“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
~ Maya Angelou
The passing of Maya Angelou is hitting me hard. I’ve always loved her ability to speak the truth, elevate the human condition, and point us in a direction of contemplation. Upon hearing her words, I frequently found myself nodding, wide-eyed in astonished agreement. She was someone I wanted to be like: a beacon of hope and conviction, an unapologetic truth spiller. I will miss her distinct poetic voice and the prolific creator that she was. I wonder, who’s left? Who’s brave and genius enough to share these universal and sometimes painful truths so poignantly and eloquently? It seems it’s become terribly hard for us humans to walk a path and build a life in alignment with our values, to speak and live our inner truths, and celebrate all that we are. We seek approval, validation for our choices, pick comfort over conviction, don’t know who we are without external identifiers: worker, mother, accomplished athlete, etc.. It requires a special kind of courage to declare our inner selves to the world, particularly if we choose the path less followed.
In the first two of the eight limbs of yoga, (Yamas and Niyamas,) we are encouraged to live a life in connection to our values, dig into self-understanding, and be actively compassionate in the world. And yet, many of us reading this are often faced with feeling shame and judgement about our bodies, inadequacy in our parenting, validation only when we “succeed” according to cultural expectations or produce something “noteworthy.” We are constantly looking outside of ourselves and condemning who we are – apologizing for our messy homes, our “fat” stomachs, condemning our “flakey” nature in the face of excessive busy-ness, apologizing for all that might make us different, unique, or perceived as less than.
Many people think a yoga practice is just a matter of moving into poses that require flexibility and a “fit” body. It’s true that there is movement, “asana,” where we strengthen, stabilize, and stretch our bodies. But asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga that primarily addresses our physical bodies through practice. It prepares us for deeper inner connection, and does not exist without exploring and understanding the other aspects of ourselves. In addition to moving, we also create time to reflect, to breathe, to notice where patterns of limitations, stuckness, and non-compassion reveal themselves on an emotional, energetic, mental, and spiritual level. And the best part… surrender. Release. Strength. Forgiveness and celebration of the self, the good, the bad, the “ugly”. By doing so, we create space for our whole, authentic selves to emerge, unencumbered by judgement, criticism, and self condemnation. We heal habitual holdings and toxicity in the body, we intentionally build new fiber, new neuropathways that bring our nervous system down to earth again. And as a result, we feel more whole, confident, and courageous to live the lives we’re meant to in this short time on planet earth.
While none of us may be a Maya Angelou, by living more authentically we are celebrating an aspect of her spirit and legacy. By living more authentically, we give permission for others to do so – our friends, children, partners who might otherwise live in hiding, wanting for love. I’d like to believe that the next Maya Angelou is already here and just needs that permission to let her great inner radiance shine, to make choices out of love, hope, acceptance and courage. After all, Maya Angelou herself said, “a bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” I hope you’ll join me in singing your own metaphorical song, without worrying about pitch, tune, or popularity.