“You cannot perceive beauty but with a serene mind.” — Henry David Thoreau
Six months ago, I began taking yoga classes at a local instructor’s farm. I’d only done one yoga class before in my life, so I was an apprehensive beginner. The instructor and most of the students in this group were of retirement age, however, so the pace was slow and stately. I started going once a week, then twice, as many times as classes were offered there. I began to realize my intention for serenity, a less fearful and anxious state of mind about my body and my future.
During the six months of class, I was also transitioning out of a relationship that I’d been in for the past 10 years. That relationship had begun eight months after I was widowed. My “Monkey Mind” thoughts were often on my insecurities: my aging, appearance, losses, desires, loneliness.
In times of uncertainty, I find myself reverting to the role of the achiever. I begin to compare myself to others and try for perfection, just like I did as a student. I look for the A+ that will define and validate me. This is not a place to take refuge, however. It is a place of internal stress. Letting go of that role and allowing myself to see myself with acceptance and love brings me closer to serenity. I believe that serenity will manifest as good health and inner beauty. Yoga integrates the awareness of breath, movement, mind. Practicing with intention is transformative. Accepting change with serenity is a very beneficial skill for life, as life is always changing.
My instructor put his farm up for sale last week. He and his wife have been there 40 years. I’m not sure how many more classes he will teach, but this morning, I purchased another ten. I intend to keep practicing. And I intend to make big changes in my life soon, too. Still, I believe I can find Serenity, when I am open to it, in every circumstance. That is the position of tadasana, mountain pose. Thank you, Tina, for inviting us to find Serenity.
What a great thing to contemplate: scale. How overwhelming our lives become when our scale references are distorted! For example, how imposing our thoughts can seem on the landscape of our lives. My daughter gave me an illustration of this: imagine someone holding a large book in front of your face and asking you what you saw. You’d see the book and maybe a bit of the room from your peripheral vision. Now, if you moved the book to one side, you’d still see the book, but you’d also see more of the room. It’s hard to make thoughts go away, but you can take them out of the forefront. That’s what meditation is about — being aware of your thoughts, but not letting them dominate your view. We make so many mountains out of mole hills in this culture. There is so much OMG; like MSG, it can make us feel lousy. Media hyper-activity and fear-mongering is like that, I think. We need to dial down the lens, deflate our egos, maintain a humble perspective. We are one leaf on a vast and robust tree of life. We are beautiful; the tree is beautiful. We are not greater than or less than the rest.
Possessing a human brain is no picnic. The cumbersome chunk of gray matter is quite the dictator. It wants to know: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? It shines the light in our eyes, makes us squint and squirm until we come up with an answer. And “I don’t know” won’t appease its inquisition. Somewhere in our distant evolutionary history, this dictatorship must have presented some advantage to survival. Possibly it pressed us to a more efficient way to find food or use tools or attract a desirable mate. When the interrogation continues after it has served its immediate purpose, it becomes rather annoying and can create anxiety, frustration, torment and suffering. Think of a 4-year-old asking “Why?” to every explanation offered. It never ends. When you shout back, “I DON’T KNOW!” do you feel you’ve failed and slink off to ponder your existence? (For a good example of this “insane deconstruction” peppered with ‘adult language’, check outcomedian Louis C.K. in this clip.)
Humor aside, the suffering is universal. We have all lived the anguish of a mystery at some point. As I write this, I am thinking of all the people whose loved ones disappeared on the Malaysian jet that has been missing for 11 days. Unanswered and unanswerable questions must plague them. The few photos of their grief that I’ve seen are hard to bear. Add to that circle connected to those 239 people all of the families of military personnel MIA throughout history, all of the families of travelers to foreign countries in unstable political climates who never returned, all of the parents of children abducted and gone without a trace. The stories of devastation are heart-breaking and inevitable. The common denominator is The Great Mystery – Death. Ironically, it is the most mundane mystery as well. We will all be touched by it, every one. And we know it. The two deaths that I experienced first hand were not shrouded by any great cloud of darkness. My sister and my husband both died right beside me: my sister in the driver’s seat of a car, my husband in our bed. They were not ‘missing’ by any means. And yet, I will never have the answer to basic questions like, “What were they feeling?” “When exactly did they lose consciousness?” “Was I to blame?”
