Find Me In the Bardo

I am sick; stricken completely dumb with laryngitis and not at my best. I’m certainly not meant to be teaching a yoga class, that’s for sure. If you wonder how important a teacher’s words are to her craft try taking yoga from a mime. It’s not that satisfying.

But it’s Christmas week and near impossible to get a last minute sub and besides, I’m teaching at the facility whose parking lot was the target of my vandalized car and since no one has offered to help me pay for the damage, I’m working overtime.

My joints feel poisonous and I make the mistake of not giving a shit that I’ve chosen a play list that is completely horrendous. I have no idea how I have this on my I-pod but it says Holiday and Spirit and Jai Uttal is singing something Adonai and that’s the best of it. My body wants a couch and this music will not inspire the rush of endorphins that I’ve relied on in times of inertia and bad attitude past to make me powerful beyond this body. It’s fair to say that in this moment, the once renowned rebel yogi who could move an auditorium of students by example has lost her groove. And I suspect it’s more than this passing illness. Or is it?

“We do not see things as they are.

We see them as we are.” ~ The Talmud


The bardo is a Buddhist term for the place between lives that Christians might equate with Purgatory or Limbo. Depending on how you’ve managed your life, you might spill from the bardo toward the light or you might not. It is a purification ground and can be a painful process. One thing is for sure, you aren’t in Kansas anymore. And you might not immediately recognize that you’ve left.

There is a point in life in which you realize you are not the person you always knew. It seems like it happens overnight but it doesn’t. You don’t think the same way. You don’t like or feel the same things. You don’t teach the same way. How did this happen? That’s always the question. The answer is you stayed alive. The answer is you stopped or were stopped to notice what was inevitable. In the stopping comes the temporary pain of knowing, the sweet realization that you are more real than ever and the power of choice.

It’s the bardo time of the year though we have just passed the darkest day. We barely notice under the glare of holiday lights. We make a purposeful choice as a community to herald the darkness by laughing at death on Halloween and later hoping for life with the Christmas messiah and Hanukkah’s message of eternal light. Too busy to notice the boogeyman, we are uncomfortably comfortable in an accelerated life that does not allow for time off anyway. We run through and from the darkness. It is our nature to be afraid of anything as still and dark as death. The year begins with bold declarations and resolutions that come less from stillness than the ceaseless adrenal rush of hope and denial.

Still, transitions happen. Bridges to somewhere else abound. It’s not just an age thing but the many cycles of a life. But what might seem less profound in younger years is undeniable when no longer camouflaged by youth’s intensity.

Sickness stops us when all us fails but I am not it’s servant and in 25 teaching years have only one memory of stopping for one day for illness. I pride myself on racing through the bardo of viral war, wielding my sword of energy born of yoga, dance, chi gung, plant medicine and defiance. It has worked to pull me quickly from the abyss without a blip.

Now dumbstruck with the viral beast I’ve still ploughed on in surety that ignoring it will dispel it but laying limp on the couch follows every effort. Still with every burst of renewed energy, I’ve driven myself forward like this foolish rhododendron in my garden that has been sneaking forth blooms with every thaw since the first frost, well before her time. No wonder her flowers are frostbit and limp. Can I not see how alike I am?

If ever nature screamed: SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP, it is now but I declare, I AM NATURE TOO AND I WILL DECIDE WHAT IS NATURAL FOR ME!

I spent years unaware in the bardo expecting the same students, the same appreciation. When old students reappear decades later, I am sure I will fail them now. I will not be giving that exact thing they loved, like that favorite food they remember from their mother. I have changed and that might disappoint.

No fan of marketing, I would not reinvent myself by anything other than the quiet way I have done it but still, when students ask if I will teach my old dance class or talk about me, in front of me, as the teacher who did this and that, I feel a bit un- tethered. I have run ceaselessly to avoid the darkness and for all of that, must deal with the bardo as I can say with surety that I have long been its guest.

