Saturday, September 17, 2011

Who Am I?

Fast-forward to the present – Sept. 17, 2011.

My current bio reads like this:

“Lynn Felder is author of the DVD, ‘Gentle Yoga for Cancer Patients: Reconnecting Body, Mind & Spirit,’ and she empowers people living with cancer and chronic illnesses to take charge of their recovery using Yoga.

“Practicing Yoga was instrumental to Lynn's own recovery from cancer in 1999, and she has been teaching this population at Wake Forest Baptist Health – in four research studies and in ongoing classes - since 2004.

 “She teaches back-care/restorative and Flow Yoga classes (since 2001) at the Yoga Gallery, where she is co-director.

“An avid ballroom dancer, Lynn has won awards in both regulated and charity dance competitions.

 “After a career in corporate journalism, she now writes about dance, theater and Yoga for newspapers and magazines and has a book project and a new DVD currently in development.”

But is this really who I am? Not exactly.

This body was born in South Carolina in the 1950s. It always loved to dance and play. It took ballet from 6 to 12 years old; discovered Yoga in a book, played basketball and led cheers in high school; trailed after Daddy on hunting and fishing trips; swam with Mama in the gray-green Atlantic Ocean and the cool black water of the Edisto River.

In college, it took modern dance and gymnastics; then more ballet, contemporary dance; Tae Kwon Do; Jazzercise; running; bicycling; kayaking; hiking. You name it; this body has done it.

When this body got cancer in 1998, I thought I was going to lose it – my body, that is.

And I realized that if I could think that I was going to lose my body – which is what death is: the loss of the body – then I could not BE the body. I saw that I have a body, but I am not my body.

Conveniently, this mind was born into this body.

When you consider that the spinal column extends from the base of the skull nearly into the tailbone and that the mind and body are connected through an impossibly complicated network of nerves and blood vessels that are all operated by hormones and electrical currents, then you can see how the mind and body are not separate, as we sometimes perceive, but truly united.

My mind always loved reading and writing. It made the decision early on to be a writer and had its first story published in my hometown newspaper when it was 7.

It went to college and studied everything that it could get its hands on. It started out majoring in theater because journalism was too competitive – logic is not ALWAYS its strong suit – then it switched to history, because it had exempted freshman history, then it got bored, switched to philosophy and religion.

Somewhat predictably – this was the 1960s, after all - it turned on, tuned in and dropped out for a year or so, finally graduating with a degree in English Literature and a whole bunch of fairly useless knowledge about art history and film.

An English degree prepares one for nothing but allows one to do anything.
My only discernable skill was a gift of gab, but I lacked the discretion that might have tempered my volubility into a virtue.

In spite of itself, my mind found its way into arts administration for a few years and finally into newsroom journalism where it settled down and stayed for 25 years.

About 15 years in, though, my mind hit a wall. While it succeeded wonderfully in my career, it failed me again and again in matters of the heart.

I finally had to acknowledge that I had feelings – emotions, ugh! – I was more than a brain in a body.

Descartes was wrong: I have a mind, but I am not my mind, and those matters of the heart will have to wait for another story and another day.

Just take my word for it. I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.

When I began a serious Yoga practice 10 years ago, I soon learned a technique called The Witness Practice that teaches us how to dis-identify with the things of this world and to identify more closely with the one thing that never changes.

When your body ails and ages, it’s helpful to remember that YOU are not your body.

When the mind is fretful, it’s soothing to remember that YOU are not your mind.

When your feelings overwhelm you, it’s calming to realize that YOU are not your feelings.

Do you have a friend whom you’ve known for most of your life – a friend who you knew as a little child?

Maybe you were in first grade together, played together after school. Maybe after college, you and this friend were separated for many years. Then one day, you reunite. The friend has gained weight, has new interests, new hobbies, a different personality, different (or no) hair and even new politics, but you can still recognize the old friend somewhere inside all those changes. That is the True Self, the unchanging One.

I have brought three passions with me from youth to middle age: Yoga, dance and writing, but I am not these things.

I have a body, but I am not this body.

I have a mind, but I am not this mind.

I have emotions, but I am not these emotions.

The body, the mind, the feelings are constantly in flux, but our True Nature never changes.

Yoga teaches that my True Nature is Truth Absolute, Knowledge Absolute and Bliss Absolute.

And so is yours.