me vs. Me


Why I entered the Arizona Asana Championship

by Jeff Martens

If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.

– Jesus, Thomas Gospel

***

The amplified voice booms like thunder beyond the relative safety of the stage alcove.   The linoleum feels slick as ice under my bare feet.  Intermittent showers of applause split the heavy clouds of silence.  How many people are our there, I wonder.  And how many are out there because of me?

Down a side hall that is segregated from the full auditorium I see women lined up out of sight wearing skin-tight one-piece swimsuits.  The men around me at the front of the line stand shirtless dressed only in speedos or short- shorts. Some are stretching but most just look at the floor.  I take a deep breath and wonder what the hell I am doing here.  From the hidden audience, a familiar laugh bobs and weaves its way to the surface.  Part of me clutches after it as if chasing a life preserver.  Maybe one person, my mind says.  Maybe one person that we know. The applause shower bursts again.
“That sounds like a LOT of people out there,” a very familiar kid-voice says next to me.

I could not agree with him more…

***

The email announcing an “Arizona Asana Championship” was forwarded to me by a friend.  “You should enter,” he said.  I had encountered the idea several times over the years.  The first was fourteen or so years earlier when a yogi from Los Angeles had wanted to make yoga an olympic event and had encouraged me to try it out.  But the idea of yoga and competition seemed so contrary to me that I never seriously considered entering such an event.  I also knew that these competitions were organized by the founderd of Bikram Yoga and that it was based on Bikram poses done in the Bikram way with Bikram judges.  Though I have deeply appreciated Bikram Yoga in the past and had even taught for a couple years in one of the nation’s first Bikram studios before all the formal certification requirements came into play, my body loves a style and alignment that does not always agree with the Bikram commands.
But this time, sittng before this latest email… This time there is some other subtle pull in me to look closer at this competition.  Along with this pull, there was also just a little anxiety.
“No Thanks”, I reply to my friend and then delete the email just a little too quickly.  I don’t need that, I tell myself once again, that whole event is not for me.

***

The applause offstage storms louder.  The amplified voice swells and then breaks over me like a crashing wave.  A sudden signal beckons from somewhere up front, more felt than it is heard. The line in front of me begins to move.
“Do you really think anyone came?” the kid asks backstage.  Though I nod invisibly, I’m not really sure at all.  I hear more names being called from beyond the shelter of my linoleum cave.  There is a big gap in front of me. Already I’m falling behind.
“Don’t look for anyone you know in the crowd,” the kid says as I take one more step toward the wood flooring at the edge of the open stage.  “It’s better not to look, okay?”

***

My heart craves the feeling of inspiration and love.  Instead I feel stuck, lonely, alone. I sit to meditate in my yoga room. Books, a yoga mat and some cusions are spread about me clling for my attention but I sit right where I am and leave them all behnd.  My stuuborn mind stays very active.  I decide to observe the flow. 
Tonight my thoughts circle slowly around my childhood like water going down a drain.  Unidden scenes of me at gradeschool play like a silent film inside my head. My early years were blessed in so many ways. Growing up for me wasn’t any more difficult or painful than it was for anyone else.  As an adult I know that I had honestly worked through being made fun of as a child, I observe for the hundredth time.  I knew what it was like to be a kid in pain and I also truly understood why the other kids called me names. Resolving this issue years earlier as a younger adult, I came to a point where I felt only compassion and with that came a forgiveness that was beyond forgiveness. It was a dawning of peace, just pure understanding bounded by the same fierce intuitive inner love that I feel for all kids, even the ones who made fun of me.  This was a love that most kids, even babies, seemed to return back to me. Still sitting in meditation, I experience that the previous thoughts are true.  I also experience a vague general tension in my body.  I experience that I really am at peace with what happened when I was a child, and yet… There is something else, something more that I am not quite seeing.

I attempt to trace this lack of sensation back to where it emerged.
 One of the bigger mysteries in my life for the past twenty years has always been why some part of me still felt like a child.  That no matter how old I was, it seemed there was still some childhood-part of me that had not grown up just yet.  This feeling was especially strong when I was on the verge of making big changes in my inner or outer life.  At these periods I would feel like a woolly mammoth stuck in a tar-pit and all of my yogic struggling only sank me in deeper pst the knees.  A few months before the friend’s email about the yoga competition cme this feeling of “stuckness” – of arrested development – had heightened dramatically.

