I am putting the finishing touches on a week-long seminar I’ll be leading as part of the International Women’s Writing Guild’s Annual Summer Conference. Thanks to the creativity of my Facebook friends, I’m calling it “Pen & Pose: A Workshop in Yoga & Writing.” Each day, I’ll guide students through meditation, breathwork, movement, and writing prompts that will (hopefully) access a part of themselves that has been desperate for their attention, compassion or dare we say affection.
I’ve been facilitating some form of this workshop for the past few years, and have gotten to test out my model at libraries and yoga studios, poetry festivals and universities. A friend asked me this week how I use this process therapeutically. I was stumped. On one hand, I feel everything I’ve been doing the past number of years — whether it’s drafting a poem or facilitating a strategic planning retreat — has been pointing me further along a healing and teaching path. On the other, I’ve mainly taught this integrated workshop in short blocks (1 1/2-2 hours), which means that we don’t share our writing aloud. For the most part, participants move and write. After the session, many remark on how cathartic, revelatory or even transformative the experience has been. But my involvement has typically ended with the proverbial (or Tibetan) final bell, so I don’t get to see how doing this particular kind of work helps beyond the “it was so interesting how deep I went in or what came out” piece.
This morning, it occurred to me that there’s something about this combination that is like balm for the soul. Maybe it allows a person to more fully connect with both hemispheres of the brain, and in that way move beyond the feeling of being fragmented so many of us experience in our day-to-day. (Sounds a bit like soul retrieval, doesn’t it? Since I’m not a shamanic practitioner, I just think of it as part of the path toward coming back to your natural state of wholeness and health.)
In Jewish mysticism there are five levels of the soul, each representing a different level of light that originates from Ein Sof, That Without An End, and coming to a completion with that which is clothed in the physical body.
- On the level of Yechida, the soul-light exists in a unified, undifferentiated field.
- Chaya is the force which animates the rest of life (perhaps similar to chi, prana, mana).
- Neshama is derived from the word for breath because this level of soul is like the breath that G-d blew into Adam to birth him (Christians have their carpenters; Jews apparently have our glassblowers.) This is associated with wise understanding, which we might call the intellect.
- Ruach (which means wind) is the soul-light as it leaves the stage of Neshama and is like a breath blown out of a person’s mouth, or the internal winds that propel movement (similar to the five vayus in yogic cosmology). Emotions that arouse a sense of love are said to inhabit this level.
- The soul-light comes to rest on the level of Nefesh (related to the word for “rest”). Nefesh resides in our blood and is deeply personal — but it’s also the place where the light is most concealed. Nefesh is the world of action, the physical world.
Nice to think we can inhale the creative drive of the universe and exhale love, until we are grounded in a physical manifestation that remembers who it is and why it’s embodied.
There are some Jewish traditions that say that we are all born with a nefesh, and through wise living, reconnect through all the other layers back into Source. It seems way more likely to me that we are all born fully plugged into all levels of our being but as we grow up and learn how to be human, we forget that we can always charge ourselves up (or that we even have all the cords we need).
It’s this forgetting who we are that always bites us in the ass, because then we obsess with how scrawny our lives are, or spend an extraordinary about of time trying to convince ourselves and others of our worth.
Maybe for you, it’s not yoga and writing, but saxophone and spelunking, kayaking and watercolors. (Although I think anything that helps you remember who you really are is more useful than just plopping together two seemingly disparate activities.) This week, I’ll look forward to the deep learning that happens whenever I teach, especially away from home and my daily busy-ness. Whatever your scene, I hope you find ways to connect into that which animates the ground of your own being and knowing and feeling.
Be happy and whole — Yael