I am seated at the dining room table of friends in Boulder, Colorado. It is a perfect Sunday summer morning. My coffee on my left, a vase of home-grown sunflowers in front of me and a sleeping kitty cat on my right.
I see my husband through the window. He sits outside on the patio, enjoying the New York Times and his breakfast. This much-anticipated vacation makes us happy to be alive.
This is perfection.
It’s easy to embrace life on these terms.
But how can I love life this much when I’m back at home? Back at home with the ringing phones and the toilets to be cleaned and the air-conditioner that breaks and the bills that need paying? And the parents who are aging?
When in doubt, I turn to writings by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron. The luxury of vacation allows much time for reading and reflection. When I stumbled upon this excerpt from Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart,” I recalled a time not too long ago when things were falling apart for me.
It’s only been a couple of years. It seems like forever-ago, yet just yesterday.
I failed at something I wanted so earnestly. And the next day I lay in bed with a box of tissues and Chodron’s book. At the time she was the only one who could reach me. I felt held and encouraged by her words.
Today, miles away from that dark time and place of a few years ago, Chodron’s book gets me again. Things are not falling apart, yet I am once again uplifted and touched by these words.
May they reach you wherever you find yourself today.
Oh, would that it were!
Oh, would that it were!
My mind is prolific and with an inexhaustible vocabulary. When I lie down to sleep at night, motionless, thoughts flow from one to the next and the next and the next…ad infinitum. A seamless dance of idea upon thought, venturing into the future, and visiting the past. I finally fall asleep for dreams, pictures, and stories. Busy mind.
My body, however, gets stuck in inertia. It leans toward lethargy and likes its movements draggy and slow.
How to slow down the mental chatter and bring some lightness to my arms and legs? How to activate the body so that it moves as freely as flowing thought?
I start on my yoga mat. I have made an appointment with myself for daily practice. Oh, the mind is willing but the flesh is oh so weak. Coffee calls. So does the crossword puzzle. And the cat who meows for a stroke or a pat. I could skip yoga today; I’ve got work to do.
No, this is the time set aside for asana (physical) practice. I stay on the mat. I do, however, allow myself the luxury of lying down.
I often start my practice lying down because if I plan to do super-active standing poses right away, I procrastinate and rebel. My mind has strategies to coax my body into doing something.
I start on my back, feeling the ground under me. I bring knee to chest and hold the leg. I exhale my breath and wait for inhalation to come.
My mind wanders again to the 10,000 things I could be doing instead. Watering the plants. Returning phone calls. I switch legs and breathe in and breathe out.
I straighten my leg and feel the sting of the initial stretch. I let my leg down a bit so the stretch morphs into something like an interesting sensation. I have known the pain of overexertion and that never works for me.
Okay, i can be here a few more minutes. Switch legs.
My mind and my body catch up to each other for just a brief moment when I wonder how I might lengthen my hamstring muscles and relax my hip at the same time. A deep breath comes. This feels good. I keep going.
One leg stretch leads to one good breath. One lying down posture leads to a sitting up posture.
The minutes click by. I stand on my legs. I feel their earthy strength. I am growing taller with each breath.
I am strong, I am relaxed, I am practicing yoga.
My mind flits from this minute on the sticky mat to wondering what I will eat for breakfast and then back again to this moment, this posture, this breath. Then rewinds to last week’s visit with my parents and how we laughed together. Then back to the spreading of my toes and the ease of my exhalation.
This is what it’s like; this yoga practice.
My body struggles to keep up with the mental machinations, and eventually I know it will not be able to. Here, in my 30’s I am still developing its strength and enjoying creating new challenges — standing on my hands or running faster around the lake at the park. At some point the challenge will be to take one step at a time, to climb the stairs or to stay up past 9pm. I know that soon enough my 70’s and 80’s will progress toward a slowing-down.
Matching the nimbleness of the body to the agility of the mind is the challenge for me now, and surely will be the challenge then.
In the meantime, I show up to my mat. I lie down. I breathe in. I move my leg. I breathe out. I bring my body and my mind in sync for one moment. And enjoy just that much
This is what it’s like; this life.