Originally published in KULA Magazine, Issue 28, September 24 2017.
“Where do you come from?”
As days continue to roll by, this question gets increasingly complicated to answer. Cultures mix, breeds cross, it becomes decreasingly likely to find a person with a single genealogical line.
Often in yoga, we are asked to follow a lineage- a genealogical line of its own sort. And as people and tastes continually diversify, there arises a discord between stepping into a lineage (guru complex, anyone?) versus stepping into one’s own power. One can be laced with submission and the other with ego. But what if they were the same thing?
I, myself, have always had a bit of a story around this. The answer to “where are you from?” was a long-ish one from my earliest days.
Although my blood is predominantly Chinese, my father was born in mainland China and grew up in Hong Kong under British occupancy (does that make me part British?) My mother was born and raised in the Dominican Republic (I feel Caribbean…) I was born and raised in New York with a high concentration of Jewish and Italian people. I’ve been to more bar mitzvahs than I can keep track of. Through this lens, Chinese culture was always a bit distant to me as a child. The Chinese community seemed, and sometimes still seems, extremely foreign.
It was for this reason that when people would comment, converse, and inquire about Chinese culture to me as a child with the notion that I was able to answer all their questions, I would feel distant, confused, and resentful.
Distant to the curious people asking me questions because they were not asking me about pizza bagels (the perfect combination of New York, Jewish, and Italian delicacy, which I had much more experience with…), confused because it took me some time to realize that I needed to explain to them that I was culturally American, and resentful because people made assumptions about what I knew and who I was based on what I looked like.
We are so much more than what we look like.
Even those forms in school applications asking for my race/ethnic background- would I check Asian or Hispanic? Or maybe easiest to check “Other”… except for that line next to it that asks you to “please describe.” Oy vey. (Google it.)
As a child and young adult, these things triggered me. It seemed as if someone wanted to box in my identity to fit his or her usual way of thinking, which did not feel inclusive. I ran far away from placing myself in any one lineage (especially the obvious Chinese one of my outward appearance) because none of them seemed to encompass the totality of who I was.
Then yoga happened. It wasn’t until I was sitting with one teacher on a regular basis that the power of lineage started to sink deep into my bones.
These days, we are spoilt for choice. We have access to information for just about anything on Google (oy vey!) in no time.
In no time.
With the convenience of choice, our perception of time has also shifted. We want it all now. And with that capability to know everything now, we sometimes forget that mastery takes time.
When we start to practice yoga with a master- a tradition that is steeped in lineage- we become part of something that is not defined by time, but envelops time. This yoga tradition is an oral tradition passed from teacher to student in the real live flesh. In this way, it lives. Yes, parts of it are recorded in text and books, but the feeling and fruit of the practice is transmitted through person-to-person experience.
By passing on the teachings in this way, they take the shape of the person who lives by them, the times they live in, the places they reside, the interests they harbor, even the distress they may face. The teachings continue to reach into an ever-expansive and infinite nature of possibility.
By sinking into a single lineage of teachings and teachers- with all the ups and downs that come with it- we make the choice to seat ourselves at the door of infinity. We free ourselves from time spent searching for various methods and facts to know and instead deepen a feeling of wisdom in one clear direction: one that gives us a solid ground to move amongst the increasingly vast angles we are pulled.
We find that investigating our lineage- whether it be in the form of a yoga tradition, our place of birth, or even our own family bloodlines- may seem like a static, linear journey at the beginning, but pretty quickly turns into an expansive, diverse, living practice. That lineage is less of a narrowing backwards, and more of a deepening outwards across time and space.
We are so much more than what we look like.
Stepping into lineage through yoga and beyond opens up this feeling in so many ways. By making the choice to investigate the stories and connections of our spiritual, mental, and physical bodies, we find the humility and depth to reach out into our infinite power.
So, where do you come from?