Study Sessions: Holly Ledbetter

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MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Foundation and Yoga Pedagogy students, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current students, Holly Ledbetter, about one of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Sutra 2.5 states, “Ignorance is the belief that the transient is the permanent, that the impure is the pure, that suffering is happiness, and that the non-self is the self.” Avidya, or ignorance, is one of the afflictions that we aim to reduce through the study and practice of yoga, and is also described by the sutras as the “origin of the other afflictions”: egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to existence. It is a state of misunderstanding, taking the untrue as truth.

On December 7, Liz [Montgomery] taught a beautiful class, the first of two in the candlelight celebration series. Liz focused on the imagery of a flame in different parts of the body, guiding us to imagine the flame travelling to different areas that would enliven each asana. At the end of practice, we envisioned the flame enveloping the whole body. The passage that she read at the end of class reflected upon candlelight compared to other modern forms of light. The passage described how candlelight allows darkness to exist, casting changing shadows while it flickers. A flame is constantly consumed by movement, illuminating different parts of a room, of a book, of a face, as it wavers. Even when it is wavering it remains lit. Even when it appears steady, it is still moving.

It was around the time of this class that I had begun to use more candlelight in my home practice. While meditating on the flame and playing with the candlelight imagery inspired by Liz, I began to consider how eliminating avidya, as it pertains to ignorance of the self, is like illuminating different parts of ourselves that have been darkened. These illuminating moments are often only glimpses of truth, flickers of a genuine self, a momentary unwavering flame over a part of yourself that had been left in the shadows.

Furthermore, I noticed that these glimpses of true self occurred most readily when I was engaged in genuine connection with others. Over the holiday season, it was whilst catching up with an old friend, volunteering at a Christmas lunch at a women’s shelter, or sitting around the living room with my grandparents, that I felt most connected to my true self. I have since been considering avidya as it is related to its ability to stand in the way of genuine connections along the path of yoga and the path of life. I could not yet, however, figure out how the idea of inward, self-ignorance was contributing to a feeling of distance or lack of connection to others. In other words, why was I feeling the most inner truth and self-understanding when I was focused on others, engaged with their love and honesty?

My answer would come from Pema Chödrön (who else?). In The Places That Scare You, Chödrön writes about compassion as one of the keys to finding bodhichitta (awake or Buddha mind) energy. She writes, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” I would argue that the same could be true for positive things in life, if written, “Only when we know our own lightness well can we be present with the lightness of others.” Fear, Chödrön writes, is what keeps us from knowing our own darkness, or our lightness.

In softening into our fears and illuminating our dark parts, we can see more of ourselves. When we see our true selves we eliminate avidya, and unlock the potential to be compassionate. We take one step toward our bodhichitta energy. In my mind, bodhichitta energy now looks like, as Liz had prompted us to imagine, someone sitting in virasana enveloped in a candle’s flame.

-Holly Ledbetter

Photo by Flickr user

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