Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Remember it's a Practice

It's the Equinox, the earth poised between seasons, the pause between breaths, winter and spring, darkness and light.  I'm paused too, well, pretending to be.  Pretending it's possible.  It's 11 pm on my last night in Hawaii.  Craig's asleep, and I should be too, but I can't bring myself to end the day yet.  Weeks of pining for home in Alaska, and today I found myself digging my heels in against the flow of hours, the track of the sun across the sky, and now, the track of Jupiter and Venus, the bright planets that have been companions this last two weeks.  Back when I used to do orca research from a field camp on an island in Prince William Sound, I'd have a day like this:  the day before leaving the Sound, and I'd be at Whale Camp packing up the wall tent home I'd occupied for four months.  I remember the sensation that the tide had just stopped.  All day, the water would seem to stay at the same level, the sun would barely move.  Only I'd be moving, laying the wall tent out on the beach to dry, packing up kitchen supplies and storing them in the cache, and then, when it did get dark, lying on the beach in my sleeping bag, listening to waves lick the shoreline, and night birds, oystercatchers, gulls, maybe an otter crunching on a clam.  Days like that exist in a kind of eternal present tense; you remember them forever because you slowed the moments down and they imprinted themselves in your brain, in your heart.

That's why I'm lying in the hammock on the deck in the dark writing this, even though little moths are landing all over my bare legs.  I'm trying to eke a few more moments out of this day, stretch it a bit longer.  I'm listening to the churn of waves below the cliffs, the night insects, an occasional gecko clacking in the eaves, and one humpback whale breaching.

Earlier this evening, it was my last yoga class at the little studio in Kapaau, with my yoga sanga, people I barely know outside that time and space, but feel close to nonetheless, sharing a practice, each in our own bodies and breaths, and yet side-by-side.  At the end of each class, after corpse pose meditation, my friend Bobby, the instructor, asks us to find a comfortable seated position, keeping our eyes closed.  Tonight, facing Kohala Mountain, we did what we do each class ending.  Bobby said, "Now let's take three more even breaths together."  And then the sound of the inhale, the pause, and the sound of the exhale, the pause.  I love that moment.  I inhabit every increment.  But it comes to a close, no matter how present I am.  "Move with your own breath; don't follow your neighbor; we're not a dance troupe," Bobby often says during class, but in those three breaths we finally come together, and then it's "thank you for coming, namaste," and we're separate again, rolling up our mats.  Another thing he says a lot:  "Remember it's a practice."  And "You're stronger than you think you are."  We walk out into the night, into the continuous yoga of living.

I wrote in the last post about worry, and it's still on my mind.  Because it's a practice; one moment of insight's followed by another moment of bafflement.  Lying in corpse pose tonight, I practiced letting go of worry in the manner my counselor suggested.  Turning it over to spirit, whatever it is, those worries about things largely out of my control.  I'm a nervous flyer, and tomorrow, Craig and I are doing a lot of flying, and so lying there, I imagined turning it over, my fear; no matter how anxious I am when I walk on the airplane, once I'm aboard, it's out of my hands, and for just a moment, I experienced the most intense release,  the sensation of what it means to totally let go, put it in the hands of god, fate, spirit, whatever -- and to simply exist.  Like being one of Craig's kids, when they were little.  How they'd fall asleep anywhere, sitting up in cars, lying on airport floors, with a kind of faith I can't fathom.  Trusting utterly that they'd be carried along, taken care of.  It doesn't come naturally to me, the way it does to some of my friends who say when they get on an airplane, they realize they've relinquished all control over what will happen; they're in fate's hands, so they just relax into it.  And cancer is an even bigger challenge.  After all the vitamins, and Arimidex, and exercise, and anti-cancer diet, and yoga, and meditation, and no alcohol, and no scented cleaning products, and no sugar, and no dairy or meat, and now, fewer sunflower seeds (they have cadmium), it's out of my hands.  I don't have control, whether cancer will return.  For a moment, in corpse pose, I experienced what it would feel like to live that way.

It reminded me of something -- a momentary feeling from earlier in the day.  Sitting in front of my altar, doing my daily mediation, which now includes writing my worries on little scraps of paper, putting the papers in a bowl, and later burning the scraps, I decided to pick an Osho Zen card at random, wanting some sense of this next phase of my life.  "Inner Voice" was the card I picked.  The last paragraph of the text about this card said this:  "When you are cured, you throw away the meditation, you throw away the medicine.  Then you live as truth -- alive, radiant, contented, blissful, a song unto yourself."  For a split second, when I read those words "When you are cured," I fully believed them.  Breast cancer people say you must live "as if."  

As if the Equinox will go on and on, if I take one even breath after another.  If I don't let a single wave or breath go unheard, uncounted.  Radiant, contented, blissful, a song unto itself, played out over a day stretched to its breaking point, and yet, it is now 11:25, and in 35 minutes, it will be tomorrow.  And another day to practice.

And now, let's take three more even breaths together.

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