The Subtle Art of Being Subtle

December 23rd, 2016

At yoga class the other evening, the teacher of my teacher (he spoke to us via her laptop) talked about “being subtle.” This is what we should aim for, said the teacher of my teacher.

I was surprised that he used this word in the context of meditation and yoga. What was that, again? I looked up the word “subtlety” and in fact, by definition, it has many (almost contradictory) synonyms, including “indistinctness” or “indefiniteness.” This tells you something. Subtlety is something that is hard to put your finger on. It is an undertone; it is the sotto voce murmuring of your soul, perhaps. So how do you grasp something so vague, so ethereal and make it real in your life?

One thing is for sure: It’s almost impossible to be subtle on social media. It’s rather like sarcasm, which doesn’t translate well either. I can be making fun of someone, even taking a little dig at him/her, and he/she takes it perfectly seriously. This can, of course be problematic. Twitter is an especially hard medium on which to convey subtlety – Donald “Sledgehammer” Trump being an extreme example. Subtle is not his middle name. In 140 characters it is extremely challenging, unless you try to explain a concept in several tweets, picking the right words. Chances are, though, that your followers will only see half the tweets, so it will be fragmented. On Facebook, people are profligate with words, throwing as many as possible to make one point.

Let’s look at it through the lens of “real life,” however. Another interpretation of that subtle word “subtle” is a kind of fine-tuning or attention to detail. Now, perhaps, we are getting somewhere. Subtle isn’t vague at all. It pinpoints. It picks out the small but significant nuances that can change your whole perspective. You may not even notice the nuances, but they are there, embedded in all kinds of situations; perhaps the ability to sense and explore them is what the teacher of my teacher meant by being subtle. I think I can see that such a capability would enrich one’s life considerably. I believe I can do it, actually. As a writer, one trains oneself to be observant – and also to look beneath the surface of things. Yes, that could work.

Interestingly, our teacher talked about the importance of clarity – defining ourselves, our goals by emptying our minds, I think. This is quite a relevant topic, as we approach 2017 with trepidation and uncertainty. Then again, clarity is the fine-tuning, isn’t it? So, one could describe subtlety as both “indistinct” and “detailed” at the same time.

The teacher of my teacher contrasted being subtle with being “dense” – dense meaning substantial, and solid. Well, physically I am all of that. Yet, inside one’s dense body there are subtle fields, too. Can one be dense in one’s body, and subtle in one’s mind and spirit? Something to ponder over the holidays. Having done a little bit of research, I realize this word is frequently used to describe energy channels in Kundalini Yoga. When released, these subtle energies pulse upwards inside us; but of course they are not visible, and quite separate from that physical density of skin, nerves, blood.

I think I’m going to try being more subtle. Wish me luck.

So, now I have a New Year resolution, perhaps?

Tina Causwell-Kirkpatrick teaches Kundalini Yoga at TrueSelf Centre of Being, Rozelle Avenue, Kingston, twice per week. You may contact TrueSelf at (tel: 819-7899).


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