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Off the mat, into the world

Sunday, August 16, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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View from Cloud's Rest, 10,000ft elevation, Yosemite National Park

I'm still on the road. I enjoyed an amazing, intense week of yoga, hot springs and personal excavation with Seane, Hala and Suzanne from "Off the Mat". The key lesson I took away from that week was that by paying attention to my tendencies on the mat I could learn more about my tendencies off the mat.

When I caught myself staying in a pose for longer than my abdominal strength could sustain I noticed that I was staying there because I didn't want Seane to think I wasn't 'good enough'. Seane, of course, couldn't have cared less about whether or not I came up out of the pose. So the critic who was watching me for signs of weakness was, as always, really myself. As it is on the mat, so it is off. Lesson one.

The second key lesson for me came in the form of a great story that Seane tells about an important teacher in her life, a man infected with HIV who asked Seane if she believed in God. I don't want to tell Seane's story here, but the lesson of the story is simple and beautifully profound:

Ignore the story,
See the soul,
Invest in love,
You will never regret it.

I stepped off the mat and set out on a road trip with plenty of opportunities to put these simple lessons into practice. As with all journeys, I've taken some wrong turns already and strayed into the twisting downward spirals of shame, guilt, self-loathing and self-pity. But by paying attention to my own tendencies and working to release the grip of the story to make room for me to see the soul, I've been able to find my way back out of the labyrinth and onto the open road.

It was a good thing I did, too, because the open road (and eight hours of hiking) led to the top of Cloud's Rest in Yosemite National Park – a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of the entire park from 10,000ft. It's not a view you would want to miss because your attention was caught up by the drama of your own human frailty.

The view from the summit of Cloud's Nest, on the other hand, reminded me of my own insignificance in the best possible sense. It is much easier to let go of despair about one day of bad form when you are surrounded by thousand year old trees whose roots hold them fast to mammoth rock faces that have watched the coming and the going of the ice-age and who will continue to bear witness to whatever legacy we leave to this majestic planet.

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7 Responses to "Off the mat, into the world"

  1. fpfj says:

    It’s not a view you would want to miss because your attention was caught up by the drama of your own human frailty.
    – I love that line. I’m not commenting often but am following your blog (through google reader) and am so happy that you are doing well. I think of you often and send happy blessings towards you. Safar bakhair my friend. 🙂

  2. Captain Cat says:

    What wonderful writing – possibly one of my favourite posts of yours to date. To be near thousand year old trees, what a privilege. Thinking of you beautiful M.

  3. Andi says:

    Trees are SO powerful!!! What insightful realizations you had. You are blessed to have some awesome teachers in your life. That sounds like a tough hike, but that picture shows me that it was totally worth it. I hope to make that hike some day now! Enjoy the rest of your journey. 🙂

  4. Swirly says:

    In California the trees can remind one of how small we really are, we humans. In California we have the tallest and biggest trees on earth, as well as the oldest living things on the planet – the bristlecone pines. There are some more than 5000 years old, and to stand amongst them is a humbling experience. Can’t wait to see you.

  5. sassy says:

    That view is striking. So true, what you say about ‘off the mat’. I sometimes find in those moments I want to be quiet all my being rebelling that follow me into regular life. So frustrating, but good to be aware of it.

  6. Nicole says:

    Beautifully written. I recently stumbled upon your blog and I wanted to say thank you for your honest writings. Your blog has really given me inspiration to finally do what I should be doing.

  7. “So the critic who was watching me for signs of weakness was, as always, really myself.”
    this is yet another message i needed today.
    the image of you, the clouds, the trees, the summit: such incredible prose, such vivid imagery.
    thank you. thank you. thank you.
    (and that photo of you today on boho’s blog~ sister, you are stunning!)
    much love, lisa

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