On the subject of joy:
When silly things like piles of vegetables, and the bright orange of persimmons, and the dark red of an arkansas black, tickle a part of your brain that says “pleasure” and, being somebody who thinks about everything, you think to yourself that the pleasure was just because of the things you noticed at a single point in time.
Walking through the market, the peculiar sadness in a man’s face strikes me in a certain way and all of a sudden I understand something very important.
But first, to illustrate, a little story: A friend of mine in high school was very interested in Buddhism. Being a very motivated and driven person, she decided that she was going to reach enlightenment before she hit 25. So she started cultivating detachment. Every time she would feel hurt or angry, she would do a half-shake of her head and push a smile onto her face and think “be detached.”
This, of course, wasn’t detachment at all. It was attachment with an invisibility cloak. And as that man’s emotions hit me right in the middle of my body, it occurred to me that you have to go through the eye of the needle to come out the other side.
In other words, it’s nothing to do with not feeling. It’s to do with feeling everything, and still seeing clearly. It’s to do with having the energy to hold all of it at once without it breaking you. And it’s to do with understanding that the universe contains equal amounts of joy and agony, of fear and of anger, and that in the middle of all that turmoil is me. Or you. And how very very different that is to not feeling anything at all, or pretending that ‘it’s all good’ or pretending that that homeless person dying on the street will have a better life next time, or that just because you can do something in that instant, it might not actually be the best thing in the long run. And how sometimes you have to let something be even if it kills you to do so, even if you want to jump in with your strong arms and strong heart and make the whole thing better.
And yes, amid all of that, the sight of a little buddha hand fruit sitting on a table is so beautiful in its simplicity just as the sight of an old man with a wrinkled face sitting behind his stall waiting for customers is so devastating in its complexity. And in the middle of the street, with my cat hat on, is me. Or you.
On the subject of yoga:
Annie Pace was talking a few weeks ago about how some of her students stay on primary forever. This caused an unreasonable amount of fear in my sometimes irrational mind. Maybe I am one of those people. Maybe my hips will never change. Maybe I’ll never have the stamina to make it through the suptas and garbas on the same breath count that the rest of the series comes out in. Maybe I’ll never have the strength to swing my legs back around into bakasana and will always flop around on the mat like a sea creature not in the sea. And I didn’t stop myself from feeling it– in some ways it’s a rational fear, even though I KNOW that’s not the point of the practice. I’ve never once even been deceived into believing that’s the point of the practice. Fear. Of not being enough. Two days later I had resigned myself to the fact that I am not very good at this stuff. And that if I spend my life on primary, at least I’ll be challenged the entire time. And then on Thanksgiving, I was practicing with E for the first time in months. Just like old times, where our mats were next to each other and we’d adjust each other and chat for a minute before backbends. And my arms went through again. And my legs went behind again (hands still a foot apart). And at one point (that point) she looked over and said “Pasasana”. And I looked behind me to double check. And she said “Just have fun with it. It’s really not a big deal.”
And I fell flat on my face. I mean, really flat on my face. Ashtanga can rearrange your nose if you let it.