This morning I was thinking a lot about image. Being photographed for a magazine cover, I did something I rarely do, something I almost called my magical friend Molly to do, which is put on makeup. Yes, to many it's an ordinary thing, but I've somehow convinced myself that "it's hard" or at least, "not my thing" and get away with the requisite mascara, possibly a bit of gloss, and if we're really stretching – blush.
As I swiped the eye shadow, which requires more artistic talent than I'm convinced I have (though I was a ballerina, who am I kidding, I've applied layers of the stuff, thick as Van Gogh's paint) I got to thinking about how we portray ourselves in the world.
In So. Many. Ways.
Who we convince ourselves that we are, even.
For example, as you know, I wear minimal makeup. I tell myself I'm not that girly. Yet I'll wear dresses, I love shoes, wear toenail polish..... so what constitutes "girly" and what doesn't? What a person wears on their face? How much time it takes them to get ready in the morning? How many lotions, and creams and pastes their bathroom holds? What's my story about that? Is it all a lie?
Further....what is my motivation for putting all this stuff on my face today, versus every other day? What face am I trying to show the world that I'm not ordinarily trying to show it? Who am i trying to impress? And beyond that, what is the face that we show to the world, and what is the face we hide from it? (And I'm not only referring to faces) I am the person who (insert words here) and would gladly have you know it. I am a person who would rather not have you know I pick my face, or yell at my kids or what-have-you.
And how much of our idea about ourselves is a selective history.... based on inaccurate memories from some illusive past? - I'm a poor student because of the day in 7th grade I forgot all the details on the test about Jack London, and I couldn't remember what reflexive pronouns were. (True story) - Neglecting the fact that I didn't give a hoot about Jack London; (I thought his stories were repetitive and boring,) and forgetting all the achievement awards and "highest ranking student" awards that I collected during that year and others. Those didn't matter, you see. They weren't in English -the only subject that mattered to me, probably because it was where I didn't earn awards!
What face do you present to the world? What would you prefer they don't see?
What is the story you tell yourself about You? What if it really isn't that way at all? Is there a different story you'd rather tell? What if that story is equally relevant and valid?
What if none of them are true? They are the reflections of clouds floating across the clear pond. You are the pond, identifying with the reflections. Yes, reflections are fun, yet how much deeper are you than that?! Just an image. Only temporary. And fun while it lasts.
The makeup is now off my face. Rolling into another day, it just so happens to be my birthday. And if I identify with the story, this day is significant. If I don't, it's not. Either way, how can I live this day fully, with abandon? As though it's my first, and my last? Because it is. Without attachment to image, it is.
I was 19. Ballet school was brutal. While they might be nice to your face, the girls were in it to win, and if you showed an ounce of talent, or fortitude, there was fuel against you.
"Only 3 of you are thin enough- Ingrid, Cleo & Elizabeth." The words spoken in Spanish twinged English still ring in my ears today.
This obviously excluded me. So, with the rigors of physically pressing my limits, emotionally handling the teacher I could never please and girls who were full of spite, combined with the juggle of babysitting, a mandatory public speaking class and rehearsals of a ballet that I was afraid I'd be thrown into without having had enough rehearsal time, my body shut down. I got sick. But wouldn't eat. Because I wasn't dancing. Therefore I must not be burning calories. So as fever burnt the pounds off my already thin body, my illness dragged on and on, without nutrients or nourishment to heal.
After 3 weeks I finally recovered. I returned to rehearsals as the lead in a duet, and the understudy for a Paquita solo. "You're looking a little thin," a comment I received, I shrugged off, figuring that maybe I'd be one of the 3, now 4 who were actually thin enough.
Still, Ingrid Cleo & Elizabeth were the only ones thin enough in Claudio's eyes. Yet I danced on, and somehow, practicing from the back of the studio, caught the director's eye, and became the first cast in Paquita, instead of the understudy.
Rehearsing the same ballet day after day, receiving feedback about a sickled foot, or an arm out of place, my mind went into a tailspin. "They're going to take me out of it. I'll never get into the company," were daily thoughts that plagued me, both in rehearsals and out. Bloody blisters or purple toenails were of less concern than whether the -now understudy- would take back her solo from my incapable execution. Any comments, "It looks great, Kathy," or "It's really good." were empty, because they came from other students, and not from the people who mattered.
Anxiety dulled my hunger and pushed away sleep. Any admonitions to "eat more," or "don't lose any more weight," from teachers at the school meant nothing, because they didn't come from those from whom I desired approval oh, so badly.
Until the day my yoga teacher said, "Eat more. Or you're going to die. You have 3 days, or I'm going to do something."
Yoga was my saving grace. It was the place I'd hobble into 3x a week, and walk out of, uncrippled. Body unwound, spirit at peace, once I found yoga, I could go to sleep and wake up to face another physically and emotionally strenuous day without taking it all so seriously.
Yet I had heard his tone of voice. He wasn't kidding. I needed to eat. I didn't know what. Or how.
But I heard someone who was concerned. Someone who really cared. Someone who took the time, not just to make a passing judgment, but to make a phone call to say, hey, this is up. It's got to change.
So, one snack at a time, I journaled my calories into existence. Knowing that I might never fit in with Cleo, Ingrid or Elizabeth, but that I might actually have a life because someone cared, I began to dance for me. Not
for the man who considered me too fat, as the others admonished me
Remaining in a posture and gazing at one's favorite (ishta) icon and
experiencing a feeling of bliss is called “trataka”. It is of two
types, anta and bahi. To gaze at an outside object like an icon is
external trataka. Closing one's eyes and 'imaging' the object
internally and continually focusing attention in between the eyebrows
is the antah(r)trataka or internal gazing. One can practice this
between one to ten minutes.
T. Krishnamacharya, November 18, 1888 – February 28, 1989, is considered the father of modern Yoga.
This is an excerpt of a teaching from Sri Krishnamacharya to his student Srivatsa Ramaswami:
When one starts to learn Yoga, in the beginning the duration of
practice can be as little as 15 to 20 minutes. One can gradually
increase the duration. The teacher should check the breath every day
and then increase the duration of practice. Whatever be the posture,
if one could stay for a long time without the limbs going to sleep (or
numb) or any pain or discomfort then such a practitioner is known as
jitasana (the conqueror/master of an asana.) While staying in an asana
one should not unnecessarily shake the body, bend or contort or move
and if one can stay for hours then such a yogi is a jitasana. We learn
from the works and sayings of yogis that in the olden days the rishis,
every day would remain in any one asana for three hours and do
pranayama and meditation. Then if the yogi is able to remain doing
long inhalation, exhalation and kumbhaka without feeling any kind of
fatigue and for a long period of time such a person would be called
“Jitaprana” or Jitaswasa, or one who has conquered the breath.