Over the weekend I went to a workshop with master yoga teacher Mark Whitwell at my favorite little yoga/green smoothie spot in San Diego, Hale Holistic. When the workshop started, I got out my pen and notebook, as always, and got prepared to summarize it all for you guys. As Mark started talking, all of these gems of wisdom about life and intimacy started coming out of his mouth – he had so many great one-liners, I could barely write them down fast enough.
My favorite thing about his teachings is that he has a focus on being intimate with life as it is. We spend so much time wishing things were different, trying to change our reality, and in turn we miss out on the pleasure of life.
Here are some of the things he said that stood out to me the most:
Become intimate with reality itself. Trying to “get somewhere,” always looking for something, is the denial of the sheer wonder that is already in place. Enjoy your life. Always trying to make things occur prevents things from occurring. Become more receptive to life as it is. Ease up. If you do the work internally, the external stuff comes automatically. Yoga is not an attempt to get somewhere. Yoga is a direct intimacy with reality. It helps you to be intimate with your own experience. Stop trying to “yoga yourself” into future possibilities. Yoga is “making love to life.”
Be a flower blooming in your own garden — not in someone else’s garden. Live an authentic life. Have the courage to stand alone.
Develop your own yoga practice. You don’t have to adhere to a system or “packaged” kind of yoga. Do it naturally, not obsessively. The sheer pleasure of the practice should be your motive to practice. If you teach yoga, you should have a good teacher, practice yourself, and care about others. Teachers should empower students to find their own yoga. Don’t put off doing yoga because you have too many other things to get done or figure out — once you do the yoga, you’ll bring order into your life.
The practice of asana, pranayama and meditation can help you become more intimate with life. Meditation comes naturally when preceded with asana (physical practice) and pranayama (breathwork).
Pain is healing. Pain is not the enemy. It reduces itself in time. Allow it, acknowledge it. Relax into the pains of life rather than fighting them. Yoga is the union of opposites, the union of polarities. With pain there is healing. With happiness there is sadness, and so on. Accepting and allowing all of it is truly being in a flow of intimacy with life.
Intimacy in relationships is healing. When you enter into a relationship, all that is loved and unloved comes up to be seen and understood. People are in pain when they lack intimacy. There’s emotional pain that only intimacy can fix. Be intimate with yourself and with your life first, and everything else will take care of itself.
Good stuff, right? Makes you want to get all intimate with your life, doesn’t it? The workshop was enough to make me want to buy Mark’s books, for sure.
For me, being intimate with life means being present for – and engaged with – ALL of life – even the sticky stuff. Being honest and authentic even if you’re scared. Not numbing out the uncomfortable feelings with drugs, alcohol, or other addictions. It’s about not hiding from or denying what’s going on, but facing your experiences with courage. Knowing that no feelings are permanent – whether pleasurable or painful – and just riding the wave of reality. Sometimes it’s feeling crazy, messy, lonely, clumsy, sad — and other times it’s feeling excited, in love, aligned, clear. Sometimes it’s everything all at once.
Whenever I go to yoga workshops and learn profound teachings like this, situations always show up in my life where I get the chance to put them into practice.
As luck would have it, I got the chance to get really down-and-intimate with my reality later that night.
I had a much-anticipated conversation with someone I care about. I wasn’t sure how it was gonna go down. The content of the conversation felt – for me – both really vulnerable, in a good way, but also emotionally painful. As I allowed myself to feel everything that was coming up – and really just be there in a raw moment with this person, I realized that even though the nature of the conversation caused me pain, it was also kinda beautiful. The fact that we were even having the conversation, and that I felt so emotionally invested in it, means I was experiencing a pretty radical connection with someone, opening my heart, risking telling the truth with whatever consequences it may have. With so many things in life that just feel kind of vanilla, it’s invigorating to get that intimate with another person, with yourself, with a moment, a circumstance, a relationship…even if it feels scary or upsetting, even if things don’t turn out the way you want them to. I walked away from the conversation feeling a fresh new crack in my heart, but it also felt real, and honest, and alive. It felt like everything all at once. Like the total union of opposites. How’s that for being intimate with life? I mean, damn.
And interestingly enough, the clarity I began to gain about this whole experience that allowed me to write these words came to me during a yoga practice, while I was practicing the breathing that Mark Whitwell suggests.
Mark Whitwell has a lot more to say about cultivating intimacy with life and in life. I highly suggest you read his books and get acquainted with his wisdom! I know I’m going to.
I’d love to know your thoughts on the topic of being more intimate with life. It’s a juicy one.