The Tide of Ego

Illustration: “Exporer” by Gaby D’Alessandro

I have always been a child of the sea. It is a place of great belonging to me and I’ve spent a rather large portion of my life standing on seaweed and barnacle covered boulders, staring into the churning tide. There’s something about its constant movement, the never-ending transformation that always makes me feel at home. I have my own inner coastline, after all, and when my gaze turns inward, its lines never seem the same. I’ve found being a Yogi to be a similarly a volatile process. It is a constant flux…pulsing, pressing, changing. It’s an extending of our bodies, an expansion of our hearts and minds. It’s a riot of transformation, sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult, that is always rearranging the inner self. The more I reach for answers, the more I am shown the illusion of “answers” in the first place.

To say that the world of yoga is “vast” would be an understatement worthy of ridicule. Thousands of years and millions of practitioners have made its interpretations next to infinite. It is awesomely endless, a figurative universe of questions, misunderstandings, epiphanies, and incarnations. Every individual who has ever walked the path has done so in a way completely and wholly unique. And why not? Our experiences, each unlike any other, shape us into who we are. Our ability to see parallels between our own stories and the stories of others allows us the profound gift of empathy, but in the end, we are each our own solitary souls in the current, simply trying to stay afloat.

There have been slivers of moments in my practice when I feel like I almost understand. Sometimes, surrendered into posture, suspended in the waves of ujjayi breath, the eddies and whorls of my mind seem to almost stop. For the briefest moment, the churning sand settles, allowing a teasing peek at the wonders below. When the sequence is over, and I lift myself out of Savasana, I return to a reality that feels softer…more approachable than before. It’s as if the universe itself has widened, allowing everything within it just a tiny bit more room.

Then there’s times that I just can’t seem to get there. Days where the path I’m taking is a maze of blackberry bushes and sand flies…leaving me exhausted, irritated, and no closer to my goal than I was before. I’m coming to the brutal realization that, in these moments I’m not really focused on the goal at all. Instead I’m lost within the my ego, waging a one-sided war against some arbitrary pose, or knee deep in social media, allowing my perception of someone else’s journey to dictate the value of my own.

I continue to read the ancient wisdom of The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali...The Bhagavad Gita, marking them up in ways that a more orthodox Yogi may find disrespectful. I pick up classics like Autobiography of a Yogi and Light on Yoga as often as newer texts such as The Secret Power of Yoga. I question each one. I dip deep into wide-reaching, fascinating podcasts, like Andrea Ferretti’s Yogaland, and still glean countless valuable lessons from Glo’s countless programs. These various sources of learning and interpretation swirl together into a mass of possibilities…an ocean of “maybe”. I’ve thrown myself from the jagged rocks into the maelstrom below, and the line between “swimming” and “drowning” can be fine indeed; sometimes I’m not even sure which category I fall into.

What I’m beginning to sense, though, is that the point isn’t to quantify my progress at all. It doesn’t matter how well I’m swimming. My distance from the shore is irrelevant at best. Setting aside my ego, letting go of measurements, comparisons, and value judgements…this is where true Yoga lies. Reaching land was never the goal. The real treasure was never buried beneath the sand in the first place.

It is the sea itself.

*I really enjoy Edwin Bryant’s new translation and commentary of The Yoga Secrets of Patañjali, as well as Jack Hawley’s translation of The Bbhavagad Gita. You can find them and all the other books I mentioned on Goodreads. I encourage you to purchase books from independent bookstores if at all possible. Your local library is another fantastic resource and I hope you give them your support.