Maybe this yoga competition is some kind of a doorway. That thought did not seem to come from my head. Instead it was more felt throughout my entire body. The feeling scares me.

I open my eyes and thumb through a nearby book containing the agnostic Gospels. These teachings of Christ were not made a part of the traditional Bible. Turning to the Thomas Gospel, my eyes light on a passage that makes my heart simultaneously skip in terror and pound in exultation, all in the space of a single breath:

If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.

I take a deep breath and my chest feels tight, compressed fom the inside as if filled with molasses.  Asthma. I had it as a child but never as an adult. Well, never except for brief moments like this. A deep sadness fills my bones.
 After years of conscious work I still did not know why this stuck feeling emerged at key moments in my life.  Sometimes teaching or working or just driving down the road I inexplicably would find myself feeling like a child. Upon examination I could not figure out why there was still that one past part of Jeff the child that felt like he had been left behind. This child in me even seemed to have a name: “Jeffie”.  A name that my young niece and two nephews called me when I visted my sister’s home.

I consider again the email that had been sent to me. A slight wheeze hitches at the base of my throat. What the heck I’m supposed to be done with you, I say to the faint trace of asthma purring softly inside my lungs. “Jeffie.” The name floats like a balloon released into a clear blue sky. Ssomehow I know that if I did enter this competition – and I wasn’t saying that I would, mind you, not at all – but say that I did enter, I could feel that it was supposed to be for him. I am surprised at the amount of anxiety this thought stirs up inside my brain and body.

Maybe it would be better to just leave this one alone.

***

Am I actually doing this? Am I actually going to walk out on a stage ¾ naked with a bunch of other competitors and stand before an auditorium full of strangers? It is almos time to parade out onto the stage with the other participants for the competition’s big introduction. Though the air conditioning feels cold on my bare skin I am sweating. I float between the names of fellow competitors being called onstage and listen for my own. Behind me people stretch or chat with one another in line. Everybody seems so young. Why am I doing this again?I am the only contestant not affiliated with a local Bikram school.

I am next.

My name is called out and it echoes like a stranger’s in my ears.  Someone else’s legs walk me slowly onto a stage filled with a vast plain of bright lights and cresting applause.  I look around and see the audience through a thin, gauzy mist.  It’s like staring through the breath-haze left on a windowpane.  For a moment the cloudiness keeps me from looking deeper into the audience. Perhaps this is good.  Maybe the kid is right, I think.  What if no one came? Best not to look for anyone at all.

Through the din of applause comes recognizable encouragement and greetings shouted in familiar voices, odd lightning flashes of encouragement making their way through the glass walls of my heart.  This show of support strikes me as extremely odd, undeniably foreign.  I feel like I am treading water, trying to keep my head above the waves of my own heartbeat. When my ears break past the surface of all the voices seem freakishly bright and the spotlights far too loud.  More shouts of support, loving faces that I glimpse but do not quite allow myself to see.  Two more people call to me and then I see them, waving from the audience stage right.  The surge of gratitude and terror feels like an electric shock I once got from handling a frayed extension cord.  I wave to them and discover the first hint of a joy that I never allowed myself to experience before. These people came after all. They are here for me.  Why on earth would they do that? It is a baffling moment.  Terrifying.  Alien beyond belief.  I struggle mightily to open my heart wide enough to soak in this gift of joy. As my heart softens the resulting flood of fear combined with intense feelings of vulnerability make me want to dive back underneath the icy linoleum that is lucky enough to be off the stage and away from the crowd’s prying eyes… From somewhere far away the announcer’s muffled voice drones on. I take a shallow breath and look at nothing at all, waiting for the opening speech to be over.

