Monday, April 25, 2011

Seeing the Whole

The body defines us like a fence. We imagine it keeps us intact and we judge ourselves, often incredibly so, based on what we see as the self in the body.

I've been spending much time with my dad in the hospital and separately with my mom in hospice care. It seems clear to me that the person we are exists both as a kind of saturation in the body and at the same time without any physical attachment to that body. Obviously the state of the physical self influences a great deal in the way of our conditional experiences and prompts the reactions we have. Mental attitude or positioning, awareness and the habitual level of gripping have an even more dramatic influence on our reactive nature or our responses or even our comprehension or perception of conditions in the moment or in the mind.

It is remarkable to me that I can be intimately connected to a quality of being whether or not there is active physical presence or interaction. Even hundreds of miles can separate me from these individuals and I remain open and alert to the quality of their being. I understand when I am with them, that the physical body is of paramount importance to them, defining their physical existence in the conditional world of cause and effect, reaction and response. And yet the entirety of who they are actively separates from this physical entity even as I sit with them, even as we talk or hold hands. The touch, the word, the sound, these are fleeting conditions. The quality of being stretches beyond that in a direction-less way, without physical attribute, not subject to time or space, or conditional nature.

With deep gratitude I am catching glimpses of the non-dual nature of being.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ordinary & Extraordinary

The string of tensions and joy that make up life are patterned like beads, yet one moment is mindless and routine and the next extraordinary. Whether sitting zazen or flying through movement on a yoga mat, sitting at a desk or waking from sleep on the couch, it is only this moment that we experience.

Mind chemistry has its hold on all the rest of it. What is remembered, what is expected, what is felt, what is responded? This moment, possibly the only action is this breath, this glance, this touch. The practice is so simple: Let go of the patterns that attach this moment to what was or will be and fully experience being.

No, it isn't a state of bump on a log, where everything must fade into nothingness. And it doesn't require a thousand years of training to control every aspect of the physical body. This moment may hold every emotion, not reserved for only one or another. In fact, it is the vastness of this moment that turns the routine into the extraordinary.

In my Tai Chi for Arthritis classes, I say again and again, "Focus, and Relax." Training the mind to be useful with its powerhouse of possibilities, while allowing the physical and emotional self to dwell in spaciousness with communication lines open, well, there you are. Being present. The good and bad of it all becomes a pattern like slides projected on the walls around you, and can be seen for the illusions that they are, as reactions, as conditions, as patterns.

Wake to it, and awareness saturates the dark and the light, opening the moment and illuminating it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Come She Will

I've been traveling strange terrain these past few weeks. From barely melted snows in upstate New York, to full blown cherry blossoms in Washington, DC, to palm trees and azaleas in New Orleans, to uncurling greens on the bushes in Brooklyn, and again the brilliant yellow of daffodil slopes in Maryland. My heart is traveling strange terrain and the world around me seems to reflect the vastness, fragility, beauty, starkness, and unpredictable but inexorable movements of life and death.

For the first time I missed a class at my neighborhood studio where I've taught since Inauguration Day 2009. By missed, I mean simply couldn't show up and had no substitute available to replace me. My father's urgent medical situation required my full presence. There was much sweetness in teaching last week and hearing that a few of my beginning students stayed to practice together.

I've sat with my mother, who is floating on a gentle sea of pain medications and freedom from the constraints of conventions. The tenderness with which she touches her own hands, strokes her own cheek as though forming the shapes in clay; she opens her eyes with clarity and space so enormous that my feet feel lighter as I meet her gaze. She has drifted quite a way in this nearly a month in hospice care. Her room at the group home feels like a soft safe nest. What an act of grace that after a life of such turmoil she is finding her way with such an openness of heart.

I've held my father's hand as he went through procedures, humming the violin part to his humming the viola part of duets we have played, keeping his attention aloft of the changing chest tubes and with the breath itself. His clarity of mind and good humor more endearing than my heart can bear, and his suffering finding a place within my own ribs. He stood by me through all my childhood surgeries, fainting as the anesthesia took me out to sea. I can still feel his two large hands holding my one right hand. So I gaze at the delicate fuzz of spring tree branches against the sky as I walk around the assisted living facility to which I am hoping he can move when, in his words, "the white cells win."

What is a yoga practice? I find my center, my core self, sitting on the Amtrak train speeding from New York to Washington to New York to Washington. I breathe into that three-dimensional space where all three of his chest tubes are draining away the mess that ought not be there. I walk up the stairs to my 4th floor apartment, grateful that my sprained ankle is recovered enough, knowing that each step I take is a practice in letting go of expectations and outcomes; that each breath is truly the gift of presence, in this moment is the fullness and freedom of my life.

There are so many of us on the path. The footprints fit my feet perfectly no matter which way I turn. I feel graced by each and every one of you. I will return your gaze even when I have no eyes with which to see.