Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Strangers in a Strange Land

“To Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.”
- Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
grok: understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with; to empathise or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment.
- Oxford English Dictionary

Well, it’s been quite a few weeks, to say the least. As I was making my tea this morning and reviewing the latest very interesting blogs, commentaries, emails, text messages and voicemails I have received I was aware that I felt quite weary and a bit hungover. I haven’t had  any alcohol to drink in a while so I am assuming I have some undigested emotions and thoughts still circulating in my system. Writing is always  good therapy, so here I sit, once again, to help the digestion and assimilation process.  
I realized today that I have been holding (or attempting to hold) a certain kind of space around “The Anusara Situation” since Darren and I resigned and that effort has been both liberating and tiring. I think the tiring part comes from how personal it all feels to me and  the effort required to sustain a sense of detachment when other people express how personal it feels to them. I am not someone who always has that sense of “thanks for sharing your truth” as a first reaction, especially when someone’s truth is in response or reaction to mine. I have a big psychological pattern of feeling different, misunderstood and accused. Being neutral and equanimous in the midst of emotionally-laden discussion does not come naturally to me.
So I have to practice that. A lot. I practice spaciousness in relationship more than I practice any back bend and more than I observe any dietary practice. Sometimes, it comes easily. Sometimes, not so much. Sometimes I am able to receive the other’s experience with gracious spaciousness. Other times, not at all. Most days, I am somewhere in the middle- I have what I recognize to be a patterned “first thought” and I am able to execute a more skillful and conscious second thought and outer action. Many times. Obviously, not always.
Because here is the thing- I value, perhaps more than I value anything else, in fact, even more than my opinions, which are many, as we know--honest self-expression. I value that we, as people need to know our truth and to express it  directly and authentically. And I believe that an important circuit gets completed when that truth is received and heard by someone else. A friend of mine is a child development specialist and teaches parenting seminars. She told me that her mentor talks about how there are levels of intimacy between parent and child and the deepest level of intimacy is not love. The deepest level of intimacy is understanding someone else and truly seeing them, receiving them and meeting them where they are. The deepest intimacy is when we, in Robert Heinlen’s language, “grok” someone or when we are “grokked” by another.
So, all of you out there who do not like science-fiction, I apologize for the Stranger in Strange Land reference, I really do. But it occurs to me that, in some ways, that is exactly the situation we find ourselves in. In a way, this situation has made us strangers in a strange land.  For some, there is relief as years of secrets they have kept are hitting the light of day. For some there is deep sadness as yet another dream fades. Others are feeling shock, outrage, anger, vengeful, and even spiteful as feelings of betrayal lead the way. It is a complicated situation that involves  spirituality, ethics, business,  social connections, personal loyalty issues, professional alliances, financial realities, and so on. 
Some folks are coping by withdrawing. Some are coping by making jokes. Some are writing a lot. Some are reading a lot. Some people want facts. Others are reassured by feelings and insight and personal testimony. Some folks are yelling. Some are crying. Some are explaining. Some people, I would bet, are drinking a lot. Some are practicing asana a lot. (I personally have been going to two  Bikram yoga classes a day just to get to a place of quiet. When all else seems uncertain in life,  twenty-six poses done in the same order, taught with the same words, in the same hot room is oddly comforting.)  But my point is that regardless of how we are coping and regardless of  what the quality of our personal experience is,  we are in a new world.
The cool thing is that while we may be in a strange land, we are not strangers to each other, although as the vestiges of now-outdated personality identifications are being swept aside,  we may discover  that we are more multi-dimensional than we once knew. We may find that the structures that defined us, those ideals, assumptions and associations that once provided tools for expansion, had hidden within them seeds of limitation, for that is often how it works. And so we have to grow. Life marches onward. The irrepressible Force of Grace beckons us - sometimes gently and sometimes brutally- to know who we really are, not just who we think we are. And regardless of circumstance, I also think that Grace is calling us to know each other more fully as well. Sometimes that means that you will see that I am more compassionate than I appear on the surface. I had  student once say, “You are like an M&M, Christina- hard on the outside, sweeter inside.”  Sometimes you may come face to face with the fact I am also opinionated, judgmental, ambitious, sarcastic and all the rest.
The thing is for me to “grok” you and for me to have the fundamentally healing experience of being “grokked”  by you, it all has to be there- warts and all.  Whether someone “stays in Anusara and works for change in the system” or “goes and creates something different outside the system" is not the issue, in my opinion. The issue for me is, as always, am I practicing yoga? And what, given all that I know and feel and intuit, provides me with the best situation in which to practice the yoga of my heart?
Of course, that begs the question of, “What does it mean to practice yoga?” Without taking up to much more time on this post, I am proposing that for me, in the midst of this, my primary internal practice has been what I already mentioned- practicing spaciousness in the midst of heightened emotions, volatile feelings, and this attempt to “grok” others and to allow myself to be “grokked.” I am practicing reading these blogs, comments, postings in all their glory with a keen eye on how they come into my emotional body and what impulses follow.For instance,I read some things and I feel vindicated. I read others and I want to explain. I read others and I want to shout, “Shut the f*&% up.” I read others and I want to cry. You get my point.
So, I keep going. I watch me wanting to do those things.  I watch me chiming in- at times with clarity and at times with opinion and at times with sarcasm, etc. I watch my conditioned-self feel misunderstood, feel guilty,  feel sad, feel self-righteous, feel apart from, feel proud, feel happy, etc. And, perhaps  more importantly, I watch for another thread that lives beneath but is not separate from those first responses. There is a thread of wisdom, of discernment, I believe, that the yoga is aiming us toward. It has a flavor, a texture, a presence that is unique to it and when I glimpse it I get the “eye in the storm” feeling. 
This storm is far from over, but it is a great field for watching oneself. I will write more soon. This is not intended as any complete kind of commentary. There is lots of grey area, obviously. 