***

It is three weeks since I had deleting the yoga competition email. Sitting at my desk doing a search of my trash one morning, I find it again.  The room feels subtly brighter.  I open the email and click on a link to visit the competition website.  Sure enough, my mind says.  Though the event claims to be open to all schools of yoga, the whole competition is Bikram oriented.  You should go, I remember my friend saying.  Suddenly I feel nervous, like a fish swimming too close to an open net.  Am I actually considering doing this, I think?  Am I going to train my body to hold a pose contrary to what I feel optimal alignment is?  If it was a legitimate competition really inclusive of all, there are non-Bikram yogis who could blow everyone, including me, away if they entered this.  So this is not even a real competition, my mind says. No need to bother at all.

The email stays on my screen.

I find myself digging deeper for all the reasons why I shouldn’t go, and the fact that I find myself arguing against entering scares the hell out of me. In act this resistance that I am feeling scares me more than anything..  What am I afraid of? My mind protests mightily at the format and the very idea of a ‘yoga competition’ to begin with.  What an oxymoron, a complete hypocrisy. A “yoga competition.” Right. But instead of flickering away under this whirlwind of self-righteousness, the subtle glow of my own interest grows stronger like a hot coal beginning to flame.

I try to look away from this glow for a long time. The screen saver for my computer flashes on, hiding the competition web page behind seascape pictures and sandy beaches.

You need to do this, the inner-glowing finally says to me.  You need to do this in your life right now.

A very real, cold, black wave of fear swells in the distance and starts rolling closer from somewhere beyond the palm trees and calm bays fading by on my computer screen.  I quickly drop myself inside clear, thick walls of resistance and close all the hatches, hoping to dive far away from this strange new urging.
 As if on cue I am once again remembering my childhood.  For about ten years while growing up I was made fun of for having a big nose.  The first time it happened in second grade I was baffled, completely shocked.  I was a fairly skinny blond six year-old with occaisional severe asthma.  Though I had been hospitalized a few times for not being able to breathe including one time with a collapsed lung, I still thought of myself as okay and firly normal. It had never occurred to me that there might be something ‘wrong’ with the way that I looked.  After that first time, no matter how old I grew all the way through the frst year in high school, the ridicule would always start out the same way.  I would be playing or talking or competing in sports and if a teacher wasn’t around I could feel it coming.  Certain kids would start looking at me, or more specifically, start looking at my nose.  After several moments of this the highly original name-calling would begin.  The most popular approach was to blurt out some name like ‘Pinnochio’ or ‘Martian’ (as in ‘Jeff Martian’, a variation of my last name meant, I guess, to reflect some alien appearance).  Then there was the less imaginative “big nose.”  Or the straight question approach, almost like an infomercial: “Did you know that you have a really big nose?”  In these situations, fighting only drew more attention to myself and running away seemed impossible and felt too chicken, so I would just stand my ground or maybe laugh along with them at myself. Inside I would go to some very quiet and safe observatory chamber where I could watch the whole scene unfolding through bullet-proof plexiglas walls.

A white sandy shorline calls me back into adulthood frm my computer screen. What I wouldn’t give to be there, I think, where there are no phones and no computers. The white sand cross-fades into another palm tree, blending one into the other in a tranquil mind-numbing flow.  I can feel myself hiding inside my old plexiglass walls.  I know that I am at peace with those kids making fun of me,  I know I don’t identify with their name calling and yet there is something else I feel now.  What is it, I ask myself.  What is it that is causing all this fear?
 On the web page that is now hidden behind a lone palm bearing coconuts at blue water’s edge, I know there is a link telling me that the deadline for entering this yoga competition is coming soon.  I quickly put my computer to sleep. That was close. The inner-urge to sign up felt like an undertow strong enough to pull me out to sea. No worries my mind agrees. That competition is not for me.

For seven days I hide, curled safe inside a protective inner chamber of judgment and outer loathing. I bury myself in busywork and cut off most outer contact with others, refusing to spin open the sound-proof, air-tight hatch for anyone who happens to come by.

***

‘Abreaction’ is a psychoanalytic term that was coined by Freud.  It signifies the release of emotional energy that has been held in the pattern of an individual’s psyche from some past emotional trauma.  It is not enough, Freud said, to merely remember and then talk about the event.  It is necessary to relive the initial experience in the telling.  Such a cathartic purging was supoosed to allow the afflicted patterning of consciousness to evolve into a multidimensional unfolding that is altogether evolutionary for the individual’s concept of who he really is.