Mystery is the Truth. We do not know. We delude and comfort our demanding brains in a parade of ideas. When that effort is expended, can we accept and live with Mystery? What does that feel like? How do I do that?
You see, again the questions surface, the never-ending tide of the probing lobe of consciousness. Maybe some day that flow will be replaced by the still, mirrored surface of a quiet mind.
It’s been kind of a crazy week inside my head. Steve admitted to being a little scared of me. It started out on a real high – Valentine’s Day. I was full of positive energy, on my biological upswing, energetic and eager to communicate my passions, my dreams, my optimism. I went face-to-face with Steve’s downswing and asserted my intent not to be the killjoy in his life or the cause for his anxieties. “Go ahead, follow your bliss and don’t worry about explaining it to me! I’d rather come home to a mess in the living room and you deep into an exciting project than be greeted by restrained order and depression.” I went face-to-face with a family issue the next day, emotionally charged and endlessly repercussive, feeling open to multiple possibilities and honestly vulnerable. My karma was kickin’, I thought. My vibes were sure to cause some awesome progress in the near future.
The next day was a Federal holiday, but I was at work at the museum and anticipating starting lessons with a new student directly after my shift. Families with kids home from school opted not to venture out, however, because of a huge snowstorm in the forecast. The staff was dismissed at 2pm because the place was so empty. I drove 2 co-workers home in a complete white-out and was barely able to maneuver my car into the driveway through ankle-deep snow. I decided to cancel my lesson, hoping my new client wouldn’t mind. She never called me back. I began to doubt my decisions.
The next day, I bundled up boxes of books for shipping and headed out the door for work, running a little late in order to get the last package included. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I noticed there was still snow crusted on the windshield wipers. I pulled the door handle to pop out and clear them off, but nothing happened. I thought perhaps the door was frozen. I pushed with my shoulder. Nothing. “I’m trapped!” I phoned Steve in the house. He told me that he had a similar difficulty the night before when he returned from shoveling at his mom’s house. “Just roll down the window and open the door from the outside,” he suggested. The window is frozen. I finally squeeze my way out the passenger door into a snow pile and meet Steve in the driveway. “When? Why? What do I do?” I’m late to work, and I don’t know if my window will thaw in time to let me collect a ticket and enter the parking garage without parking the car and climbing out the other side. What if the gate closes on me? And I REALLY have to pee! I arrive at work late, flustered and cramped. I wonder why Steve didn’t mention this door issue to help me prepare. Is this a small fire? Why am I feeling angry and unsettled? We talk at dinner, and I tell him my plan to slow down, breathe and concentrate on my bliss the next day.
My shift starts slowly, sun streaming through the windows, small family groups perusing the museum. Suddenly, the school groups arrive. I will be calm and proactive. I will greet them all and give them information and safety rules and smile. But they’re arriving one on top of another, and not listening to me! I whirl around and lunge at a girl going head first down the ladder and drive my knee into the boards of the ship. Ouch! Can’t think about that now, I’m still talking to this other group…and I realize I’m talking so fast that I can’t breathe. My chest is constricting. Asthma? Heart attack? No, you’re still talking. Stop talking and take a breath, you fool!
I am panicked. I am going way too fast. Where is my Willy Wonka detachment? “Stop, don’t, come back…” I am addicted to my thoughts (as Eckhardt Tolle would say), to my ego, to my responsibility, and it’s causing me to suffer. I need to let go and get grounded once more. My knee throbs. I can’t walk. I must slow down now. I have no other option.
I had my first lesson with another new voice student last night. It went very well. I rang the wrong doorbell initially; I don’t think it hurt my client’s first impression too much. Steve and I had planned to go to Madison to take a class at the arboretum this morning, but with a “wintry mix” of snow, sleet, and rain on the roads, we decided to stay home. Initially, this was one more disappointment in my Manic to Panic downfall, but it dawned on me that I could choose to look at it as an opportunity. An opportunity to really slow down. To sink. Like the Titanic.
It’s a very real, natural environment down here. Nothing is “good”, “bad”, “successful” or “progressive” among the fish. It simply is. Things happen. Fish eat fish, waves come and go, and any drama is simply in my head. I meditate on plankton, sucking in and gushing out, enriched by the flow, going along. I’m staying here for a while. I’ll let you know when (and if) I surface.