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.