As the audience continues to clap its greeting for the swim-suited contestants at the competition’s ntroduction, I reach a large, familiar painting of Bishnu Ghosh.  I know this image from my earlier incarnation as a Bikram yoga teacher in the early 90s.  My reaction to stop is instinctual and causes a slight traffic jam. Bishnu Ghosh is Paramahansa Yogananda’s brother and Bikram’s teacher and it feels dishonorable to place myself in front of this painting.  Competitors keep streaming onto the stage behind me. The women start filing out in a steady wave.  It is becoming very obvious that we will not all fit unless the men in front of me move.  Luckily they do so and give me more room so that I do not have to block the guru’s image

In psychological terms, abreaction offers the opportunity for the extinction and reconsolidation of a past event. Neville Goddard would call this the art of revision. Standing there in my speedo while trying not to look at an audience that jammed an entire auditorium, I called it following my heart. What a strange, magnificent journey it has been. In yogic terms abreaction is the beginning of the end of that deep groove or tendency where we see ourselves to be a certain way.  Ugly, fat, beautiful, old, superior, ignorant, spiritual, healthy, unloveable.  This is ‘vasana’ in Sanskrit, the entrenched psychic and neuronal canals through which the black water of habitual action or samskara flows.  From the subtlest thought to the most blatant outer action, a repetitive patterning of glial cells gathers to strengthen repeatedly accessed thought patterns to form our neural nets.  Here is how we come to define ourselves and what is possible or not in our lives on a very real and physical level.  From this deep groove of initial self-perception, samskara or painful habitual reactions spring forth like weeds, providing the ample if false proof that we are who we consider ourselves to be based on all that has passed in this lifetime.

Here on stage in a bizarre lifetime of tight spandex and nylon shorts beside the image of Bishnu Ghosh, I decide to quickly scan into the crowd to see if anyone I knew had come.  This time I notice a few familiar faces, hands waving.  A friend. A business partner. My mom, God bless her. Even a few dear students have made the trip.  These are people that I care about.  Are they really here to see me? I want to step behind the big piture of Bhishnu Ghosh sitting on his tiger skin. I have nowhere to hide. My heart feels like it is doing the splits over a river of fire.  The speaker stops calling names at last. I turn with all the other competitors turn to leave in preparation for our individual events amid a burst of renewed applause.  A few familiar voices shout encouragement to me as I walk off the stage. I look away from the crowd, eyes welling, my vision beginning to blur.  An old habitual stirring: some small fearful part of me rises uncertain, still not believing that some of these people could actually be here for me.  Temporarily stepping away from this audience peppered with familiar faces, I sense that somehow in the deepest currents of how I see myself, my life is about to change.

***

“You are tempting fate,” I tell myself.  It is a new month and I find myself waiting for something that I don’t know, avoiding something I can’t identify, still feeling stuck in my life.  Three friends have noticed that my energy feels low, and, without knowing what I am considering, they each encourage me to try out something new.  Trapped by my own inaction, I console myself with the thought that if I was meant to be in the competition I would be in it, and if I was not in it then it was not meant to be.  This fatalistic loop of karmic double-speak only served to push me further down into the swamp-ooze feeling of my own inertia. Finally, after once again facing my inner arguments against the competition, I decide go to take a look at the competition website.

The yoga competition is in one short week.

The registration deadline has passed the day before.

Regret rises hot inside me like a fever. It feels as if I am traveling deep in some foreign country and have just missed the last train to the airport that was my only link back home.  Suddenly that which I had been blowing off for weeks is now the thing that I want the most. Oh please God don’t let me miss this.  The need, the necessity in this prayer shocks me with its urgency.  With a great desperation I look for an entry form.   A psychic sucking ensues: the frightening sound of me lifting one foot up out of the mental tar-pit of my own gooey state of inertia.
“But why would I do this?” I ask myself out loud with feigned ignorance, as if at this point I would actually choose not to go.
 Because, Jeff, the queasiness in my gut answers, this asana competition can get along quite nicely without you.  But YOU, my friend, cannot get along quite so nicely without it.

