“While they meditate, slowly and unconsciously, they let go of the muscles in their faces, dropping their jaws, their mouths opening like children. How vulnerable we are without the mask of thought.”
-by Michael McColly, The After-Death Room
These “masks of thought” live on the body as well as the face, which is why we can’t really think our way through the yoga poses—the thought is already sticking in the body. We can use thought as interpreted instruction to get us going, but there must also be a letting go, and a clearing of gripping thought remnants in the body.
My brow worries and my shoulders say, “I’m unworthy,” with a sickly and tender ache that includes the back of my neck. I read this as imprinted shame left over from childhood, a remnant of trying to disappear over and over in my life—especially during childhood and early adolescence.
My body tells the tale. At times I can still hear my shoulders saying, “Watch out!” as when blows of childhood abuse came at me in the past. My stunned eyes were opened wide, in the stark light of horror, wondering, “Why?” My hands gripped in on themselves like tiny sweaty balls, shaking with power diminished. My belly was tight and hurting, attempting to stop the life force. My feet were numbly holding my body, not knowing where to go. And a geyser of grief and anger pushed through, everywhere.
Of course, my life is very different today, yet my body still seems to speak of my traumatic past. And yoga has been a treasure to me because it allows me to relax and soothe my body, gently clearing it of the remnants of trauma. Every time I practice I release the grip a little more. Yoga is my medicine.
To relax the “mask” and body suit of thought is to experience freedom inside, liberation from the clinging bonds of the past. And when the tightness, shame, anger, and trauma are released from the body, an unblemished curiosity remains, an innocence unencumbered by personal history, receptive and open. Presence deepens in a body that has released the tension around trauma and old baggage as you become more deeply connected with yourself. And it just feels better in the body! There is also richness present as fresh perspective with a burnished luster. It is not the naked, bright-hot vulnerability of youth, but a well-defined beauty, a glow that comes from yielding the fruits of experience, both positive and negative.
The phrase, “keeping it bottled up,” does just that, preserving all the old hurts indefinitely so you can continue tasting them in their original form. This is like serving the jelly of the past on the bread of the present moment, possibly blocking the good flavor of today with the concentrated essence of the past.
Employing techniques—yoga is one—to release and process old pain, can allow the fruits of experience to be savored. This work can also help to bring clarity to a muddled mind, as well as opening a doorway into greater compassion and strength.
The daily practice of releasing tension and personality masks in my body and mind allow me to be more present, grounded, compassionate and understanding of myself and others. It also enables me to be more relaxed, comfortable, clear and focused in my life.