March 10, 2014

King Arthur was a Yogi Like Me. ~ Sapha Arias


We all know the story; a young boy in Britain is destined to rule a peaceful and prosperous kingdom named “Camelot.”

The story has captured the hearts and imaginations of many over the eras and I can say, my heart, soul and mind fell prey to the story many years ago.

I love the mythology of King Arthur. I truly do. I feel like I have read almost every book, every version and even watched every rendition (through movies and even through television) and yet, it is only now, through my yoga practice and my awareness of love and life that I have finally been able to make the first momentous chapters of King Arthur’s life a crucial part of my own life.

Let’s take a look at the “sword in the stone” for a moment. Some stories say that Merlin himself placed the miraculous sword, Excalibur, inside a rock in order to test all who believed they had a right to the throne and, being a gifted magician, it was Merlin who foresaw our hero, King Arthur, pulling said sword from the stone and ruling a land so prosperous and fair that we all still yearn for the equality of the round table and the nobility of the knights that made up its council.

Merlin had been watching over Arthur from the moment he was conceived…and, in fact, in some stories, it was actually Merlin who helped Arthur’s father, King Uther steal in the night and fool Arthur’s mom into sleeping with him while her husband was murdered on the battlefield… yes, it is crazy and tragic and sneaky, but I digress.

So, Merlin had known before Arthur was even conceived that he was destined for greatness and so he decided to take him on as his apprentice. Now, Merlin, much like Yoda, liked to travel deep into the mountains (or forest) to spend time practicing his art and meditating in order to more aptly know his true self and thereby, more accurately give advise and bring healing to those in need. (Note: some sorties differ in this regard but for this little blog’s purposes, let’s stay with this story thread.)

Merlin decides that he will teach Arthur all he can about life, love, fairness, light, dark, etc. Anything there was to be learned in order to become a fair leader, Merlin presented to Arthur. Any tools that Merlin could give to Arthur in order to help him be present and loving, Merlin would provide. I find it funny because in many ways, I think Merlin was teaching Arthur yoga, much like Yoda trained Luke to become a yogi. (Yes, I am dorky and I love it, haha.)

So, time passes and Arthur is being shaped into a great king when all of a sudden, King Uther dies and the kingdom is in an uproar because Merlin has decided that whosoever can pull a silly looking sword from a ridiculous stone should get to rule in his stead. What is interesting about this is that hundreds of burly, brutal and undoubtedly aggressive men began to pour forth from every corner of the kingdom to try and pull the sword out of the stone.

For many days and many nights men took turns at yanking, pulling huffing, puffing and grunting to try to get the sword out. And the most wondrous thing was that not a single one of them was able to so much as move the stone an inch from where it stood.

Now, Arthur has been watching this for days and I can picture him growing more and more nervous and concerned to see all these men (who, by all rights should have been more than able to get the sword out) be defeated.

Finally, one momentous day, Merlin approaches his devoted apprentice and tells him that it is his destiny to pull that sword out of the stone and that he has to do it that very day, at that very moment.

When I think about this, I can almost hear Arthur’s heartbeat, feel his palms sweating and sense the tingling of adrenaline poring over his body knowing that Merlin is dead serious and fully expects him to basically perform a miracle.

I can hear the internal negative chatter flooding Arthur’s mind (things like, “who do you think you are,” “you are nobody,” “you do not deserve this,” “you are not ready,” “you are nothing but a young, inexperienced little bastard I can feel his stomach lurching and his breath catching with the news he has been slammed with.

I can feel the gentle push Merlin gives him, filled with love and reassurance and yet doing absolutely nothing to quench Arthur’s fears and anxiety. I can feel the earth beneath Arthur’s feet as he takes one step at a time towards that intimidating spot, right in the middle of the forest; in the middle of a multitude of warriors who are all angry, frustrated, greedy, intimidating bullies.

I can sense the trepidation and the sense of surrealism falling over him as he advances and I can feel him having an out of body experience about the whole thing. I can also feel the heaviness of all the judgment and hatred emanating form the men around the sword as they see Arthur making his way through their ranks.