***

With the competition introduction over I gratefully take my place out of sight in the linoleum cave stage left. I stand fourth in line. The feeling of relief that comes from being out of the spotlight helps to calm my breathing.  As the last competitor leaves the stage the applause trickles into an excited rustling. The speaker resumes his microphone patter.  Contestants move around backstage and down the long side hall, distant eyes visualizing familiar routines made suddenly strange by finally being here.  There are people I know out in the crowd.  People I love.  I feel like I am either drowning or swimming very close to a beautiful new country, I am not sure which one yet.  The first contestant is called out and I cannot see what is happening.  A kid’s voice very close to me asks what is going on.  And even now on the verge of my own individual performance, I am not quite certain what answer I am supposed to tell him.

2c-head-to-knee-pose-full

***

“Standing head to knee,” the yoga instructor calls. My sacrum starts to scream, root chakra, survival and security threatened, branded nerves and muscle throbbing with the echo of some long-ago past injury. My standing knee wobbles.  My hands and foot are wet and slippery.  I fall out of the pose in the final few seconds and reach to pick it back up again.
 “Release,” the instructor says.
 Everyone in the class returns to looking at themselves standing in the mirror. I shut out the part of my brain that is wondering how I will ever be able to hold that pose up on a stage.

“Standing Bow,” the teacher calls into the 100-plus degree room. 
I lift my arm, grab my inner ankle and begin to kick.  Sweating in standing bow pose in the middle of a Bikram class as part of my ‘training,’ I look at my reflection in the mirror and see a sense of purpose in my eyes.  It is five days before the Arizona Regional Asana Championships.  Lucky for me my late application was accepted.  Halfway into the minute hold, I realize that I had decided to start practicing heated yoga again several weeks earlier. I have been ‘training’ for this competition long before I officially registered and knew thatI was going.  Some part of me must have known that I would be entering this event for quite a while.  I remember clearly a defining moment over a month ago where I decided that I would just act as if I was going to be in the competition, just to help myself have a little more discipline and motivation to attend to my daily practice.

“Release,” the teacher says.
Sweat cascades down my chest and arms, falling off me like fat rain drops.  Afterward, the scale in the changing room will show that I have lost three, or maybe four pounds of water.  I will literally be able to wring my oversized micro-fiber mat towel out like a soaked sponge and the sweat will shower onto the parking lot as if I were pouring a pitcher of water.  The teacher is demonstrating how to kick out in the pose.  I look at the Bikram alignment and practice non-judgment.  The instructor is kind and experienced and non-dogmatic, something that is still a little rare in the Bikram world.  She laughs at herself with us often.  I even consider her to be a friend.  The only thing she does that troubles me is the way she makes fun of herself when she makes a mistake.  I want to hug her every time she eviscerates herself with brutal sarcasm at the mispronounciation of a word or slightest stumble while modeling a pose.

Holding my inner ankle, I take a deep inhale and start the other side.  It feels very odd, yet oddly empowering to force my leading shoulder up and away instead of integrating the arm in the shoulder socket in order to lengthen more from my core.  Finding balance, I reflect on how good it is to be doing something that I truly want to do and know that I am supposed to do with all of my heart.  Even if I knew I was going to have a heart attack on stage, I swear to God I would still go through with this, I think.  Besides, it won’t be that bad.  Yes I will be putting myself ‘out there’.  Yes, I am deliberately placing myself in front of judges and will have to risk and be vulnerable.  Yes the postures will have to be held Bikram style.  Yes I will be wearing a speedo.  But maybe I can do this.  I can go there, get in and out, and no one will have to know about it.  This reminds me that I need to find a fuller-cut speedo.  I refuse to shave and tan my crotch to practice yoga!  It will be hard to walk out on that stage and do the opposite of hiding and not-standing-out, but I can–

“Release!”
the instructor says.

