The I AM Yoga, Art + Music Festival in Tulsa, OK, was in its fifth year this last weekend, and I attended for the first time, but definitely not the last. I know when I first heard about it, I was surprised that Tulsa was able to support a yoga festival, knowing nothing of its population. But all weekend long, Veterans Park, where the festival was located this year, was filled with kind, energetic people excited about yoga, music, art, life, and enjoying the outdoors on a beautiful summer weekend.
I am currently unable to practice due to some physical limitations, so I was able to fully enjoy the other aspects of the festival -- Great vendors, food trucks offering treats, wonderful musicians gracing the stage, a traveling zoo, a rocking kid zone, and the talented and entertaining parkour athletes leaping and flipping over obstacles.
And then there was the yoga tent, with a steady stream of varied yoga classes going on throughout the day. I taught IAM Healing – a restorative practice to balance out the intensity of repeated yoga workshops throughout the day. The tricky thing about restorative yoga, though, is that it is rife with stillness, something we all need, but at times difficult to accept. At an energetic outdoor festival, I thought we would work our way a little more slowly into stillness instead of trying to stop, drop, and relax all at once. Plus, I really wanted people to connect with my theme, reflected in the name of the festival, which was “who are we at our deepest, most true level?”
I have been doing a lot of personal work in this area because, as an active person, historically more comfortable with doing than being, I have felt lost the past couple of years. After an injury and subsequent chronic pain treatments, I have been physically sidelined. I experience anxiety and anger, I have been depressed, and I have been afraid. Who am I when I can’t do my normal activities? Who am I when I don’t feel like myself, because I no longer identify with my present condition? The fear and uncertainty can be crushing. I know I’m not alone, because at the I AM festival, someone had a genius idea to put up a huge chalkboard that said “Erase Your Fears,” where people throughout the festival would write or depict their deepest fears which would later be figuratively and literally erased. I swear I never actually saw a single person write on that board (not sure if they were all very sneaky or if I was not very observant), but by the end of the first day it was full of fears. Almost none were our more tangible fears, like cockroaches or tornados or ebola, but instead these fears were deep, tragic, heartbreaking fears.
Who am I when I don’t feel like myself, because I no longer identify with my present condition? The fear and uncertainty can be crushing. I know I’m not alone, because at the IAM festival, someone had a genius idea to put up a huge chalkboard that said “Erase Your Fears.”
As I studied the fear board, I thought about how all of these fears really challenge our sense of Self – our identity – our purpose. Philosophically, yoga teaches us that at our core, most basic, yet most essential level, we are complete, whole, and expansive. We are not separate, meaning there is nothing to criticize, judge, like or dislike, and there is nothing to fear. Our practice is to connect more often and more fully with this part of ourselves, so that we can love and demonstrate more compassion for ourselves, and thus love and demonstrate more compassion for others. But it is incredibly difficult to wrap our heads around this seemingly-abstract concept of our most basic Self. I have struggled a lot with how to describe it in a way that makes it more understandable, and the way that works best for me is this:
Think about a person that you love absolutely unconditionally, and then try to put your finger on the things make you feel that very strong and specific kind of love for them. I have never been able to describe or identify a particular quality or asset that garners unconditional love. It is not something that can be earned, purchased, argued for, or stolen. I have to conclude that it comes from a connection much deeper, one that is independent of culture, labels, successes and failures, and fleeting emotions. And if we are unconditionally loved (we all are), then there is something within each of us that has value regardless of our abilities, looks, or number of Twitter followers, and we don’t have to fear losing that part of ourselves because it is ever-present. It will never leave or change. It is there waiting to be uncovered, waiting to be set free so that we might live in ways that fully express our own limitless nature.
The IAM Festival, as yoga gatherings often are, was a great inspiration for me to continue this process of discovery, and I believe that whether or not we all actually experienced deep thoughts of self-revelation during the event, we surely felt the love and connection that transpires when we live and communicate from that place of expansive, limitless being.