Yoga Wicca Buddha

Exploring a personal, eclectic path by looking at the intersection of three great traditions.

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Who Am I?

The man who taught me yoga was lean and stringy—the very image of a traditional yogi, except for his greying mullet and tendency to sound like a Baptist preacher. But today his voice was soft as he led 70 would-be yoga teachers in one of our last exercises: getting over ourselves.


Seated in pairs back to back, we each confessed the qualities of our “bad” self. Then we walked around as that self, eyeing the others from out of our darkness. Excruciating.


We repeated the exercise with our higher selves. Walking in their aura was less painful, but still uncomfortable.


Finally, we used two other students as “statues” to form a tableau of our bright and dark sides. “Walk around and look at your two selves,” came the instruction. I circled mine. One crouched in agony; the other reached out to console, but failed to connect. They saddened me.


“Now, remember. You are not the people in the centre. You are the one walking around them.”


Wait, what?


If I was merely the one observing from the edge, that meant all I had was my own awareness. Everything else—what happened to me, how I reacted— was determined by causes and conditions stretching back before I was born. Even my most intimate thoughts were, in some sense, impersonal occurrences over which I had little control. Nonetheless, my ego had shaped it all all into a stirring novel starring me, saint and sinner, trapped in a narrative of defensiveness and blame.  Until I crawled out from between the pages and held the book in my hands, I would never be free.


Years later, my pagan group did an exercise from Starhawk’s Twelve Wild Swans. We took turns to sit, veiled, while others made statements about us: “You’re creative,” “You’re shy,” etc. The veiled one’s response was always: “Perhaps, but I am so much more.” As we spoke the phrase over, we sensed the vastness of our unknown selves. It was strangely comforting. Perhaps we really were more than we knew.


More and less. Buddhism points to the mutability of all things, including what we think of as the self. We are all of us shape-shifters, actors, liars even, often ignorant of our true motivations. We’re not who we were five years ago, or even five minutes ago. Pagans worship many gods because reality is multifaceted and shifting, and so are we. 


Events, sensations, thoughts, emotions interact on their own to create the kaleidoscope of our experience. Pagans and yogis see mystery within all this: the immanent Goddess, the divine Self. Buddhists more starkly call it “emptiness.” Emptiness, openness, mystery—there are many names for the terrifying truth that frees us. We honour it in the form of shape-shifting deities (like Odin, Dionysos, Hermes) who slip through boundaries and come from the edges.


Facebook urges us to find out what tarot card we are, self-help books offer to identify our “soul signature,” but the truth is we are everything and nothing and our true home is the edge of possibility, way beyond the centre of certainty. 


That being said, I still have to live with what reality tosses up, the raw material for the novel of “me” that’s constantly writing itself. I have to dive beneath its wordy surface to witness the raw emotional core. That’s where I’ll learn to tolerate discomfort, take advantage of joy, be broken by pain and so find compassion. But to do this work I have to be outside the story, on the edge of the emptiness…and in the lap of the gods.

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


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