I stand in tadasana and look in the mirror as if just arriving in the room.  How about we come back to this moment, Jeff?  I breathe deeply.  And then, as if from a great distance, quieter than the sweat-drops pattering onto my mat:

You need to ask people to the competition, Jeff.

I ignore this message so perfectly it is as if nothing was ever heard. I got this competition thing, I quietly tell my reflection in the mirror.  I can show up, do my poses and get out. Nobody will ever have to know.

***

The crowd is absolutely silent, focused on the third contestant moving from one pose to the next out on the stage.  I watch the man in front of me finish his routine, holding my breath as if to help him complete a final pose.  The crowd erupts into applause as he walks off the stage and I shake his hand in passing.  The judges set to their tabulations.  He is done, a part of me jealously notes.  He is finished. He can go home. I step up to the edge of the stage and make myself breathe, waiting for my name to be called.

“I don’t want to go out there.”

The words are very clear and seem to emerge from somewhere close off to my left near a large planter markingthe edge of the stage.  I feel a boundless wave of love and compassion rise in me.  In my mind’s eye I see myself crouching down and placing a hand on a frail, asthmatic shoulder. 
“I will take care of you,” I tell him.

“But I don’t want to go.”  The terror is palpable.

“I know you don’t.”

“I don’t want to go out in front of everybody.”

“That’s all right,” I say.  “You don’t have to go. I will go out there for both of us.”

“What’s going to happen to us out there?” the kid asks.

“You can stay right here,” I indicate a space near the planter.  “You can watch if you want. You don’t have to come out. I will come back for you after it is all done.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

“Okay.”

“Jeff Martens,” the announcer’s voice booms.
 The audience claps.  I hear loved ones cheer.
 It is time.
 I step out onto the stage alone.

***

It is Wednesday night, three days before the yoga competition.  I go about my business doing some work updating the yoga studio website.  My mind wanders to the upcoming competition.  The whole thing will be over soon enough, I note.  And whether I fail or do great, no one will ever have to know.  I answer an email and idly wonder if I would tell anyone about the competition after it was over. 
A slight growl of asthmatic breath stops me in my tracks.
 I don’t have asthma, have not had it for thirty years and now I am wheezing twice in one month. There it is again.  Immediately familiar.  That purling growl of tightness in my chest.

You are supposed to ask people.

I shoot up from my desk as if someone had kicked me out of my chair. An attack of intense anxiey grabs my throat from the inside and refuses to let it go. My breath comes in short gasps and I cannot stand still.  Leaving the office I begin to pace frantically around my house like a caged animal, shouting at the walls.  Oh, you have got to be kidding me, I say. I have no idea who I am talking to, the words just fly from my gut with a will of their own. I’ve done everything you asked but this – THIS!?! THIS IS WAY TOO MUCH! The rising terror makes my heart jackhammer as if it were one continuous beat. There is no way, NO WAY, I curse adamantly. This was not part of the fucking deal! Wherever I walk in my house there is no place to hide, no escape from the inevitability of what I am being asked to do, what I am being invited to do, and what I absolutely must do if I want to truly feel alive.

You are supposed to ask people, the calm infinite voice that is not a voice says inside my head.

The feeling of panic is so powerful I can smell it, like ozone in the air.  I stop walking, sit on the floor in the middle of my house and dig my heels into the rug stunned at the strength of some inner reaction that can only be characterized as absolute dread.
 Compared to registering, compared to the speedo, compared even to the idea of going out there in front of judges and strangers, this idea of asking people I know to come to this competition literally makes me want to vomit.  I can’t do this, I plead, choking back a sob.  Please don’t make me do this.  Unable to stay seated I pace back to my office. This cannot be done.

You are supposed to ask people…

I am 9 years old and have a little league baseball game.  I want my mom to come, I want to tell her to come but I don’t.  I can’t because I can’t let her see me being made fun of.  So instead I tell her not to come.  I say that I don’t want her there.

You are supposed to ask people that you like…

I am 10 and playing basketball with friends when some eighth-graders try to take over our court.  When I refuse to leave they start making fun of me.  To keep the peace I laugh at myself along with them as my friends join in or slink away.