Then the jeers begin and I can hear all the hurtful, mean—spirited things that the men are screaming at Arthur (my guess is, however, that these are all things they are screaming to and about themselves more than about Arthur himself. But they don’t know that, heck, Arthur doesn’t know that. And if he does, he has way too many other things to worry about right at that moment to be bothered by the truth behind their words). There is, I sense, a small quiver to his hands and a sensation of gentle resentment towards Merlin for making him do this.

I can almost see the glint of the sword and sense the threat it presents for Arthur; not because it is a dangerous weapon to him but because it represents his destiny, it represents his dharma and it represents all that he is so scared to admit about himself.

One step, then another, and finally, he has made it to the stone and somehow—though not through any conscious effort of his own—his hands are gripping the sword.

A silence falls through the crowd and all Arthur can feel is the cold steel of the sword’s hilt pressing against his skin. Memories of his life flood his brain and old wounds open up, leaving him raw and completely vulnerable. His breath slows down and suddenly everything seems to stop or slow down so much that time has no meaning to him.

His first instinct is to yank the sword, to put all his force and even all his anger and pain into pulling the sword out but the second he tries to pull the sword in this manner, he feels it catching against the stone and he immediately knows this will not work.

So, he breathes, he closes his eyes and connects to his very core. He accesses his true self, not the self that others can see, not his body, or his name ,or title or even the role that he plays in this life, but his true essence, the core that makes up his entire being and he realizes he is infinite. There is no beginning and no ending to him; there is no separation between him and all that exists in the entire universe, not even from the men around him. He is all and they are all him as well, all connected all eternal, all harmoniously intertwined and filled with love, light, vibration and awareness.

From this center, he is able to heal old wounds and love his enemies. He is able to gently push through his fear and know that he has a dharma to care for and protect his people, protect all those who are in fact, one with him at their very cores. He then realizes that aggression, force and struggle will not do, so he humbles himself and decides to very softly allow the sword to come out.

At that moment, the sword begins to slide gently out of the stone as if the stone itself were non—existent or at the very least made of something much softer, like say perhaps, butter or air. Suddenly, from the bottom of his being, a love so pure that it is palpable all around him surrounds the whole world and his love, his light and his courage shine through in a magnificent manner as the sword finally comes out completely.

The people around him are stunned, and I can see Merlin smiling out of the corner of his mouth, a satisfied master who couldn’t possibly be more proud or more joyful. I can see the men around him bow down and take a knee in absolute surrender and humility and I can see Arthur slowly coming back into his body, becoming aware of the present moment and savoring all that has transpired, forever changed, forever devoted to fulfilling his dharma, his destiny.

Here is where I will stop our story for the time being, and here is where I would like to delve into the lessons I have been able to pull from this wonderful tale.

1. Learning to find the balance, surrender and gentility in our practice and in our daily lives

For the longest time, I used to approach my practice with aggression and a drive to succeed and even compete with those around me. This approach soon lead to an injured knee and a bruised ego and I began to realize that forcing something to happen, both on and off my mat was causing me more grief and pain than was necessary. I was, in essence, acting like all the egocentric warriors who had lined up for days in the forest and tried—by force—to pull the sword out of the stone. And I, like them, was only looking a fool and accomplishing absolutely nothing. And I think that in today’s society, this is very easy to do.

We are constantly being told to “soldier on,” or “push through,” or “toughen up,” but we are never reminded or told that it is okay to take our time, to be vulnerable, present and available to change and challenges surrounding us.

So, we make everything a competition and we think that the only way to “overcome” a difficult, painful or even annoying situation is to push through it, suck it up and force our way out when in reality, what we need to do is soften and release. We need to find a way to connect to our very souls, we need to stay grounded and available so that we can gently move through the storm and come out transformed. Yes, life hurts, and times can be challenging, tough, painful, annoying, etc.

But, forcing something to happen (for example, forcing ourselves into lotus posture or forcing ourselves to stop the grieving process when someone has died so that we can keep working or doing stuff) is only going to hurt our bodies and souls. Being forceful and aggressive will mean placing pain, anger, resentment, grief and heart-ache in our hips or shoulders. It will mean disconnecting or disengaging from the moment and living in denial and it will mean keeping a wound open longer that it was meant to, because the more we force or push or resist, the deeper the wound becomes and the less aware we become.