Is this too melancholy for this joyous time of year? No, it is perfect timing. This purification is not really painful but wistful and I think done for now. Anyway, I’m a mournful poet. Sorrow is just so beautiful. And hope is the unseen side of sorrow.

If you are looking for your old teacher, come find her in the bardo. She’s on her way out.



Filed under American culture, Buddhism, metaphsyics, nature, new age enlightenment, social commentary, yoga, yoga and blogging, yoga and religion, yoga practice, yoga teaching, yoga wisdom

10 responses to “Find Me In the Bardo

  1. rhlindsay

    Wow — I really enjoyed this. I appreciate your honesty!


    Rob Lindsay


  2. I am deaf. All yoga is mime yoga, and I never care about the play list. I’m sure your students appreciate that you struggle and evolve in your practice, just like they do.

    • Thank you for the call to awareness. In truth, I found teaching by example a joy at one time. I have had some injuries that profoundly affect my gracefulness and so I am self conscious now where I once knew grace best when I moved. I chose not to mention it here but it has finished a chapter in my life that I miss. I am glad that you were able to find your own yoga by visual example. I am not surprised. Some teachers can translate thought with movement better than others. I’ll bet you were lucky to find someone whose yoga was beyond words.

  3. Dear Hilary,
    I feel you sister. This coming Wednesday will be the 6-week mark – 40 days – after knee ACL reconstruction with my own patella tendon and meniscus surgery. It marks the magic day when my surgeon says I can start walking again. Read please: get off the freaking crutches! Hallelujah because the Bardo of actually wanting to walk and get mobile again was much harder then the first week of being spaced put on painkillers, and the second week of just wanting to sleep because of weakness (and maybe the edibles to help me sleep). I have to say weeks 3-6 were harder because my energy was coming back and the knee is getting stronger and actually able to move a little despite a full leg brace. Thank the angels for inversions! I have been doing my PT (personal torture) exercises religiously (so boring and not fulfilling) but the relief from 20-30 minutes inverted is a whole other dimension that is saving my sanity. Here is my practice: rope dog, Uttanasana, Sirsasana, supported backbend over a chair, then Sarvangasana, and Ardha Halasana, with legs in Viparita Karani for Savasana. It almost leave me in tears of Santosa (contentment and gratitude). Remembering I am not my body, my personality, my ego, my whatever, has also been humbling for when your get knocked off your legs, you start looking for something inside yourself more meaningful, i.e. the soul.

    • Hey Friend
      I’ll bet you didn’t remember that I called you when you came out of surgery. I must try you again. It’s impossible that this much time has gone by.
      I don’t know about finding my soul as much as losing my mind but on the other hand I think I’ve made the final few inches on that long jump from 40.
      (Hmmm, another 40. That wasn’t intentional.)
      I can relate to that twitchy need to move claustrophobia although it’s been changing for awhile now. Where I once had to get out and walk or throw down a pose or two, I’m less inclined to care. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
      It’s good of you to visit me here. Thank you.

  4. I’m going to tell you some things you already know, Nashville: The body doesn’t bounce back like it did when it was young. Trying to deny that circumstance leads to frustration. And… At some point the butt-kickin, gunslinging, leave’em puking in their sweat, rebel yogini becomes an elder. The elder has new lessons to teach and works at a different level. The world needs this, desperately. Always has. Love you, Hilary. Happy New Year.

    • Happy New Year to you too you sweet sage,
      Yes, I’ve had my ass kicked. The good news is that I’ve noticed and awhile back I started a class I call Seasoned Warriors for yogis who’ve had time in their bodies and time on this planet. It’s an under-served population ~ I keep hearing folks say they go to flow classes because that’s all there is and they don’t like them. I’m wondering how to tell that population that I’m here. That’s the hard part. I feel like I’m stuck in some Middle- earth of Nashville yoga ~ a place from a time that is not mine. It’s rather surreal. Love you Bharat and thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s