Ask people that you care about, people you really love…

I am 11 and a girl I have a crush on is walking by at the same time a group of popular kids are moving toward me.  I walk into the approaching storm, a fake smile leading the name-callers out of earshot from the girl that I adore.

You are supposed to ask people…

The scenes of self-isolation repeat over and over with family members, friends and intimate relationships growing up.  A constant push-pull, the titanic clash of wanting to be seen and loved and supported versus the ingrained reflex to protect myself from the deepest humiliation of someone I love seeing me being made fun of.  Or even worse, that person that I care about making fun of me.

Incredibly, as if this is new information, I come back to the present moment and realize that I am now an adult standing inside my own house wheezing and throwing what can most kindly be described as a fit.  The full impact of years of self-imposed isolation fills my lungs like tar.  Completely baffled by my body’s reactions, I begin to cry.

You are supposed to tell others, the timeless voice whispers from the softness inside my heart.

And then from beside me a child’s words spoken out loud with my adult tongue. The anguish and fgale-like orce of my own tears are so deep that I can hardly focus on the words’ meaning.  I find myself speaking, whispering unintelligibly to myself, wheezing like it was three decades earlier. And then I hear it again, that child-like question spoken in my adult voice, the innocent words filled with so much pain pouring out into the room.

“But what if I mess up?” the child asks.

I will take care of you, an adult voice answers.

“What if they see me fail?” this kid’s voice sobs.

I am taking care of you.

“What if no one wants to come?

The last one drops me to my knees. Oh yes, that’s the one.

”
It doesn’t matter if anyone comes, I answer in that strange peaceful adult voice now vaguely recognizable as my own.  It is the asking that is important.  You are just supposed to ask.

“What if no one comes,” the child asks again, his sobbing beginning to slow.

I am taking care of you, I reply. And suddenly I am taking care of him. In that moment I am unsurpassed strength and tenderness.  My heart feels bigger than Jupiter.  Even as the tears fall I feel the dawning of a unifying energy inside me far vaster than the sun.

“What if no one comes?” the kid’s voice asks one more time.

I am taking care of you.  I repeat it over and over.

The wheezing stops. I kneel there a long time fathering love into my body, talking in a strangely harmonious adult voice so filled with courage that it literally calms me to the bone.

***

The sun is shining outside my yoga-room window.  It is three days after the competition.  I switch from sphinx pose to upavistha konasana and resume writing in my journal:

So what did you learn, Jeff?  What did you experience?  Well for one thing I experienced again what it was like to be caught in the middle of two titanic inner-forces.  The yearning to be loved, supported and recognized by people that I love on one hand.  The fear of rejection, judgment and ridicule on the other.  It was beyond description to cultivate these two simultaneous conditions consciously.  At their collision point I can feel how this is the genesis for most if not all of the inertia in my life… Somehow the alchemy of … deliberately placing myself in a situation that I abhor and then inviting those I love to be with me and then taking care of myself and staying as present as possible as it happens, somehow this is all still working in me.  It is something that I must continue, that I want to continue…

I also know that this is where I have felt like a part of me has never quite fully grown up yet.  Here is where I still felt a bit like a child and not fully an adult.

At the competition, before it was my turn to step out on stage for my three minutes, standing at the edge and waiting, that child part of me, that Jeffie, he said – I don’t want to go out there.  Such a feeling of fear, even terror.  Everything at once, being in the spotlight, nowhere to hide, being exposed for full scrutiny, being judged – and then people I loved, people I cared about so deeply, all of them out there to really see me and possibly see me fail.  Or even worse, the most terrifying thing of all – to see me laughed at or made fun of.

Oh.

And here I come to a deeper realization even now as I write this… for this kid in me, this Jeffie had always believed that if they saw me fail and be ridiculed that they would no longer want to be my friend and that they would just run away.

Oh… It’s okay, Jeffie.

Because I knew.  I knew what it was like to be made fun of.  And if they stayed with me they would risk being made fun of by association, especially if I messed up or drew attention to myself.  And because I knew how much it hurt to be ridiculed, I would just try and keep them away…

Oh.

