Writing Our Own Myth

I believe we all write our own myth. Throughout life, we establish patterns because of habit, because of how we’re treated, because of happenstance even. These patterns, the way we live, the ideas we have about life, the lens through which we see the world, all becomes our created myth. This is not to say these stories aren’t real. On the contrary–if we learn to believe in them, they are very real.  However, this is also not to say that just because they become real, that they are also true. Truth is much bigger than any story we weave, or that is woven around us. Truth must be examined, discerned, held close to the heart to see if its weight can stand the test of time and alternate conditions.
I love myth in yoga because I love a good story. I tend to think in story and learn through the lens of a personal story. Within the myth stories of poses, there is an opportunity to explore different aspects of our own unique connection to what the story might reveal. When I taught literature, I encouraged students to look at story through the lens of the collective unconscious, knowing that, at its best, story and poetry give us a way of experiencing our own human connections, our darkness, our passions, our personal history, from  the distance of the characters on the page.  Not just in literature but in yoga,too, myth stories can help us explore and understand ourselves more deeply, to get to know our own internal landscape as we examine our own reactions to the images and themes that a story calls us to consider in our yoga practice.
Cultural myths, like the unique story history we create of our life, become real not because they did or did not happen, but because they convey a symbolic meaning that is concerned with the “transformation of consciousness,” as teachers Kaivalya and van der Kooij state in the book Myths of the Asanas. They write, “Yoga and mythology scholar Mircea Eliade…notes that the language of myth does not argue, but simply presents…” They go on to write that, “the myths of yoga’s spiritual tradition have the power to change old patterns of behavior, providing us with enlightened insight that brings us closer to who we really are. And this is precisely what the yoga tradition is concerned with.”
Coming closer to who we truly are –I have been asking that question of myself and of the world for as long as I can remember. Part of the reason stories resonate with me so deeply is because when I haven’t known who to be in the world, unsure of how to act or not wanting to be “me”, I’ve created a story about who I am. My own little myth making, you might say. Not that I’m creating a lie, but creating a story that allows me to function in the world. But these stories aren’t really truth. And so, to come closer to who I really am, I must become still and learn to see the difference between what is real and what I’ve created to get by or perhaps to simply understand myself in this world.

It’s the humanness that is conveyed in the yoga myths that really cultivates a deep rumination on my own patterns and habits. For instance, the story of Warrior is of a man who is so consumed by rage and pain and vengeance that he takes the life of another. Transformation happens when the grief of his vengeance helps him to soften his initial reaction and look for a way to reconcile through compassion. When I teach this common pose, I often ask students to consider the tricky balance between strength and softness, and that within the softness lies the greatest ability for unshakeable strength. It’s the story of this pose that shines a light in me on these qualities, so that the pose becomes more than a way to build leg and core strength or to create expansion around the chest cavity. While these physical elements are indeed a part of the pose, the story helps me to consider another layer that can help point a light into places where I can develop personal transformation. That is truly exciting to me. When we consider these stories from our perspective, we may begin to consider more deeply our relationship to the stories we’ve learned to tell ourselves about life. We get to consider if what we think about ourselves is true, or instead if it’s “real” because we’ve never thought to see life differently than that story.

Recently, I’ve been working on a relationship to the myth story of the Phoenix. The mythological bird, golden and gentle, who burns herself to ash once she’s realized her glorious song and presence are no longer shining brightly in the world, rises from this ash in a kind of resurrection back into the world. I find this story particularly appropriate now, during spring, renewal, Easter. I’ve been working on seeing the way that this story plays out on the mat as I try to learn how I can burn my preoccupations, my limitations, and my habitual patterns, to ash as I cultivate internal “heat” both physically and mentally in my yoga practice. Then, from ash, can I rise anew, finding in me the rich potential that is held within the bud, as I learn how to grow into something more expansive and full?

I find that story and myth becomes then another way of cultivating deep attention in my yoga practice. It’s not that I’m not trying to live out some myth, or to literally become like the story; rather, it’s the theme of story that allows me to work to understand myself more intimately and grow a relationship to transformation through the deep attention that these themes help me to engage in. So, there it is–transformation on the mat. The kind of transformation I mean is that which helps me to unravel the stories that I’ve learned to believe make me whom I am, and instead rise up as a more full and expansive human, able to engage in the world with my eyes–both those looking outward and those looking inward–open to discovering the truth, not just what feels real.