True Independence: Freedom to Feel

By Kelly Morris, July, 2014

I danced Shiva Rea-style alone in my dark bedroom last night. Sshh, don’t tell anyone.

I barely told myself.

Dance, poetry, music…yoga—each of these experiences affords us entry into that special, magical kingdom within, from which we are otherwise barred entry, barraged and embedded as we are in schedules, plans, strategies. By their grace we regain a kind of Eden missing from ordinary life. The poetry, the music, the yoga—All summons that Eden forward. We exit relative reality and bask however briefly in the divine extravagance of pure feeling, unencumbered by duality.

Yoga fails when self-consciousness enters the room. Fretting at all over “what others may think” renders the holy dance dead in the water, and yoga then doesn’t happen for us; there is no joy, and yoga continues its sad descent into empty Indian calisthenics with nifty side effects like longer hamstrings and a calm brow. Yoga and its offerings devolve to mere stress management, and another sage rolls over in an ancient grave.

We are entreated over and over to “be present.” But we can’t be present and think at the same time. Impossible! We are only ever thinking thoughts about the past, whether a lifetime ago, a year ago, or three seconds ago; or thinking thoughts about the future, whether a lifetime ahead, a year ahead, or three seconds ahead. Go ahead and try to think about something that isn’t one of those things. Thinking about what I just wrote is thinking about the past.

Reality, otherwise known as What Is, lives in neither the past nor the future. EVER. As real as our thoughts feel, they separate us from What Is. Funny, isn’t it? We have been trained to think of thinking as being super aware, when more often it’s the opposite. Thinking gets you in touch with other thoughts that mate furiously and have more thoughts. They don’t believe in birth control. It feels like an ant colony up in there, doesn’t it?

The yogis knew this a long time ago. The English word “mind” (as in yours) comes from the Sanskrit “mana,” which means “to measure.” That’s because to think is to measure; it is to separate and divide one thing from another like Chinese from French, or raincoat from down parka, or red from blue. Helpful if you’re allergic to French and its snowing and you’d like to vote Democratic, but beyond that, not helpful for the yogini.

That’s why we who teach yoga are always asking you to stay with the breath. The breath is one thing you can count on as occurring in the present moment and only in the present moment. To disappear inside of it is to merge in the present moment. Very paradoxical. Yoga can place you in direct relationship with your IS. The senses come alive like water hitting desert and they alone key us into what IS rather than what is a thought in your head that shuffles around year after year taking up space and making you wonder if Bellevue has a spare bed on the 6th floor.

There’s a lot working against you, making it damn hard to follow the advice of the teacher telling you again and again to “be present.” You’ve got the NSA peeking in your underwear drawers and cameras on every corner recording as you walk the dog, fight with your lover, sob in 7/11, and determine which carrot to buy for dinner. Add the proliferation of social media and the idea of always being “on,” lest someone upload you chowing down at Tutti mid-pasta bite, and we are all occasionally turned into strange creatures made of appearance and scrim, wish, and fib.

We have been trained not to feel…anything. By “feelings” I don’t mean your emotions. I have no advice about them. They are in a league of their own, as you and your team of shrinks well know. Here we mean the feelings of the body. It’s scary. To feel is to be vulnerable. You’re only allowed to feel things in the bedroom or in a paid stranger’s small, candlelit den, replete with Enya, warm oil, and massage certificates on a dim wall. Much easier to think your way through a yoga class. But we all know how that works out in the bedroom. It’s the same on your mat. To be present is to be available for what’s going down.

Only the strong can tolerate being vulnerable. When you start to feel the subtle, shimmering, ever-arising and disappearing, tactile somatic glimmerings of the body, life avails herself to you in an entirely different way, and the whole fake Western pioneer town of your life begins to fall down. You see for the first time that there is nothing at all behind the façade of cowboys and saloons and dusty horses. Connection is not a thought. Joy is not a thought. Compassion is not a thought. All are an experience, a feeling.

No longer are you asunder from Everything Else. No longer are you twiddling your thumbs on the sidelines of nature, that green thing out the window. Rather, you step fully and completely into the ever-present NOW, and that book you read half of by Eckhart Tolle begins to make dramatic and compelling sense, and you don’t need anyone anymore to tell you up from down, right from wrong, yes from no, because you are now IN IN IN. And for a glorious moment, all truth and wisdom is yours.

God isn’t an entity to worship but an experience to have. It’s a funny thing when the founders of religions are allowed to experience ecstasy, but their adherents aren’t.

Quit that.



Kelly Morris

Kelly Morris is the founder of the renowned Conquering Lion Yoga Teacher Training Program in NYC. The New York Times and Yoga Journal call Kelly “one of NYC’s foremost teachers’ and has been teaching for over 25 years. Loved by celebrities, advanced students and beginners alike, Kelly teaches yoga as a means to awaken to the immortal present via the breath and the body.

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