Sunday, June 17, 2012

I Know the Truth

There was a derelict shed behind the forgotten house where my grandfather kept his old tractor. He used the tractor for plowing his acre-size garden, his pride and joy, his reason for living and the only thing left of his family's inheritance. At 5 years old, I remember stepping into the old shed, my eyes adjusting to the dark as I breathed shallowly the imposing scent of gasoline and dirt which seemed to me the very smell of time itself. I remember the old timbers holding that place together, the collection of old Utah license plates hanging on the far wall, a chopping stump with an axe embedded permanently within, like the sword in the stone for a kid. Along the far eastern wall was a sloping pile of silky black coal, chunks the size of misshapen grapefruits, coal that had been forgotten several decades ago when my great-grandparents died and with them died the need for fueling their coal burning furnace and oven. Mostly, I remember sitting on top of that tractor in its wide seat, looking over to see the enormous rear tires dwarfing the small front ones. I remember trying to reach the clutch gas and pedal with my short legs and handling the stick. The top of the gear shifter was decorated with a black skull. Now, the memory of it tells me that we are all dust. "Go ahead," it seemed to say. "Plant, sow, till. But one day you too will be planted in this earth and that is the simple hard truth, as sure as there is earth to till." And knowing this, like everyone else, I try to make meaning of the relatively small time I enjoy walking on top of this earth instead of being buried beneath it. The poet Maria Tsvetayeva speaks to this perfectly when she says in her poem: I know the truth - give up all other truths! No need for people anywhere on earth to struggle. Look - it is evening, look, it is nearly night: what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals? The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew, the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet. And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we who never let each other sleep above it. When I read the first line "I know the truth - give up all other truths!" my mind snaps to attention. What monumental truth has she discovered and needs to tell me? To me, she's asking the human race to stop struggling and look at the beauty of the world, the night, and of course the oncoming dusk of our own lives. She says, take a look at the world around us and see how we are all part of the big picture. Written in a time in Soviet history when poets were persecuted and killed, Maria Tsvetayeva makes a beautiful inclusion of the generals, the very people who sought to eliminate poets, "what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals?" and by so doing, speaks to the bigger truth, even beyond the threat of her own death, that we are all people, subject to the same fate, "And soon all of us will sleep under the earth . . . . " By pointing to the fact that, "all of us will sleep under the earth, we/ who never let each other sleep above it", she uses her voice as a poet, an oracle, to illuminate the futility of struggling with each other when we will all eventually experience the same fate. This is not a message of doom and gloom. It's a wake-up call to practice being in the here and now and to look beyond dogma and idealism and search for the divine humanity in everyone including "lovers, poets, generals." I'm sure all of us fit into one if not all three of those categories. What does it mean to be human and how do we truly appreciate another day in the sun? From Sun salutations to corpse pose, in yoga we get to practice being human. We practice the vicissitudes of living, the ups and downs, the tension release, the struggles and joys. Perhaps mostly we practice paying attention before the sun has set and it is too late. And by practicing, my hope is that we find something within us, something deep down that we can call real, something that we find to be fundamentally beautiful and good. Finding this within, even to a small degree, may we look around and find the same quality in everything else, particularly those people around us, family, loved ones, strangers. May we, through practicing yoga and therefore better understanding ourselves, see the beauty, majesty and miracle of everything. Perhaps this is the true meaning of what it is to see. Scott

Sunday, June 10, 2012

No Shirt. No Shoes. No Problem!

In Kaua'i, there is a feeling that permeates the island, inborn to the locals and infectious to its visitors. For me the feeling can be summed up in a simple motto: No Shirt. No Shoes. No Problem. The island spirit seems to welcome all people to come as they are, whether they are bronzed beach bums or uptight tourists. I'd like to adopt some of this aloha spirit in our yoga culture. Yoga is about getting to know yourself and the world around you by practicing awareness. It's about willing to refine yourself through the transformational heat of the practice (any change, even gentle change, is refining). It's about practicing surrender and submitting to a force larger than yourself. All of this can be done from whatever place you find yourself in life. Whether you're fit or fat, got a tight butt or just tight hamstrings, stressed out or blissed out, there's a place for you in yoga. Whether you feel like you're falling apart or feel like the world is rolling your way, whether you're going through your daily ho-hum, or major changes are stretching your life, whether you're a soccer mom, a corporate bigwig, or a total wide-eyed beginner, yoga's for you. Whether it's advanced asana practice or meditation or restorative yoga, there's a practice for you. Besides, yoga class seems to be one of those few places not proximal to the beach that can also boast the motto: No Shirt. No Shoes. No Problem. I'm back. I'll see you in class!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Meet Me at the Crossroads

The crossroads is a magical place. It’s the place where the ethereal, spiritual, and philosophical meets the physical, real, and practical. Where these two roads intersect is the holy ground of transformation, it’s the place where we have to drop our one-track thinking and see the many roads. Practicing yoga means to be at the crossroads. One legend of the Crossroads involves the King of the Blues, Robert Johnson. It is said that one night, deep in the South, the Delta, Robert Johnson left home and as the clock struck midnight, he found himself standing at the intersection between here and there, now and then, this way and that way. There he found the Devil who showed him what was possible with a guitar and told him he would never amount to anything unless he sold his soul in exchange for learning how to play the guitar like nobody’s business. Robert Johnson weighed his options and cashed in his soul (or maybe found it) by making the deal with the devil. He threw his guitar over his shoulder and walked down the road to there, possibility, and everything, giving up on the roads from there, safe comfortable, and the predictable. As he strutted down the road he said to the Devil, “I am the blues.” These crossroads don’t only involve the devil and the blues. Crossroads exist all over the place, wherever the other world meets this one, wherever the spirit world meets the physical one. Places like churches, temples, and holy sites. Your yoga mat is a crossroads. It’s like a tabernacle, what ancient people used as a traveling temple. Your yoga mat is the traveling temple where spirit and body meet to show you what’s possible inside of you. And yes, I’ve meet the devil there before. I’ve seen him in sitting on my tight hip in kapatasana, pigeon pose; on my steel hamstrings in hanumanasana, the splits pose; and I’ve seen him doing a victory dance on my quivering raised leg in that damned standing splits pose. I’ve come face to face with my physical limitations, yes, but also with my own neurosis, my deepest fears, self-limiting thoughts, and deep, deep wells of grief. I’ve seen that everything is linked to everything else. I’ve meet the divine on my mat as well. I see regular joy in handstands, pleasure and peace in savasana, fun in transitions, and possibilities in postures. I get regular hits of insight, of purpose, and a deep sense of belonging. Most importantly, at the crossroads of where physical meets spiritual, I get regular glimpses of the real who and what I am. Robert Johnson sold his soul, meaning he gave up the simple, na├»ve way of seeing the world for a richer, more comprehensive and real view of the world. And for us to experience the larger view of ourselves we have to give up something. I believe instead of selling our soul, we sell the armor that protects us from experiencing only the good, the simple, and the happy. I believe that sometimes we must walk down the roads of grief, struggle, and pain to see how immensely beautiful life is. It’s the larger view. It’s the view of heaven and it will cost you your life. At least, the way you’ve been living it before now. And you can never go back. But in the end after seeing what’s possible, would you want to? This week, meet me at the crossroads. Meet me at Prana on your yoga mat and explore that place where heaven meets earth.