by Tammy Limbach
Recently, a few of us Yama-ites got together and were talking about Yama’s vision. What do we see Yama as? What does she offer her students? How do we see Yama, her, moving forward? If we could sum our sweet studio up in a few words, what would those words be?
One of the words that came up during our conversation was the word safe. It’s such an interesting word to me, and one I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately. Even notice right now how you have some idea, judgment maybe, about what safe is, what it means and how just that simple word makes you feel. It’s a completely loaded word, which is probably why I’m so enthralled with it right now. In one circumstance safe may be a good thing, in another it may be a huge limitation. Safe may make you feel good, comforted, supported, coddled. It may also make you feel weak, meager, small.
We are all organizing our lives, our thoughts, our relationships around creating safety. Some of this organization is conscious, such as living in a certain neighborhood, or choosing schools for our children, or even the types of people we spend our time with. Then there is the hidden underbelly of how we create safety, the unconscious stuff. Maintaining and ensuring safety is a survival skill learned at a very young age.
Somewhere along the long road that got you from point A, aka inception or birth (that’s a whole other discussion that I am not inclined to begin), to point B, aka here and now, a good number of small and large occurrences happened that made you feel not safe. Anything from falling down and skinning your knee, to being yelled at by your caretaker, and everything else you could imagine. Our smart little bodies and psyches figured out how to navigate these circumstances in smart ways (having a good cry and being supported by a loving bystander), to not so smart ways (shutting down or acting out). Either way that response and its outcome was imprinted. If we survived (in case you are wondering if you actually did survive, you did. I promise), that response was imprinted and was probably repeated again and again behind our own awareness. Unconscious safety-making. Yup, sir and ma’am, that’s how it happens.
So here we are at point B with all these unnecessary mechanisms in place that we are not even aware of. Great! Everything seems fine and then we start some sort of practice, a practice such as yoga or meditation for example. Suddenly we start to wake up to our own particular version of crazy. Example, why do I judge or put down anyone who (insert whatever you like here, your own particular thing). We do it, in case you didn’t know, to make ourselves feel better. To feel safe. This is all underneath our consciousness for the most part, until, of course, it isn’t anymore. Thank you very much yoga and meditation practice (maybe even some good therapy and spiritual assistance)! This is when safety can be a limitation. When we’re not aware at how it’s running the show. This kind of safety keeps us small. This kind of safety can be very convincing too. It originated as a survival skill so there is a part of us that still feels the urgency as if it’s life or death. And to be totally honest, it kinda is life or death. Life or death of that delicate piece of us that is held back and has been with us for a looooooong time. So long, it probably feels like it’s who we are. Think about it, start to notice it, because we are all playing this game in some way, I promise.
THEN, there is the whole other sphere of safety that creates possibility, invites bravery, and lovingly encourages risk. This safety is gentle and kind. This safety can also be firm and strict. Please don’t confuse it with overriding. Overriding fear or even judgment has a different voice. One that has been known to say, “no pain no gain,” “suck it up,” or “only positive thoughts should be thought.” It’s a voice that usually isn’t life-affirming. The safety I’m talking about has your best interest in mind. This kind of safety wants you to take risks… when you’re ready. It wants you to realize how innately awesome you are, how able, how brilliant, how powerful you are. These realizations don’t come by playing it safe. They come by noticing when you’re a little scared (or a lot scared for that matter) and letting that fear have a place. It is only when we bring the dark into the light that we can work with it. Once that fear is recognized, then we have a choice; To stay in the place of recognition of it or to move through it. Both are choices of growth. Both are conscious. I’ve found that it could take anywhere from one small moment to years of recognition before moving through. The growth and the courage is to choose consciously.
What does all of this have to do with Yama you may ask? (or at least that is the query I want to seed your brain with) Yama is a place where safety is a big deal. It’s a place where we want students and teachers to come and be smart, and be brave, and to work, and to really look at themselves deeply… in every way possible. Svadhyaya, the fourth niyama. It’s not for the faint of heart. To do that incredibly daring work of self-inquiry one needs resources. The best resource is a knowing that you are safe. Safe to screw up, safe to be ugly, even safe to play it safe.