Just beyond my house the city has repainted the quiet road that washed out in last year’s flood; a double yellow line down the middle and the edges marked in white. Without those borders the road had appeared open and included the woods to each side. Why does this secluded neighborhood road need so much definition? I find it oppressive. On the other hand, the main road along this neighborhood, Franklin Road, is one of the most spacious roads in Nashville. The interstate is a bit further south and the popular choice for a speedy path so the road by me is less traveled than many. Wider than most, emptier than most, this road claims a life every few months. We cannot understand the cars that veer across such open and easy to navigate space to smash into a neighbor’s wall or the guard rail that marks the edges of a sheer drop to the interstate. This expansive road was Civil War territory. We think it must be haunted.
Or does Franklin Road prove that it’s not easy to tune in to empty space? It’s hard to pay attention. We drift in the expanse. We create order in the form of rules, yellow lines, fines and warnings to force attention. We do the same in yoga.
In yoga we flood the senses with light to find ourselves. From there we can proceed to wisely dissolve the limitation of perceived boundaries between ourselves and the world. Focus comes first. See yourself. Then choose what to let in or what to let go because drifting is just a game of luck.
I have a son who is a musician but doesn’t want to go to school for music, doesn’t want to play anything other than what he feels like playing and doesn’t reign in his focus enough to finish a composition. He’s totally undisciplined. He’s completely free. I told my composer friend Chris that I thought my son would do well with some parameters despite his aversion to restraint.
Stravinsky thought the same thing, said Chris, who described Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve- tone technique which Stravinsky claimed gave him the parameters to find more freedom and depth in his compositions. The technique orders the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, forming a series which provides a unifying basis for a composition’s melody, harmony, structural progressions and variations. The composer has to work within that 12 note series.
Schoenberg’s technique came to mind in a recent class at the University. I asked about injuries and requests, as I always do there, but they asked me to do whatever I wanted and then laughed because they know when they go with my flow it can be a wild ride. But I wanted an unambiguous job. It often makes teaching easier and I like to solve problems. It also offers the students a comprehensible learning experience. I remembered the lesson Stravinsky learned from Schoenberg.
Postures were ordered in wide brush stroke instruction and compared to the same postures again using detailed and specific instruction in architecture and clues for observation. The lesson revealed that it’s not easy to see without relationship. Postures without parameters create a vague sense of density and resistance while parameters reveal space. Once form was defined in terms of bone breath and muscle, the student could strip away what wasn’t necessary for the pose.
Strip away layers and what is left may seem small at first but this is the flow. The imagination creates the parameters inviting muscle to bone and bone to breathe in the waters of the soft tissue which expose a floating nervous system. The water is deep. There would be no depth without banks. Parameters create the banks. One must know when it’s safe and time to let the banks overflow.
Chris recognizes that the six Emmys sitting on his mantel reflect a time gone by. He was a prodigy in his field and knew both fame and fortune. His business has shifted and he’s barely skipped a beat reinventing himself with a new line of work. You must define yourself on the internet, he insists, because there are no filters anymore. There was a time you had to be accomplished and respected and vetted to get work. People knew who you were and that mattered. He says that now anyone who owns equipment and can get a job done cheaply is acceptable. It’s an open field and you have to throw your net far to make a living. Get on the web and let them know who you are and what you have to offer and be clear about it.
I hear the word “Web” and I think trapped. I picture a gigantic symbiotic culture of single celled creatures. I picture whole cities of Chinese assembly workers devoted to making mattresses or socks. I picture us like stamina seeking specks clinging to the speeding bullet train of a web world as it hurls into the abyss.
I resist definition. I am not a planner either. I am my son. I like improvisation in my teaching and spontaneity in my life. I’ve driven friends and family crazy with frustration but I persevere. I argue with Chris who has no problem sitting at a keyboard for 15 hours a day navigating the universe and creating useful programs while his wife slides meals under his door. Has the untitled yoga teacher gone the way of the country doctor! Must I be a specialist or have a shtick? And by the way why does it seem like all the doctors I know are specialists but don’t know how to treat a cold or a cut? I balk at the idea of delineation. I feel as containable as mercury.
I like my yoga metaphors as life to make sense. Also, I notice that all my disagreeing makes me disagreeable and no one likes that so I consider that with greater definition there is opportunity for great depth in yoga and yoga is practice for life. I have to allow that on the open road of an international world the double yellow line and white borders may not only help us to stay on track but point us out to those whom we’d like to find us. I’m not sure where the road is going but since I’m not a planner I shouldn’t complain. It seems like a circuitous path so I’m paying attention; to me, to us, to the road. I wonder what Schoenberg would say.
It’s not easy to see without relationship.
It’s hard to pay attention.
We drift in the expanse.
Drifting is just a game of luck.
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty – Albert Einstein
Get out the crayon.
Color inside the lines to find yourself.
Redraw the outline so we can find you.
So we can dissolve the lines again.
We yoga teachers enter the arena looking for answers for ourselves. Teaching keeps the dialogue going. I remember a senior teacher telling me that no one had the right to teach before she had completed the eight limbed path herself. (Ironically it seemed that she was stuck in the branches looking for a foothold but…) I remember this as I finish this writing, as I hurl down this open road, a drifter, as I look for metaphor to cling to as I fly through this life, thrown clear. I have no answers; only questions, changing opinion, fury and the desire to be happy. This is no soapbox but another directionless improv, a lesson to consider or throw away. As my husband notes, laughing, you write like the person weaving down Franklin Road. He is quite right. But I’m paying attention so I don’t hit anyone. I see/feel clear and present borders. I leave with a suggestion from one of my favorite guys which is easiest remembered when we take a walk in the natural world.
Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience – Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Published in Elephant Journal)