does. It bursts you open. It gives you fire. It stares hard into what you believe about yourself and demands that you tell the truth. Or maybe that’s just Matt.
And so, coming back to this place felt like a lot of things. It felt like walking onto hot coals or into a bright light. It felt like volunteering to stand in front of a full auditorium in my underwear and talk about what I wanted to be when I grew up. It felt like getting into a clear river on a hot day. It felt like stepping back in time, back into wounds that have since scabbed over. It felt like coming home.
I arrived late, as is my way, and guiltily wrestled with the swollen door of the barn. I wondered about the people already retired in their curtained beds. Will I like them? Will they like me? Thankfully, the questions became more interesting as the intensive progressed.
The first intensive was Water, which makes sense, as we are born from water, evolved from water, and made of water; so, too, was the 500 hour coursework born, evolved, and made. It was an extensive overview of Pancha Maya, Samkhya, Ayurveda, the Evolutionary Namaskar, and probably more that I am forgetting. I am still integrating two weeks later.
In a discussion of the Gunas, one of my classmates asked, essentially, “If we are not the doers, then what is?” It led to another question.
If we are responsible for what is outside of us, as these outside problems are a reflection of what is within us, and we are also not the doers - at the mercy of the forces of change and stagnation that pervade everything - then how are we to address this responsibility? What do we do? Are we working against our nature or for it (a false dichotomy, I agree)?
The etymology of “responsible” comes from the Latin “respondre,” with “re” meaning “back” and “spondere” meaning “to pledge.” To pledge in return. To answer back. The word “receive” comes to mind, coming from the Latin “recipere,” with “capere” meaning “take” - to take back. Receiving can seem rather passive, the way we usually think of it, but the word itself implies active participation. We have paid for our receiving in some way, and we take back what is already ours. Responsibility is similar - we pledge to answer for what is already ours. One of the roots of “pledge” is Old High German pflegan, which is "to care for, be accustomed to.” And so, to be responsible seems to mean, “I accept and care for what I have received.”
Perhaps responsibility is to promise to answer for what was not caused by us, and yet is still ours - still taken and paid for somehow. Perhaps it is to see our true nature as that which is constantly changing, bound in desire and aversion, entirely misidentified, and also chosen by a consciousness that does not have the same hang ups as our ego minds.
To be responsible for what you are, you have to realize what you are.
Okay, so imagine this kind of subject matter for seven hours a day, and you’ve got an idea of the first intensive. You can also imagine quiet mornings drinking tea or coffee, nourishing meals eaten outdoors, walks through the woods with a stick for spider webs (required), and dimly lit evenings rolling around on the floor while you work on clarifying a short sequence for the next day.
The program birthed during this first weekend promises to be a turning point for each of us - a light on the unconscious, a moment in the battlefield. It was chosen and received - taken back - by each of us in exchange for our time, money, and willingness to be responsible for what we think we are and what we really, truly, inescapably are.
I am excited and nervous for the next one.