Isan said to Kyogen – I’m not asking you about the scriptures, show me your true face before you were born.
At birth, I received my first identity as daughter. In some ways, the rest of my life thus far can be seen as adding, inhabiting, and adjusting further identities – student, teacher, friend, New Yorker, lover of summer sun. Our faces reveal who we are holding ourselves to be in that moment. Can you imagine speaking to your lover through the face and eyes of your “work face”?
The absence of holding an identity is still not your true face, as that winds up looking more like “subway face” or boredom, ambivalence, or daydreaming.
Your true face requires you to embody it.
In asana class, this can be worked with in how we hold our faces – what’s your “yoga face”? Catch yourself in one moment of class and ask, “If someone were to see just my face at this moment, what would they think I was embodying?”
This is not a movement towards the self and our identities not existing. But to re-embody ourselves to that we can be as close to our original selves, in each of our changing moments. So you don’t wind up spilling work face all over your family or private time. So you can be honest and present with your whole self. So you can break through your shyness, your being-in-charge/controlness, your social structure to you.
What is your social face? What is your sympathetic face, or angry face? I found out my social face is smiling like a crazy person. Within a minute of participating in a group exercise on retreat with Michael Stone called “Mindful Mingling”, my cheeks muscles burned from the effort. And I knew I was doing it, but I just couldn’t stop. I was completely unable to show my true face.
It felt like I had failed, completely missed my opportunity to work with my true face. But then I realized because I stayed present enough during all of it, because of the community situation, I actually was able to learn a lot. I found out what my social face was, and was able to investigate into what was behind it, what I was embodying, and how I could work with it.
It’s not about landing your true face. It’s about working towards embodying it. It’s one of the reasons that practicing yoga in community is so important. It’s the kind of work that cannot be done with a text and a cave. We must practice in community, right in the middle of our work on these topics, so that we can put them into practice right away. We can be present in the midst of everyone else doing the same work. So that in all the relationships throughout the rest of the day we are confident to try again. Whether it’s the relationship with the person you’re passing right now on the street, your partner, your niece, coworker, coyogi, garden, or bus driver.