Saturday, September 5, 2009

Running in the Light of Darkness

A few years ago, I was with my wife, Celeste, and our friend Ben spending an afternoon in the paradoxical desert of the Great Salt lake. The texture of the sand, crusted with salt, weather, and time is a sensational feast for bare feat. We played a game: in this extremely barren , extremely flat land, we decided to close our eyes and run blindly at full speed in any direction for 100 paces. Eager for the adventure, we closed our eyes and shouted, "GO!" I bolted into the darkness of the afternoon sun. My other senses came alive. I could smell the mud, the salt, the sulfur, the decaying brine. I felt the texture of crusty-soft sand beneath my feet as they beat across the surface of the desert. I could hear my companions several paces from me, their feet slapping the sand, laughing and panting.

Then a thought entered into my head, "Hadn't I seen some ominous-looking spikes sticking out of the sand? I would reallyprefer not to impale my foot on one of those." Regardless, I tightened my closed eyes, quikcened my pace, and began to laugh, wild with wonder and worry. " . . .53, 54, 55 . . . " My paces were whizzing by but the thought of stepping blindly onto something sharp had almost put me into a panic. " . . .71, 72, 73 . . . " I could no longer hear my fellow runners and wondered if I'd veered wildly off-course. " . . .83,84,85 . . ." Still running with only fifteen paces to go, I desperately wanted to stop and open my eyes. Instead, I let out all the stops, opened my running to as fast as I could, and sprinted madly in any direction, no direction, the only direction--forward. From deep in my gut came a raw and uncontrolled cream of anticipation and fear and fun. ". . .98,99,100!" at which point I dug my feet into the sand and did and immediate halt. I stood there panting then slowly opened up my eyes and looked down at my feet, muddy, unspoiled, unharmed, these feet who willingly had leapt me through space as I ran through the darkeness toward fear, away from fear. After a moment, I looked up and around for any spikes. None. Nothing for miles. What a rush!

An important concept as explained in the Yoga Sutras explores the relationship between perceptions and actions. If our perceptions are incorrect, we'll often find ourselves in difficulty or fear. if we know what creates such problems, it is easier to avoid them. If I knew for sure that there were no obstacles in my path, I'd have had an easy run. These misperceptions are called Avidya. One of the most common misperceptions is called Dvesa, the action of rejecting things because of fear. We have a difficult experience and are afraid of repeating it so we project the effects of the past to try to illuminate the future and end up making our present moment unpleasant. Unfortunately the effects of Dvesa tend to make us reject things that are unfamiliar, even if we have no history with them. Along human history, we've often been afraid of and rejected that which we haven't understood.

Until we are enlightened, it is impossible to avoid all fears, and therefore we have a model to face those that remain with a sense of adventure. I've referenced a few times one of my favorite movies, Wings of Desire (if you haven't seen it, go out and rent it tonight but bring a glass of milk to wash it down--it's rich). In this film, an angel, Damiel, decides he'd prefer to live one life, fully human, sentient, and alive, than an eternity of the colorless, only observational life of an angel. Once mortal, Damiel happens upon another angel-turned-mortal (who, interestingly, is Peter Falk playing himself). Damiel pleas for Falk to tell him everything there is to know about being human, he want's Falk to solve this mystery for him. Peter Falk turns to Damiel and playfully shouts, "No you have to figure it out for yourself. That's the fun of it!" You've got to shut your eyes and run full-out and experience what you are going to experience. Since we can't avoid all fears, to the extent that it is possible, we must somehow learn to see the beauty and adventure in them.

Even in our fears and failings there is amazement and beauty. Poet David Ignetow says, I wish I knew the beauty of leaves falling. To Whom are we beautiful as we go?" He says that even in our failing, there is a part of the Universte that finds us astonishing in that going. In yoga, we explore the relationship between what is personal and what is universal--the Universal inside. Therefore, there is a conrner of your heart that can grant a magnificence to the most difficult of circumstances.

Through yoga and mindfulness, we learn and experience more about our Ture Self, Home, who's opposite is fear and worry. With the remembrance of our True Self, we are less and less persuaded by Dvesa's misperception of fear. Against the backdrop of the magnificence of our True Self, even the smallest understanding of it, many of our fears simply dissolve. And from this courageous plce, we face what fears remain with presence and boldness. We run into the darkenss screaming, laughing, and fully alive.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Wendell Berry


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to write these messages. Seems they always come at just the right moment with just the right message, as needed at the time, for me.


Amy Asay said...

Wow, Scott. Beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Scott everyman,
You have always touched me,
we do run blind into the atmosphere...lets open our eyes and see.
How about having a "yoga-run blindly"
late day at the salt.
I would love that.

Courtney C. said...

Scott - Thank You for your thoughts this week.

Perfect timing for me! I took a class this morning at Centered City that was warm and dark...two things I am often afraid of based on previous experiences.

Early in my MS diagnosis, I had extreme heat sensitivity and balance issues. I would fall over when my eyes were closed, and start losing sensation in my hands and feet when I got too warm.

In the class, eyes were closed for 99% of the class and the room was warm. I looked inward and let go of the fear of falling overheating.

Three years into MS and my body is different and my body is different and today, I let go of the fear and let the energy in class, my breath and my movement show me the way.

Suzanne Lewis, MS, RD, CD said...

I agree with the others. Your posts are truly inspiring and I have often found just the wisdom I needed for this moment on planet Earth! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Great Message Scott. Beginning to practice yoga was a step into the darkness for me. You know my story well. I'm not your typical student from a physical standpoint, I came to yoga much later in life, I was carrying about 1000 pounbs of emotional baggage (okay maybe this last one isn't that different from others)...But yoga was truely a leap into the darkness for me. In the early days when I came to class, my hands would literally shake. Today my hands only shake when my arms are tired from all the upper body work you make me do. For that one magic moment three years ago, I was able to put aside my fears and walk up those steps into the studio and my life was transformed.


Celeste said...

Thank you, everyone, for your beautiful sharing with all of us on here, and being willing to close your eyes in the desert and run into the darkness. Here we go....!

Scott and Celeste

Brooke said...

Scott, miss you on Tuesdays and Thursdays :(, but hoping your enjoying your new adventure! Anytime I do something new that I'm fearful about, I just tell myself to be okay in my uncomfortable state. Doing this allows me to experience things just as there happening. In doing this I'm able to work through whatever it is in a nice and easy way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Scott. Words I needed to hear today. I am going through chemotherapy right now and I am trying to stay open to the fear of not knowing and opening up even more to this messy, unpredictable, joyful and mysterious adventure we call life. I'll be checking out that movie!

Annie Gam said...

Scott, yes, thank you for these messages as they really do parallel what is going on at the moment. I am preparing to move across country after living here in UT for 25 years. So, after making the decision, which was a lengthy and difficult process for me, things just began to fall into place. I still have those moments of doubt, like wondering if I will run into one of those spikes, but I continue on and each day brings me a step ahead and my heart is calmer and my soul is reaching higher. I had a moment today where I found myself smiling at these action I am performing, almost without thought now, and I smiled because I feel "in the Game" and it is joyful, exciting, and incredibly freeing.