So, we need to take some time, both on and off our mats to truly listen to our bodies, listen to our cores (our souls) and allow presence of mind and tenderness of spirit to soften our hearts to the point where we, like Arthur, can take a deep breath and simply let the sword come out on its own time, at its own pace.

2. We are all a little scared of our own greatness

When I first made the decision to become a yoga teacher I found myself torn by my emotions and thoughts. On one hand, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant for this; knew that this was my dharma and felt passionate, excited and so incredibly honored to have found this path. But on the other hand, I kept doubting myself. I  kept thinking that it was arrogant of me to think I could teach yoga when I hadn’t, in fact, spent 300 years up on a mountain top practicing and levitating while deep in meditation.

I felt as if all my students would be able to tell that I was not as strong or as adept at standing on my head hands as so many other amazing yoga instructors around me. I would wake up in a panic, worried that I would forget how to speak or accidentally put together a bad sequence of poses or injure someone by adjusting them. I asked as many people as I could if they believed this was the right path for me (funny how we always think other people have a better awareness of what we can or can not do or who we are rather than trusting ourselves). I was shocked and also joyful when my teacher offered me a time to teach at her studio and I could feel a myriad of emotions fighting for my attention.

From excitement to trepidation to just about anything you can imagine. I was walking down my own path, staring at my very own sword in the stone and I, like Arthur, was not entirely sure I could do this or even deserved to do this. It took a while for me to finally let go of my insecurities and admit to myself that I am a loving, incredibly talented yoga teacher (mind you, as soon as I typed those words, my heart did a leap and my cheeks reddened because I would never want to sound conceited… but, hey, it is coming for a place of self love and acceptance, not a place of ego or delusions of grandeur; it is all pure love) and I was open to loving myself and those around me.

I recognized the challenges, the intimidating moments and the complexities of my path—in fact, I have to face these daily—and I decide to take a leap of faith; knowing who I am and knowing that my path as a healer is deeply entwined with this part of my life and I have to tell you, I could not be happier. The moments I spend sharing energy, love, healing and breath with my students are some of the happiest moments of my day and life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the entire world. So, don’t be afraid of chasing your dreams and following your destiny.

If you are able to become truly honest and present as to who you are at your very core, your path will always be clear to you. And all the scary, intimidating things that come along with being courageously open to grace as you follow this path, this dharma of yours; will be your teachers and your most valuable assets if you allow yourself to remain present, aware and rooted.

3. Rigidity leads to stagnation and stagnation prevents renewal

If we were to remain as stiff and rigid as those soldiers on the woods, we would never be able to create new possibilities for our selves. We would diminish our light and prevent our souls from growing and renewing as often as possible. So, it is therefore incredibly crucial to always remain fluid, open and vibrant. Never remain stagnant or rigid. These two things can lead to judgment and prevent your own growth. So, remain soft, attentive and fluid, always.

4. Root down, in order to open up

I have used this phrase before and it has become an integral part of my life, my teachings and my writings—which explains why it has been reappeared through out this blog time and time again—This particular concept, that of rooting down in order to open up is incredible powerful to me because I truly believe that the deeper we can connect to our true selves, the deeper our love, awareness and life will become.

The more you can remain rooted, the more beautiful your light will be. Think about it in this manner: a tree whose roots aren’t firmly planted will topple over when the storms come. But a tree whose roots are deeply and firmly planted onto the earth is a tree that can withstand any storm with strength and love. Take time to develop a strong connection to your true self. Root down so deeply that your light and your being can shine through and withstand any storm that may assail you.

So, rooting down becomes crucial not only so that we can find our paths in life but so that we can weather the storms that are bound to provide us with a chance to change, grow and evolve. The things that are most valuable are the things we have learned from, even when they are the ones that took the longest or hurt the most. So, always remember to root down and remain completely open to grace.

I like to share little stories like these with my students and the people around me because I find that often times, myths, parables and stories have a very healing quality.

I firmly believe that creativity can transform, renew and change our perspectives, our hearts and our souls. So, I hope that you are able to see a little bit of you in these words, and I hope that you are able to find your internal courage and your gentility in order to root down into who you are and become as bright and as powerful as you were destined to be. Remember, in the midst of it all, your soul and your being are always vibrating, always in motion and always ready to be renewed.

“I am rooted, but I flow.” ~ Virginia Woolf

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