Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Tenderest Shoot

Pastel by Ruth Waddell

In Upstate New York the earth is frozen hard until the sun's rays reach into that first few centimeters, softening, and warming even as the air temperature rises just above freezing. On the shady slope under the old maples the snow still holds its piles and drifts, though they've sunken and crystallized from thaw and freeze.

The tiny spikes, translucent yellow-green, flat and luminous, pierce this frozen layer and poke up above the earth into the bright sunlight. The garlic is coming up. The day lilies, too, have begun their journey from the dark to the light, just as the length of day equalizes with the length of night, here in the Northern Hemisphere -- and equally in the Southern Hemisphere. Equinox, "equal night," began with an enormous and unusual "perigee" moon, closer to earth due to its elliptical shape.

How can something so fragile make it through such a forbidding environment? Even once above ground the variations in temperature seem impossible to bear for my skin, and the wind when calm is fine but it kicks up into biting nose-running cold.

Living in this fragile human body I am in awe of the tiny garlic spike. My own strengths are also in my tenderest parts, those that open to awareness, draw my attention, expand my view beyond the frozen and hardened into the wildness of conditional fluctuations. The ability to see my self in all my reactive nature comes directly from this place of openness, where anything might pierce the luminous and let the darkness in, yet just as easily break through the darkness with light.

I cherish my understanding of how the roots dig in and suck in nutrients; the garlic bulbs swell and form cloves in heads just below the surface; the spike lifts and rises into elegant spears of leaves and stems sending up a globe of blooming flowers, the flavors and aromas of garlic in every bent stem, in every bloom.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Beginning and End of Meaning

Every moment hangs like a water droplet from the edge of the leaf.
Luminous, tenuous, distorting and beautiful beyond all words.
Why rush through the living and the dying?
Why push the moments into cubicles of attachment?

This is pain.
That pulling, wrenching feeling of wanting something other than what is.
That darkening tenderest of reaching for that which is not so.
That sharp claustrophobic grasping to get beyond the already piled and defined.

Oh it is an odd and disorienting feeling to let this droplet be.
Letting the droplet be detailed -- only as an illusion that it is separate from the air, the water and the elements that define it in the mind as a droplet.

Imagine you are the surface of the sea.
Experience this.
The rain. The air.
The spray. The currents.
The waves, the deepest fault lines.
Non beginning, non end.
Experience being.

What if all we could ever hope to be is exactly what we are in this moment?

This is joy.
Feeling open to the gentle movements of breath.
Sitting in silent vast spaces where mothers birth and mothers die.
The sounds are the echo of inhales and exhales.

Month of March.
This transitional instant,
when I can feel the beginning and end in the mountain mist.
The swelling buds, the frozen mud.
The hot fire and hustling wind.

Taking down the wall between joy and pain,
the droplet becomes the sea.
And I am but the interstice
between air and earth for a moment.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Finding What Supports You

When I say, "allow your feet to soften into the earth," it might sound like gobble-de-gook or hocus pocus until we begin playing with the way we actually use our feet. This shift in attention brings a level of understanding that can help with balance, with organizing your bones above the earth in ways that help transfer weight without stressing joints, and also lightens the load even in an emotional sense. First we try the communication system between the feet and the brain. Are the signals getting through in both directions? It's good to let yourself laugh when that little toe just doesn't hear you, or when the ball of the foot rises instead of the toes. As with any relationship, humor can help a lot as we gain an appreciation of the other's point of view.

In any posture, whether doing yoga or not, you can explore the grounding of your body. It isn't always your feet either, sometimes it's your sitting bones below you, or the angle of your pelvis that help settle you so that your spine can follow its natural rise. Investigate the way the bones rest on the earth -- exploring while laying down on your back for example, you can just notice the way your breath lifts and releases you and discover exactly which parts of you are touching the surface below you. Cherish this discovery of how your spine works, and allow your attention to follow the breath as it gradually releases tensions and more of your body can relax into the support below.

Standing you can do the same thing while gently leaning your weight into the inner edges of your feet and then the outer edges. What does that mean? Well, can you feel any weight in the inner side of your heel, or do you tend to feel yourself resting on the outer edge? Perhaps more of this than that in one or the other foot? Just find out. Try bending your knees slightly and feel the weight naturally seep into the heels, stretching the front thigh into the hip socket a little can do the same thing -- draw your attention to this and play with it. It may feel like you will fall over, but relax into it with a little shake, a little boogie woogie, and then settle back into it.

Once your communication lines are open, you can really draw energy up the legs from the earth; you can relax into your seat and feel an energetic lift in the deep core muscles; you can ease the shoulders down your back upper rib cage and feel your ribs freely floating over your hips.

If you find the support below you, you can rise lightly and feel freedom in the joints as well as the mind. Give it a try. Focus on it for a moment, whatever posture you're in! The deeper support will become evident once you allow the exploration to begin with the surfaces of things.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Magical

Gently lifting arms with an inhale, wrists flacid, and on the exhale allowing the hands to drift back down to the thighs like seaweed softly undulating in the waves. A genuine effort for most of the 80+ year olds in the room, but their faces glow with peace and relaxation. Letting go of the tension in their fingers, of the clenching in the shoulders, they begin to sit taller, and settle their feet under their knees.

Eyes glowing after class, smiles readily spreading on faces, even with the very serious business of standing up and taking hold of their walkers, these students do not care if they are "practicing yoga" or "doing Tai Chi." We are sharing a morning of breath and presence, letting go of judging ourselves and each other. Sometimes I cannot help but exclaim, "Who would have thought we could be working so hard and feel so relaxed!?"

We do hard things. Sometimes the hard thing is communicating with toes, or attempting to lift one leg. Sometimes the hard thing is trying to inhale just a little more in a three-sip breath, or perhaps hold on the chair seat and lean to one side. Each body has its struggles, each mind has its resistance and predisposition.

Yet what happens is magical. Gratitude that we can inhale an arm upwards and release it on the exhale, that we can sigh an out-breath together to relish our effort and relieve more tension, that we feel lightness in our legs as we align the bones and let the earth carry us. It is this sharing, sweet and complex for every person in the room, that heals and encourages, that carries us through the dark times and hard losses. Again and again I bow to my students with reverence and gratitude.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Winds of March

Walking on two feet, my sprained ankle gently seeping deep gratitude with each movement. I was able to return to teaching at the Shelter this week, adding in this piece I had cut away to make space for my healing. Now the students bring their joy and sorrow to me, quizzically and laughing out loud, eyes closing, sighing and silently.

I pass through the seasons as I walk from shade and wind into sun and warmth, remembering the tornado that ripped through the neighborhood and took down big old trees. One huge sycamore trunk stands truncated with one large limb reaching out askew - a remnant still enormous. The piles of snow, gone.

I've been substitute teaching for a fellow teacher who went to India for 6 weeks, and her delicate aged student has offered me an open well from which to draw, dipping the bucket, winding and unwinding the rope. These days I feel the energy pulse from my palms when I am near her, and can feel her breath moving towards me.

My mother is dying. She is saturated with happiness to know that the path is now clear and no one is pretending anything about what kind of living she will do. Criticized all her life for not carrying a tune, she now hums to herself. When asked what she is humming she grins, yes, grins, and says "Why, I don't know!" Delightful. No need, no need to know, to hang on, to grip and clench, to explain, to ask, to argue or deny. No need, no need to put up with, or put down, to reach in or pull away.

This is a most remarkable time. I revel in it even as I careen a bit wildly on the road, as though a powerful wind is blowing and I'm giving in, just a little.