I’m learning about grace.
When people ask me what’s so special about yoga, I tell them that not only does yoga allow us to build strength (on all levels) but it also allows us to soften—it’s this dual action that brings us into grace; an inner voice says, “strong and soft, Brentan, strong and soft.”
Come into your grace.
We’ve all heard that old adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And in my few short years on the planet, I’ve learned that often times we use that phrase as a justification for shutting down—that somehow, as we strengthen ourselves through adversity, the only smart course of action is to purchase pain-insurance by closing ourselves off and making ourselves impervious to pain, which, by proxy, makes us impervious to joy.
The Buddhists say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
It was a Saturday evening and I found myself wandering alone in the city. I took an opportunity tohelp a stranger—something I enjoy doing so that I can feel energetically connected to a fellow heart. We talked. His name was Mark. It was pleasant. But, what began as pure intention on my part and started as a positive experience between two strangers, ended in assault (don’t worry, reader, it could have ended a lot worse. All things considered, I’m a pretty fortunate gal).
Come into your grace.
Now, I’m not a stupid person. I also extremely value my own safety in this world and I make pretty good judgment calls…most of the time. I try to stay vigilant in my kindness. And as I took off on my own two feet, thanking my lucky stars that my mom had saddled me with pepper spray (the pepper spray I rolled my eyes at and swore I would, “never need to use”), the inner voice sung up: “strong and soft, Brentan, strong and soft.”
Come into your grace.
After the flight-or-fight response subsided, I came onto my mat. As movement flowed through me, the word grace sprang up again and again. How abstract, I thought. What is grace and why is it here with me?
I realized that I could have two responses to what happened: (1) I learn, I grow strong and I choose to protect myself by shutting down—to stop meeting the gaze of strangers, my fellow species; to reject the notion of goodness in humanity; to move into a space of distrust or, (2) I learn, I grow strong and I use these lessons to the best of my capacity to stay soft and to stay open.
One of my most influential teachers once talked about grace. She phrased her definition as,“being able to stand up on one’s own two feet covered in their own shit.”
To that I say, Hell Yeah! That’s my grace, baby; that’s my lesson.
My lesson is to be able to build full strength in my Warrior archetype and still soften into an Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. My lesson is to fall in love fully, let my heart break and wake up two days later ready to do it again. My lesson is to still be able to walk into a broken world willing to give a smile to anyone who needs it (and, of course, make sure my pepper spray still works).
This is me standing up on my own two feet. This is me: strong and soft.
Of course, there are other lessons implicit in this experience—the reflective process is nowhere near finished.
I may never be able to reconcile the fact that my intent of action holds no significance on how my actions are received by others. I might not ever get to a point where I can read the full potential of a situation before it plays out in front of me.
But, what I can do is replace judgment with curiosity. I can come into a place of interest instead of self-loathing. And, I can learn the value of building strength in my inner world and summoning enough courage to still walk outside the safety of my apartment, ready to share that world with others and to be changed.
This is me: strong and soft.
This is me not backing away from that shit.
Brentan Schellenbach is a San Diego-bred, Chicago-based yoga teacher and theatre artist. When she’s not teaching yoga, taking yoga or involved in theatre, she uses her creative expression to write, sing, play, laugh, observe, dance, talk, listen and ignite. It is not only the immensely rewarding personal journey of yoga that excited Brentan but also the community-building aspect of the path. Together, we can amplify the Universe! For more daily musings, please visit mywebsite.