The Bodhisattva’s Smile
When I first starting practicing yoga, I knew that it would change my life.
After my first sweet Savasana, I suddenly realized that if I practiced diligently and consistently, I would become calm, kind to stranger, sweet to horrible children, magnanimous with ex-boyfriends and generous with catty women. As I looked upon the serene and clear faces of sculptured bodhisattvas, I knew that I, too, would undoubtedly become serene, placid, and imperturbable.
That didn’t happen.
The more that I practice yoga, the more I feel. Ugly, gorgeous, complicated, fleeting, terrifying feelings. Rather than being sweetly equanimous, I have been riding up and down on a rollercoaster of sadness and joy. Instead of becoming increasingly serene, my palette of experience is widening rather alarmingly. Rather than muting to a pale and pleasing lavender, the spectrum of my emotions is becoming garish, rainbow, neon.
As kids, we learn to protect ourselves against the heartache of the world by armoring up. Feel less, guard more. We are taught to armour up in order to navigate our world with any dexterity; after all, our culture frowns upon open displays of raw emotion. However, with each application of protective coating, our originally radiant emotional spectrum becomes grimy, dimmed, contained.
In the yoga practice, we are invited into a safe space in which to participate fully with our own experience. If we allow it, we can peel back the armour that we have diligently applied like so much nail lacquer. Through our body, we explore a wide array of sensations (some pleasant, some unpleasant) and are asked to breathe, feel, and discover the underlying grace in our the experience.
In our practice, we can choose how we react to discomfort: do we harden and armour up? Or can we soften and sense? Can we move past an instinctive recoil against uncertainty and instead explore with tenderness the multitude of sensations and feelings that lies beneath our skin?
Practicing courageous and compassionate feeling in our yoga increases the spectrum of emotion that is available to us in our daily lives. Father than hardening, we learn to soften and sense the wildish emotions off our lives with groundedness and softness. As we feel into our bodies more with kindness, we begin to increase our graceful fortitude, that is, our ability to ride the waves of feeling and yet stay non-reactive and connected.
I was mistaken about the bodhisattvas: they do not smile so serenely because they only feel peaceful. No, their emotional cup is not so shallow.
They smile because they feel everything, and hold the ocean of their deep feelings in the open hands of their grace.