I’m the cheerleader. Except I was never a cheerleader. Better, still, I actually even tried out for and was summarily rejected for Kilties in 10th grade. Kilties were my high school’s exclusive kickline squad; more exclusive than cheerleaders. We practiced for the tryouts in the basement, my childhood friend Lynn and I. To this day, when I hear the Carole King song, “I Feel the Earth Move…” I flash back to the rejection: the 4x4 line-up and demonstration of our high-kicking skills (mine were passable) and ability to move to the music (again, not horrible; certainly better than some). Being selected for Kilties was like getting accepted to the cool girls’ clique. It was a rite of passage if you wanted to be anything in my high school. Except I didn’t smoke cigarettes, and didn’t have cool enough hair or sparkly enough clothes, and I didn’t sleep with that senior football player in the 9th grade even though he really wanted to and even though he told me it would look good (!!!).
To this day, I’m still not entirely sure why I wasn’t selected, though deep-down I probably knew I wasn’t that kind of girl. In the long run, it didn’t really matter. Our sports teams pretty much sucked anyway, except perhaps swimming. Nobody went to the football games. There was no Thanksgiving Day rivalry with South. Or maybe there was, but nobody cared enough to make it a Thing. And my friendship with Lynn diminished as she became cooler and I became, well, Me.
I didn’t realise that I carry these little rejections with me today, some 3 or 4 decades later: the times when I was last-picked for the soccer/dodge ball/capture the flag team, placed in far left field in little league, seated outside reading a book at recess because I didn’t have the heart to suck at every schoolyard game, every day. I wasn’t a sports kid. I liked books and words and animals and organising things.
I didn’t realise that these ruts, these samskaras, still even dwelt deep within me today. I’m in a good place. I’m whole. I’m mentally and physically and emotionally strong. Sometimes too much so. And I didn’t realise, until last weekend when my teacher called me out in class, in jest, for falling out of a long hold in a pose.
In that micro-moment all my subconscious heard was, “you suck.”
I take my yoga practice very seriously. I live it on and off the mat. Yoga is the place I go to get away from the self-absorbed, thing-filled, egocentric, multi-phobic and needlessly competitive world out there. It enables me to come back to what matters, to place importance in the simpler things. And as it is wont to do (and mostly when one isn’t looking), yoga can crack your heart open and make you dig deep to the stuff beneath the stuff (beneath the stuff) that causes pain in your world. The layers of the onion peel off, and yoga helps you deal with the harder and harder, the deeper and deeper pieces of what makes you, you…faults and rejections and mishaps and all.
Samskara is a Sanskrit word for these deeply-rooted habits (avoidance, pessimism, aversion, reactions, self-immolation…) that become part of who we are, and these things that become ingrained behaviours to the extent that we don’t even realise they’re there. And then, like a kick in the ass, you are 8 or 11 or 15 again and you Feel the Earth Move Under Your Feet… Something said or seen or heard triggers that thing you’ve been fending off for most of your life; something triggers that thing you thought you had beat — or at least had beaten into submission.
And that’s all you can do sometimes — beat back the demons, lest you fall victim to something of a death by a thousand cuts, each small reaction to the past causing cycles of present and future pain and suffering.
I’ve learnt a thing or two through my practice…
Ask: “hey, Universe, WTF is going on here?
Allow: reactions, emotions, conditioned responses to come…
Identify: Name it. Is this a knee-jerk reaction to something old, or an actual Thing that is present here and now? Do I have to deal with this or will it fade if I don’t give it permission to stick around?
Move on: Once you’ve named it, you can send it away. Maybe not in a minute, maybe not in an hour. But at some point after you’ve breathed into the identification of the thing and determined whether or not it is a real or self-imposed threat, it’s easier to send away each time it pops up. The layers of the onion peeled off, you can see these samskaras for what they are: ruts in the road; things to avoid, pave over, laugh at or those that will smooth out in time. That’s the yoga at work.
So I am the cheerleader. My own cheerleader. Sometimes someone else’s. And because we don’t always have the luxury of someone else to cheer us through these bouts with self-realisation, we need to cheer ourselves: up, out, into and on to the next place.
And I believe, in these trying days and weeks of round-the-clock, morally vacuous news, that we need to cheer or be cheered. That we need reasons to believe that we don’t suck. That we need reaffirmation that the world does not suck. That the year 2016 has got to get better.
We need to think about whether we are reacting to things real and immediately threatening, or if we are hare-triggered and programmed to react because of something deep-seated inside, that can — by observing our environments, listening to our gut and discerning truth from ancient stories (or mob-mentality groupthink)— be simply another layer in that proverbial onion which we peel back, observe and Let Go.
Cheer on, fellow humans.
If you liked this essay, please (cheer on…) click the little 💜 at the bottom. If nothing else, it makes me smile a little bit knowing I’ve passed on some wisdom to others out there in this wild and woolly world. Have a nice day. 🕉