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Liminal Space

November 3, 2010

We see the middle as weak.

Caught in the middle. Between a rock and a hard place. No Man’s Land.

But what the Buddha knew, and what I suspect we all slowly discover, is that there is great strength between great extremes.

Yoga is full of paradoxes.  We’re told to be fully present in our emotions but resist the temptation to be consumed by them.  Like the Christian directive to be “in the world, but not of the world,”  we are to acknowledge, accept, and love what we feel, but hold onto this notion of the Self above and beyond what we experience.

I am not especially mystical, and this idea did not always resonate with me. But in the practice of yoga I have approached my physical limit.  And in that place just beyond the limit, that liminal space, the idea of the Self didn’t seem like a mystical paradox. It felt like a source of strength.

Look, my feet are firmly on the ground.  I respect the laws of physics and am bound by all sorts of personal failings.  I will never be able to mediate so hard I become invisible, no matter what Yoga Sutra III.21 says.*  I will never achieve the Self that is eternal. But more to the point, I don’t want to reach the eternal Self, because to do so would mean that I stop growing, that I stop progressing forward as a person.  And that I simply cannot abide.

So I work towards the Self, without ever achieving it.  And between the mire of my current emotional state, and the Self so far beyond, there is strength, like a rope thrown down from far above. Asana practice is one way I push toward the limit of my understanding, and find the strength to climb a little bit higher on the rope.

There is strength in the middle.  But you do have to work for it.

* In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda, book 3, sutra 21 reads: “By samyama {a specific form of deep meditation} on the form of one’s body [and by] checking the power of perception by intercepting light from the eyes of the observer, the body becomes invisible.” So yeah, the sacred text of yoga says you can become invisible.  I’m still working on that one.

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