I walk out to the concrete slab and remove my shoes. I’m not trying to keep my feet OR the concrete clean, or for that matter to make either of them dirty. Taking off my shoes as I step onto the slab represents a conscious step, one where I am listening, observing and meeting myself anew. This is a way for me to claim sacred space, to say to myself; This is important, pay attention.
What I didn’t mention about my sacred space is that its actually a helipad. There are four tie-downs embedded in the concrete and the pad is a hexagon about thirty feet across. The mounds of sand around it support healthy and wonderful smelling creosote bushes. Off to the west I hear the whirr of blades at the nearby windmill farm, a white noise, like the ocean, playing background to the calls of birds or, if I’m out late enough, coyotes. And above me is the vast, open sky. Its my very own outdoor yoga studio; walk out the front door, cross the driveway, take off my shoes.
To the owner and builder of the home it was a helipad, but as a helipad it is of no use to me. What good does it do me when I don’t own or know how to fly a helicopter? By knowing what things do and how I use them, I give them meaning and importance. By the act of removing my shoes I claim what could be useless as a meaningful and sacred space. Further, that barefooted, naked approach is a little statement I make to myself that I come open-minded, open-hearted and ready to learn.
As yogins and yoginis—whether you call yourself one or not—we strive to grow and learn by engaging ever more deeply in the world and in our relationships. We acknowledge that it is our beliefs, opinions and our ensuing actions that help us define the very world and relationships with which we are engaging. It is our beliefs and opinions that help us to see what is important or sacred to us and for what we have no use at all. And to make it more interesting, everything is always changing and evolving and so, too, must our opinions, beliefs and interactions with the world.
What follows is to examine the very source of our beliefs and opinions. Where do they originate? Are they the product of our society or our religion? Or a rebellion against them? Could they be from the owner’s manual that our parents were using that clearly doesn’t fit this newer model? Are they truly ours, gleaned from observing the world, our experiences and from times of deep reflection?
Often our personal identity, according to poet David Whyte, “is actually more of a function of our ability to pay attention to the world around us.” As we look out into the world we determine what is sacred and what is useless, what is important to us and what doesn’t really matter. When we look at at our experiences and all those things which seem to be separate or different than ourselves, we define what we are not, thereby, in some way, defining what we ARE a little better.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you begin taking your shoes off everywhere and acting like everything is just as sacred as everything else. We all know that just plain isn’t true. Would a composting, stinking trash dump be a sacred place from which to serve your finest meal? I don’t think so. But I am suggesting that you start paying better attention. Pay better attention to what is meaningful to you, to what your beliefs, opinions and even preferences are. Notice if they are, in fact, true to who you are and what you want today. Pay better attention to how you interact with things and people so you can refine your view of the world. Pay better attention to the part of you that is having all these emotions, experiences and opinions so that you may better know yourself.
One of the ancient yoga texts, the Shiva Sutras, reminds us that “The senses are spectators.” When we use our senses fully to pay attention, we can spectate rather than get caught up in the drama of our unfolding universe and our reactions to it. Our beliefs and opinions are refined by our ability to pay attention, by re-defining who we are and what matters to us in each moment. This state is a paradox of both feeling our feelings more deeply and simultaneously knowing that we are NOT our feelings, but something much greater than them. From this clearer view of ourselves, one that isn’t muddied by our emotions, we start to notice that certain places, people and actions seem more sacred to us than others (as they should!) And whether we are on a helipad barefoot or not, we begin to see that we, too, are sacred, and that we have the courage to pay attention and reveal that naked and vulnerable part of ourselves that is always learning and growing.