The first week of my 2016 sabbatical was spent sharing a room with seven high school ladies and being responsible for the well-being of forty six female campers. The week was challenging: it was raw and real and really, really exhausting.
teaching yoga to high school kids? in this beautiful setting? sign me up!
Every time I volunteer at this Community of Christ High School Camp, I lose my voice, I forgo sleeping for a week (this just in: kids stay up late), I laugh until I pee my pants, I sweat more than should be physically possible, I miss being at home, I miss the routine of my wonderfully full (and air conditioned) life, I am overwhelmed by too many people in one space and too many loud voices, and every year, I come back.
Because in this week, I am witness to the incredible power of positive community. I watch young people transform from awkward strangers into best friends, open up to the idea of loving themselves, learn something brand-spanking new, try something they would never before attempt, get bloody noses from getting smacked in the face with a pool noodle, attempt to beat the far-superior staff members in dodge ball tournaments, fall in love, and inch closer to the type of adult they desire to be.
Hands down, the best part of camp for both campers and for staff members is meeting new people. I asked the question: “What’s your name, again?” about a million times a day. Knowing someone’s name is intimate. Isn’t it true that when we ask someone: “What’s your name?” what we are really asking is: “Who are you?” I’m actually really good at remembering names. I learned 90 camper’s names the first day of camp, but definitely forgot most of them by the time we jumped in the pool that evening. Name tags off, swimsuits on, hair wet; I had no idea who these kids were.
“Who are you?” is a difficult question to answer. For high school kids, that answer is usually a label. Sometimes, it’s even a label they didn’t choose for themselves;, it’s a price tag slapped on their back by their peers. This label: nerd, athlete, outcast, weird, smart, stupid, fat, pretty, popular can only go so far in its ability to describe who they are as changing, growing and maturing people. Adults still have these labels affixed permanently on our exterior, too.
We are still one word
to new people we meet: immigrant, businessman, homeless, hipster, athletic, gay, rich. These labels we carry around may or may not be accurate. They may or may not be apparent to everyone we meet. They may or may not be damaging, but they are never the full truth of who we are.
They will never truthfully answer the question: “Who are you?” (Read my personal take on Deepak Chopra’s “Who am I?’ meditation here
In fact, that’s the whole reason we do yoga! To clear our minds of misconception so that we can re-connect with who we truly are.
In yoga philosophy, this label would be an accumulation of all your experiences and memories stored in your citta or ‘heart-mind field of consciousness.’ The citta consists of four components: outer mind, inner mind, ego and memory. Together, these components determine how we construct our identity and how we interact with the world.
The citta is a filter between our ever-changing external experiences and our inner light of awareness. Overtime, this filter needs to be changed: your citta or heart-mind-consciousness is clouded and dirty. You are no longer swimming in a pristine chlorine-treated swimming pool, you are stuck in the muck of a snapping turtle infested lake. And it’s easy to forget who you are.
Patterns of thought, impressions that are untrue, and experiences that are painful sully the lens of our citta and block our inner light of awareness. We forget who we truly are: we forget that we are made of light and in light. This forgetting is the cause of our frustration, our pain and our habits. However, with self awareness and courage gained through meditation, we can clear up our misconceptions and start to peel away the layers of grime until we feel clear again. The meditation, the asanas, the pranayama, the focus we gain through our yoga practice makes this possible. In fact, that’s the whole reason we do yoga! To clear our minds of misconception so that we can re-connect with who we truly are.
According to scholar Nicolai Bachman, “Purification and clarification of citta is the primary result of yoga practice and leads us to connection with our divine inner light of awareness.” -The Path of the Yoga Sutras
Every single day, we have the opportunity to answer the question: “Who am I?” with more clarity and freedom.
My challenge for you is to look closely at who you are and sit in meditation with yourself. Use this time to clear your heart-mind field of consciousness and move forward into the light. When you do this, you aren’t changing yourself into someone new, you are changing yourself into who you’ve always been and simply allowing that light to shine.
go sit yourself down and ask: who am I, really?