In this season of silver grass and sharp light I reflect on the shadows that do not reflect but absorb light.
I am a yogi, a yoga teacher, a teacher of clarity; of awareness sustained, of purpose defined and attitude checked.
Yoga teacher: One who shines light?
Light shone at light makes a blind spot. There assumption may ripen. Shine light at darkness to reveal what was not there before.
Embrace the yogi who points to the darkness. Do not tell her about the poverty of negative thinking or that her vision reflects her soul. She calls attention to the unattended which even if born of light is not always bathed in it but sometimes hidden in shadow.
And what will I, the yoga teacher, shedder of light, do with my own awareness?
Will I find happiness or comfort? Will I be better off?
As the day dawns on another threat of a government shutdown I ponder the little project I just signed on for; teaching a tiny segment at an event to bring yoga to the warring tribes of Africa. The video that persuaded me to participate indicates that yoga has had a positive effect on a few thousand people and the hope is that it will enhance the opportunity for peace. I see no harm in it but I wonder at yoga’s effects on our own warring nation. In fact I see that Lululemon seems to have some part in promoting this event, a business known more for the havoc it wreaks than any humanitarian bent. And indeed I am aware that some yoga community politics are in play even here.
The fragmented tear sheet of harmony amongst us is a scrapbook that sits on the shelf of hard covered hard edged, dusty tomes that set the tone of both our doing and undoing despite our best intentions. Still, we cannot stop doing. It is what we are.
That is why yoga has begun an evolution as a social service for the at risk and less fortunate who are more than the churches can handle, more than the families can handle while the government; an overwhelmed, ungainly lumbering beast rumbles through the mist trampling delicate underlings in its myopia. It is a noble thing to help others find peace.
Here’s a news clip that shows a line of very overweight people waiting for free food boxes. The correspondent reveals “all sorts of things to keep a family going: donuts, pancake mix, white rice, pasta, commercial peanut butter and mayonnaise”.
We are unevenly informed even if we share a heart. Our perceptions are different even when we are evenly informed. We are a diverse, disparate people. We will not storm the gates together. Our greatest cohesiveness is majority vote. Cohesion is a patchwork quilt of mismatched swatches.
If awareness is turned inward so that we might discern what to let in and what not to let in, will the world wait for us? How many invitations to save the world, how many pleas, invitations, how many e-mails, texts, tutorials will wait as we contemplate? Eyes and ears tuned to beauty, love and light will give respite though we cannot remain there without pause or interruption.
I am teaching a class at Vanderbilt. People are losing their jobs en masse. We share our thoughts about why, when and who. Extending the conversation from the astonishing to the absurd, one of my students evenly says, “My new yoga mat can cause cancer”. The room of scientists, researchers and medical professionals are aghast.
She hands me the cardboard wrapper from the yoga mat bought at Wal-Mart. The label says; this product contains one or more chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.
The mat is named “Lotus”.
I think back to a sign I saw posted outside the walls of the new age/yoga Chopra Center in Carlsbad last month. Chemicals used in this facility have been known to cause cancer, birth defects…….
My cancer causing mat owning student says she was born in the 70’s and purposefully stays there. She lives in the country, listens to old rock and does not watch the news. She describes herself as a woman of faith who keeps her eye and mind on the good words of the good book. She says nothing about returning the cancerous yoga mat she is lying on. She picks the battles she feels she can win.
I asked my students what yoga does for them. I want to know if the work has the desired effect of creating awareness and if heightened senses bring peace or agitation. They tell me that they come to class frazzled and leave refreshed; that yoga helps them manage stress more efficiently for about 24 hours. Then they do it again. I think of a friend who has just confided that she’s taken a pill every day for 10 years to keep her positive. She’s afraid to go off.
We are so aware that we can’t handle all that confronts us. Nothing in this life will let us go back to sleep. Is yoga a break, a temporary fix with a cumulative effect? Perhaps that is enough. But as the yoga teacher, it is not a break but a constant call to awareness that has no filter.
I am driving from one job to another and traffic is not on my side. I finally get around the driver with a handicapped badge on his rear view mirror who drove with infuriating exactitude 10 mph below the speed limit. I have reflexively unwrapped the chocolate bar I’d stashed for the infusion I’ll need three hours from now. It’s still early in the morning.
I look at the old gentleman beside me in his upscale car and careful attire, well groomed hair. I imagine him a native to this once sleepy Southern town; a man who has deep roots while all around him is changing as immigrants like me have changed his home. I imagine him gracious about that, generous in his acknowledgement of the good that has come with the traffic, crime and bad manners.
I see a picture from my childhood; a picture that is a feeling collage more than one image. I am relaxed. Life is good in my 50s middle class world. There is slowness. There is quietude. There are friends and there is time and there is a wide open empty highway in the darkness that two headlights pursue in sureness toward a promising destination. It is gone. Maybe it was never there.
What will I do with this awareness? Will I live like a prisoner making paper dolls? Will I storm the prison walls? Or will I expand my revelation that silver grass in light sharpened by a darkened sky is the field of all of us. I choose always to be reborn by this temporal beauty as the mud beneath and the sky above will shift and shift again.