Pay attention Be astonished Tell about it. -Mary Oliver
Creativity is an expression of divine play, and I think our yoga practice can be such a place/space if we allow it to be.
The theme of the retreat I will be teaching this year at St. Joseph's Abbey will be about the cultivation of both discipline but also - and most importantly - play in practice. And more specifically, the cultivation of creativity in practice. This theme is so dear to my heart; I have always found play in all its myriad forms to be like prayer. And I read somewhere that the German word for holy (selig) is the root of our word silly. So a healthy dose of playfulness, even silliness, might be the very element some of us need to reawaken the freshness and innocence that is key to creativity, and to what Zen master Suzuki Roshi calls beginner's mind. When we are playful, our hearts become lighter, the challenges of life become more bearable, and more workable. And a spacious sense of humor can certainly make practice more fun, and make life itself a bit more livable and enjoyable.
When we practice playfully we tend to life with more of ourselves, with the wholeness of what and who we are. Because play makes space for all those aspects of ourselves that we, or other people, might deem unacceptable. Playful practice is at its heart inclusive. This type of practice is an invitation to live life with our whole body, with wholeness of who we are. In fact, celebrate that wholeness, and let whatever transformations occur come from a place of affection and acceptance of who we are. And then transformation is not only possible, it becomes impossible not to transform in some way because play is actually just that: a type of transformation.
I am very enthusiastic about play, its power to inspire, heal, and integrate us. There is something wonderful about what happens when the spirit of inquiry takes hold of the imagination and the flow of inspiration begins. It is nothing other than freedom flowing from within, and it is mysterious at that, because it seems to require form, or some container for expression, or certainly aided by that. And like dance, music, poetry, etc., asana can be such a form. Pranayama can be such a form. Chanting or singing can be such a form.
Something Wonderful Right Away is an oral history about improvisation in the theatre. It is a wonderful book, but I find that it is the title alone that sparks the imagination. Something wonderful right away? It is true that yoga, like any skill or art, requires consistent devoted practice over a long period of time. It is an essential aspect of deepening and refining awareness. But in order to sustain the practice over many years and experience the joy, and love, that is at the heart of the art, then waking up to what is wonderful now is also important.
If you have ever experienced the magic of improvisation in a creative art, or experienced the feeling that something mysterious, something otherworldly and yet vital and true can flow through you, as if you weren't even there, then you will understand what I am talking about. If not, that is okay, too. But I imagine, if you take a moment and think about it, you do know what I am talking about and have experienced it yourself. It is like suddenly waking up to what has been there all along but that you did not see. It is about the seeing and experiencing awe on a daily basis. Can you remember what it was like to lose yourself in play as a child? Or in something that you love as an adult? If so, you can understand the sense of freedom that can come to one's heart in these moments. I believe that yoga is about connecting to and tuning into this space, this place of awe and wonder that still exists in all of our hearts, if we can wake up it. If we can wake up enough from our routine sense of self, or routines of practice, long enough to realize that the point of a path or way is to awaken to what is. And to awaken to what is wonderful, now. But how?
It seems essential to find, in our yoga practice, and in our lives, this mysterious balance between precision and play, between discipline and delight, until they become an inseparable part of a whole just like inhalation and exhalation are both essential and inseparable parts of the breath.
We will dive into this theme, little be little, step by step. It is a process. I have been exploring precision and play in my life for many years, maybe not fully realizing that this is what was happening, that this process was what I was actually exploring, but it has been a thread I have been following and am only now fully waking up to this realization. So I am very enthusiastic about sharing and exploring with fellow seekers. We will attempt to unpack and explore this theme which in my mind is as vast as the ocean, as yoga, and as life itself!