I have always been interested in psychology. I like that there are names and labels and explanations to why things are so, to why I am the way I am, to why people do one thing or another, behave one way or another. You're afraid of small spaces? There's a name for that. What's your birth order? Oh, that explains why you're so responsible. You can't seem to sustain a healthy relationship? Tell me about your family history. I love that there are patterns, like a roadmap almost, that shows you where you are and where you needed to go. I find it comforting that there is a way out.
But then, when I started my practice of yoga as a spiritual path, I find that some of the teachings seem to contradict what I believed I understood about psychology. Whereas psychology is saying you have to know who you are, you have to keep or strengthen your identity, spiritual teachings seem to be saying that you have to let go of who you are, surrender your identity, give it up, offer it up, don't take credit. You are not this, you are That. And so I was confused at first. Then it dawned on me that this seeming contradiction is because I have not seen the two as working with each other, and maybe in some way, in progression with each other. And as it turns out, yoga acknowledges the importance of the study of the small self (jivajñana) and the study of the big Self (atmanjñana).
I like to think of it like this. If I show up at your house one day carrying this huge gift, and I say this is for you, then when you tear off the elaborate wrapping of the gift, you find that the gift is empty, you may find that I have not given you anything at all. I just offered an illusion. It was for show, but it was not very meaningful. I think if we are not emotionally healed, if we do not know our identity in this material world, then our spiritual practice might be empty. It might even be a misuse, a codependence, a selfish escape rather than a sincere offering. It is an act of desperation instead of an act of intention.
If we fill this box with things that are personal and meaningful, our experiences, our struggles, our hopes, our frustrations, our courage, our sincerity, and the full range of who we are, then when we offer this gift of solid identity, it is an offering not of emptiness but of fullness. We offer something not for the sake of offering something but because we are offering something of substance. In other words, we need to have an identity before surrendering it has any meaning.
Close your eyes. Think about the fullest expression of your material identity. With courage and honesty, ask yourself: Who am I? How do I see myself in relation to the world? What is my gift to the world? What do you have to offer? Give them up.
Offer your stability, not because you never fell, but because you have fallen many times, and you know that is not something you need to be ashamed of. Your struggle is your humanity. Your getting up is your power. The path in between is your identity.
Offer your humility, not because you think of yourself as insignificant, not at all, but because you understand you are a significant being interdependent with other significant beings.
Surrender not because you feel hopeless. Surrender because your spirit is brimming with trust.
Offer not your baggages, but your lightness.
Offer not your impossible goal of perfection, but the weightlessness of non-attachment.
Offer your forgiveness not because you have willed yourself to forget, but because you remember that pain is a trap and the only way to get out of this trap is to let go.
Offer your courage in seeing things from someone else's point of view, to not be attached to who is right and who is wrong. Offer your openness in seeing that things may not be what they seem.
We are born empty like a piece of white paper. Throughout our lives, as we explore the range of our identity, we draw shapes and lines and forms and pictures. If we live this life well in pursuit of our identity and purpose and self, we get to fill up this page so much that the ink overlaps, until there are no more white spaces, until the entire page is completely covered with ink. Then it looks like a blank piece of paper again, except in a different color. This filled-up paper is what we offer, a gift rich in experiences of love and faith and compassion. It may look empty because you cannot form the individual shapes, but it is empty to only those who do not know. But to those who do know, they understand this offering is rich and complete and full. It bears the weight of your identity and the lightness of your intention.