Barefootlotuss said...


LisaE said...

living in the grey is so much more challenging than a black and white,right and wrong world....sometimes it hurts so much to grow up and be an adult

Julie Taylor said...

thanks for explaining what 'practicing Yoga' is....your choice of words totally grokked me! Everything changes, nothing stays the same.....I can see some big expansion on the horizon :)

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Christina. I appreciate very much that you take the time and energy--and put your heart in--to writing this blog. It is a blessing to many people.

Debbie M said...

Christina. Thank you so much. It's the first thing that's hit home for me all week. Spaciousness...I'm here In Miami and that's what I feel entirely.

Dale said...

Yes! You DO value honest self-expression in your friends and students! I have seen you _many_ times, when I crank up a rant, just applaud it, without necessarily agreeing with it. Now I have the words for it. And you constantly cheer people on, to do the best asana they can - more honest self-expression.

I have often kidded you aobut teaching achievement-oriented yoga (and you totally do :-), but what you are actually teaching is no-holds-barred honest self-expression on the mat. Rock on!!! I love it :-). Fierce mama tiger yoga love. You push your students out of the nest of their comfort and habit, and into the skies of their destiny. And like that :-).

Christina Sell said...

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, everybody. It's so nice to know that we are really in it together.

Love in a Big Nut Shell said...

Such a beautiful post full of truth, love & 'spaciousness'!!!!

Pameluna said...

I love that book!!! You are reminding me to go back and read it again.

I also keep looking at my reactions to various postings. In truth, the ones I agree with and that validate my stance(s) are probably the least helpful. The ones that challenge me and piss me off are pretty fertile ground for digging into the depths of my own stuff I bring to the conversation. And I think the ones that make me cry are hitting closest to an uncloaked "truth".

Thanks for your words and candor. We are all in this together..

Shannon McKenzie said...

I know why I was so drawn to your teachings at City Yoga in SC..."feelings of being different, misunderstood and accused." Those are the exact words I uttered to Henry in a conversation recently. I get it!!!
Reading blogs and posts about the current state of Anusara have made me feel very vulnerable and raw...but instead of taking the bull by the horns as I am inclined to do when everything starts falling apart, I am sitting with those feelings and the reactions and letting them just "be". I am not denying them, nor am I giving them any more power. As I wait and listen to this hurricane inside of me, and yes, it IS like a hurricane, I have noticed that the thoughts/reactions that remain after the storm calms, those thoughts are usually the ones that hold true for me, less colored by my psychological patterns. And to help me wind down the craziness, like you, I went to an Ashtanga class last night where my dear friend instructed us to look for our inconsistencies. Let me tell ya, the primary series can teach you a lot about inconsistencies, and not just in your body :)

Loka Studios said...

I realize that many feel loss and confusion in this time, I am actually finding deeper clarity and I am grateful that the teachers I hold dear continue to grow, change and share. What more could a student ask for, if our teachers were perfect all the time, I don't know how we could continue to learn from them. Even though I don't see you nearly as much as I like to, I am always learning from you; and I know with out doubt that you are always living and speaking your truth as you know it, so it only makes sense that this truth will continue to change and evolve. We are not strangers, we are in a strange land, but isn't that the constant? I don't care to dive in to the things that brought all of this up, as I do not feel like I am close enough to the pulse nor informed enough to have an opinion that is worth sharing. What I do care about is how what seems to have turned into a dysfunctional family, is moving away from dysfunction as best as anyone knows how, and seemingly with a bond between brothers and sisters who are just doing their best. I am grateful for the past that has created the present, sympathetic to the pain that the situation is causing people I care about, and looking forward to seeing the continued growth of my own path and the path of those I choose to surround myself with. Nothing but love and respect for you my cherished teacher!

Loka Studios said...

Just realized I'm posting under the studio's account. Much Love! Mickie

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