We hear it all the time in our community: Life isn’t lived in black and white. Answers don’t always come in yeses and nos; even right and wrong can vary depending on who you’re talking to. Sometimes what most frightens us is what enables us to grow; when we confront our fears are we able to move forward. On the mat, we confront both physical and emotional challenges, and learn to push past edges that would otherwise hold us back. That is: the dualities of fear and comfort, or challenge and success, dissipate when we consider them as two sides of the same coin. Duality becomes oneness.
Meditation teacher Tracee Stanley spent a significant part of her formative years on the water. There’s arguably no better place in the world to explore the concept of duality as oneness than the ocean; it’s impossible to stand at the edge of the ocean and not feel at once overwhelmed by the mighty strength of the waves and calmed by their motion. “The ocean is my happy place!” says Tracee, “But it also represented immense fear. I almost drowned once and I had a fear of waves and being in the open ocean.” Rather than allowing herself to stymy in the black and white conviction that she was afraid, however, Tracee decided to move into that shade of grey and learn how to stand-up paddle.
“The ocean requires you to be fully awake the the ebbs and flows,” Tracee says. “Sometimes it requires you to surrender instead of fighting against the tide. And sometimes it calls for all of your self-effort to stay alive.” Just as in life, sometimes we just have to accept the conditions of the ocean and adapt to it, knowing that they can indeed change at any moment.
My parents live at the beach in North Carolina. Every once in a while, a storm so fierce gathers that the sky is a seemingly endless plane of green and grey. Five minutes later, the sun is shining and the bluest sky is full of cumulus clouds. “Nothing is constant,” says Tracee. “If we approach our life in the same way, we find a sense of ease.”
When the Stakes Are Higher
Of course, not all things in life can be ascribed to a pretty metaphor of the ocean or changing weather patterns at the beach. South Africa holds a special place in Tracee’s heart, as it was the origin of her journey toward spiritual awakening. She lived there right after apartheid, when Nelson Mandela was elected president, which Tracee recalls as a powerful circumstance to integrate lessons of duality.
“Because of the climate of the country at that time,” she says, “it really served as a powerful teaching on the idea of separateness.” Her everyday experiences were all touched by the observation of effects of viewing another person or a group of people as “other,” which she recalls as devastating to witness. “The only way to make sense of it was to go micro,” she says, “and look at how I might be doing a similar thing on a personal level. Who was I judging, who didn’t I like? Why? Peeling back the layers of duality, I got to see that it all came back to me.”
It was only in this place of duality that she was able to come to her own understanding of oneness, of the connection we all share.
Tracee now brings these lessons to her workshops and classes. Sometimes on retreat she instructs participants to sit in dyads to share personal experience, and says that she often receives excited feedback. “People think they are alone in their experiences, feelings and inner turmoil,” she says. “But when they truly connect with another human they realize in fact how similar we all are, how the human condition is familiar; despite, age, race or upbringing. It is then that we all get to grow our empathy and our compassion and we know that are not alone.”
Incorporating the Lessons Within
So what does this mean when it comes to spiritual development and personal growth? The sense of duality here can refer to that which we consider our darkness, and that which we consider our light. For Tracee, it was when she inhabited that darkness—really allowed it to wash over her—that she found her light. Though she had intellectually understood the idea of “an eternal light within the space of the heart,” as she says the Yoga Sutras teach, it wasn’t until she was going through a painful betrayal and breakup that she truly felt that light.
“I decided to double down on my yoga practices and did a very special Tantric practice to help heal grief,” she says. “One morning after meditation the sun was rising and everything was still, my mind was clear. In that moment of stillness and beauty I felt an immense joy and light inside of my heart. It was almost overpowering, I surrendered into it.”
Tracee says that she had an immediate understanding that this state of joy was her truest nature. She realized that anything else she was feeling was coming from a place of fear about the breakup. “My inner radiance was real and that luminosity was beyond the circumstance that I found myself in as painful as it was.”
That is to say, it was only when she experienced the duality of darkness and light that Tracee was able to move into a place of oneness, spiritually, and able to grow. This is now what she aims to impart to her students. “We all have this blissful joy inside of us,” she says, “and I have set an intention to share the teachings so that people might have a chance to experience just a moment of who they truly are.”
Lisette Cheresson is a writer, storyteller, yoga teacher, and adventuress who is an avid vagabond, homechef, dirt-collector, and dreamer. When she’s not attempting to create pretty sentences or reading pretty sentences other people have created, it’s a safe bet that she’s either hopping a plane, dancing, cooking, or hiking. She received her Level II Reiki Attunement and attended a 4-day intensive discourse with the Dalai Lama in India, and received her RYT200 in Brooklyn. She is currently the Director of Content at Wanderlust Festival.