So at the precipice, with only a few seconds left before I had to step out on that stage, that Jeffie in me is just freezing.  “I don’t want to go out there,” he tells me.  I literally can hear/feel this at the competition.  And the response in me, it warms my heart, for I felt such love, such compassion for this little boy.  “You don’t have to go out there,” I said.  “You can stay right here.  You can wait for me right here and I’ll come back and get you.  I will take care of you.  You don’t have to go out there at all.”

Oh, he was glad for that.  Relieved.  And yet I felt his absence in a strange way, and felt like he joined me right in the middle of bow pose, with a powerful aligning snap of my sacrum.

Oh.

For that was the point where he made the choice to come out and be with me.  That was the point where I realized that I needed him as much as he needed me.  That was the point where I started to have a little more fun and actually enjoy the moment.  That was the point where I began to feel myself breathe.

For this was the point where that part of me – the yearning to be seen, to feel and experience love – became stronger than the fear of being shamed or ridiculed.

Here was the point of love.  This is why I was there.  To allow myself to make a choice in that moment that I could never fully allow myself to make before.

I put the journal down, sit up and close my eyes.  I was right at the very beginning.  This wasn’t about forgiving those other kids for making fun of me.  I had already done that.  This was about something much harder.
A slight breeze lilts the tallest branches of the desert acacia that shades the side of my house.  A bird sings outside the open window of my yoga room.  Once again I find that I am crying.  It feels like a cleansing and healing sigh.  A joyful breath of gratitude fills my lungs.
This wasn’t about me forgiving those other kids at all.  This was about me forgiving myself.

***

“Jeff Martens,” the announcer’s voice booms.  “Inner Vision Yoga.”
The audience claps.  I hear loved ones cheer.
It is time.
I step onto the stage alone.
When I look at the audience the love I feel is beyond imagining.  I had sent out more than 20 emails.  Many of those people and others who heard are here right now.  Who knew that I could love so many people?  Or that so many people could care about me?
Walking before all these loved ones, I move to the cross taped on a square of carpet center-stage and gaze into the crowd.  Out here alone there are no more glass walls to hide behind, no portals tightly sealed.  I feel bare.  Exposed completely.  I am naked to the core. The reflex is visceral.  My exposed skin wants to crawl right off my body.
Seeing so many people that I care about, I almost forget to bow to the judge’s table and quickly do so.
“Quarter turn right.  Quarter turn right.  Quarter turn right.”
I stop in the center, again facing into the crowd.
“Begin.”
“Standing head-to-knee,” I say.  I turn to my right and take a breath.  The clock starts as soon as I lift my knee.
I can feel my standing leg wobble.  My mind seems very quiet.  If I can just touch my forehead to my knee…
The unthinkable happens.  I fall out of the pose.  For a moment I am devastated.  My heart fels like it is breaking.  And yet nobody laughs.  Nobody ridicules.  Nobody points and walks out of the room.  Everyone I care about stays seated.  No one calls me names.  I can feel the kid watching me very closely from the side of the stage now, waiting to see what I will do next.
“Standing bow,” I say.
Halfway into standing bow, the kid steps into the light and starts walking toward me, his child’s eyes wide and blinking in the unfamiliar glare.
I am taking care of you…
Suddenly my body grows stronger.  I kick my raised leg higher and it feels good to have him there.
“Bow,” I say, moving to the floor.
Moving very close now, the boy watches me intently.
I am taking care of you…
I kick deeper into the bow pose.  Suddenly I breathe easier.  In this moment he trusts me completely and kneels beside my bow.  So close now I no longer see him.  My sacrum pops into place.  And now there is a playfulness, a wholeness that is liberating.  For the first time on stage I truly enjoy myself.
I am cared for…
Only later, after I have finished my final pose, do I realize with surprise how much I really needed him…  How silly that I had always thought it was the other way around.   And writing this even now, I recall so many times when I had joined in the very ridicule of myself in the name of self protection and trying to preseve some outer peace.  And as an adult I cast off with an open heart upon the strange new waters of a healing unification, consciously appreciating for the first time the depth of a love that comes from truly letting go.

Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga.  All suggestions are voluntary.  Consult a qualified teacher, your heart and/or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar.