Dharma & Resonant Alignment
I sit to write today, I find myself drawn to questions of Dharma and ‘resonant alignment.’
What is Dharma? A dear friend and teacher, Patty Townsend, recently wrote on Dharma on her Embodyoga blog and I’ll make several references to it here. Patty defines Universal Dharma as that which gives order to the Universe and underlies the very structure of existence. Individual Dharma is how we act in the world and take personal responsibility for coming into alignment with the Universal.
She goes on to define the world in which we live as a relational field. She writes:
We are in relationship on all levels of our being at all times. There is no end or beginning to the field of relationship. In the microcosm of our bodies we are intricately relating to ourselves at all times: cell to cell, fluids to membranes to fascia, glands and organs, time and space, movement and stillness, and all of the transformation and creativity that is continuously taking place. We are in relationship to the environment outside of our personal skin-membrane. We have our closest people, nature and the world around us. Our individual intelligence is wrapped and permeated with the Universal. Every breath, every thought and every movement is happening within the field of relationship.
This is so beautiful to me and it’s why I practice yoga.
A massage and Pilates client of mine recently asked me what I got out of yoga and I found myself pausing, because how does one speak to the mysteries of the universe without proselytizing. I said, “It’s going to sound a little new-agey, but it connects me first to myself and then to something much larger than myself.” Then I quoted Iyengar when he said that his body was his temple and the practice his prayer. And I went on to tell the story of my first yoga classes. It was 1994, I had just graduated college and was taking dance classes at Meredith College. Lisa Clark, the partner of my favorite dance teacher, was teaching a 3-week yoga intensive where we take yoga class every day. I was curious, so I signed up. To me, from who I was then, there was nothing particularly magical about the classes themselves; yoga struck me as another kind of choreography. BUT there was something interesting happening outside of class. I found that the acts of taking care of myself came more easefully, without forethought and effort. I laughed more spontaneously. I had stronger opinions and more forthrightly shared them. There was something happening in the relational field, both to myself and others, that was shifting and that little piece would stay with me and continue to bring me back to yoga, and to Lisa as my teacher, again and again.
Another important drop in the bucket of the relational field for me was ten years later. I was in Lisa’s Yoga Teacher Training – her first year of offering it – and Patty Townsend was guest teaching. She was speaking about the koshas, the layers of self. We have our physical body, our energy (Prana) body, our emotional body, our mind body, our bliss body, and then the core individual self. As she was speaking about the mind-body and the power of discernment, she gave it a referential context, which was so potent for me. She said we begin to use the mind to discern the choices that bring us closer to love. For the mind was centered in the heart and the goal of yoga was to yoke the individual heart with the universal heart.
Making choices that bring us closer to love was monumental. I was one of those people who could too easily get lost in a nihilistic blur of relative meanings. If anything and everything had meaning, what gave any one thing or person, including myself, more value over anything else? How was one to make decisions? In that realm, one choice is just as valuable as another. They will give you different experiences, different flavors of life, but none was truly any better than another. It left me with a kind of apathetic emptiness as I flailed in a realm insecurity and meaninglessness and struggled to feel connected to anything or anyone — a little like this video of Henri, the existential cat. But by the time I had entered Yoga Teacher Training, I had made good strides in moving out of that existential mind-space to taking responsibility in creating meaning for myself, but this was a helpful bit. Now, as I consider the landscape of choices out there, the question underneath is ‘what brings me closer to love? What has the feeling of resonant alignment?’
There’s something else yoga gives me, as we talk about the relational field. In the beginning, as you practice yoga, your teacher likely tells you where to put your parts. An arm here. A foot there. Do I even have a sitting bone? And the first layer of that process is recognizing that we have a body, that we can feel its parts, and that we can eventually direct the parts as instructed. It’s not unusual for that to be the realm of the first several years of practice. Over time, we begin to internalize a sense of ‘right alignment’ and perhaps this has begun to overflow into other parts of life without knowing or understanding why. Then you might begin to sense that when the alignment is really right for you, it has a kind of resonance. We learn to feel and recognize this resonance through repeated practice. And then we learn to sense that it can be honed, refined, textured, investigated, navigated, and deepened. It isn’t a static place. It changes moment to moment.
It’s when you get to the space of what I will call ‘resonant alignment’ that you enter the realm of the relational field and can begin to navigate your Dharma. It’s why a practice of simple poses can last me a lifetime and it’s on this level where simple poses become advanced asana – resting into the relational field and discerning the path of resonate alignment on every layer of existence. It’s on this level that yoga comes off of the mat, into our homes, into our workplaces, and into the world. It’s where the yamas and niyamas become living, breathing, resonant landscapes — rather than ethical prescriptions.
Patty references a Tantra perspective (and distinguishes it from Patanjali’s) when she says this, “…we value equally the changing and sustaining aspects of creation. We really are not that interested in valuing what is so called “Pure” (un-changing) and better, from what is “impure” (changing) and not quite as good. We are not at all interested in denying or overcoming our human experience. We are interested in experiencing all layers of our selves and our lives, from the most-subtle reality all the way through the most gross and messy aspects of personality. The weave is what interests us.” And I’m right there with her.
Some people know what they are here on this earth to do. And I have rarely had the experience of that kind of clarity, as you can imagine from what I’ve shared about my history. When one looks back at my life, it has been a bit circuitous, but there are a couple of themes. I started college as a flute performance major, played around in the math and business departments – I loved Calculus! – and got a degree in anthropology while beginning to take dance classes and playing in the West African music ensemble. Upon graduation, I worked at Whole Foods and Third Place while taking dance and yoga classes at ArtsTogether and Meredith College. I went to graduate school in dance for a year and then to conservatory in Amsterdam until I got caught up in a relationship drama that brought me home. I did administrative work and bookkeeping in a massage school and several arts non-profits. I waited tables, made copies, schlepped coffee, all while dancing and choreographing in local dance companies, including my own. I went to massage school, yoga school, the school for Body-Mind Centering. I started to specialize in bodywork. I worked at several clinics – chiropractic, osteopathic, acupuncture, medical massage, yoga studios, and Duke Integrative Medicine – before moving into private practice. I went back to school for pre-med, public health, and a year of osteopathic medical school. And after all of that I returned to Raleigh to settle back into a simple life of movement and bodywork — the main theme and what keeps me going, the intimacy of consciousness imbued in structure.
I have recently accepted a new role as Director of Therapeutic Programming at Evolve. And I have to say, in the realm of resonant alignment, it feels right and somehow magically integrates everything that has come before into new and exciting directions. I hope you’ll join me as we continue to navigate what is possible for Evolve with the immense talent we have working under our roof — only if it’s right for you, of course. Namaste.