This morning - New Year's Day - broke cold and crystalline. I walked to the studio before the sun was anywhere near up and watched my breath in the air, listened to the sound of my boots on sub-zero clots of snow and sheets of ice over the pavement, wondered at the great silence of the world that is the space before dawn. The space before anything. It is said, sometimes, that that hour is the best hour in which to do a practice. That the veils between the worlds are thinnest. Or perhaps only that the interruption and blare of everyday life does not have such a purchase on us.
For whatever reason, predawn is given over to those who are suffering, those who are inspired, and those who are watching the spaces between one day and the next.
This morning, I suppose, the space between one year and the next.
I lit a candle and I waited to see: who would show up for this first practice in the new year. What moods and movements they'd bring in the door with them. Weather I should be silly or serious, push for hand stands or take long, deeply introspective holds with our hearts and our bodies near the floor.
I listen to student's breathing, as I start a class. And as I did so this morning I realized I didn't want to say anything much at all. Nor did I get the sense they needed any directive at all. Life its own self - this dawn of a new year, their dedication and ceremony shown in showing up at six in the morning before anything else can happen in their year...all that says more than enough. What I wanted, instead, was to listen to that breathing and to invite them into the wordless spaces as well.
Over the holidays, I was given a singing bowl. I have held it, asked it to sing at the end of a few classes. But today I used the singing bell for the whole entire class. I lead, silently. I demonstrated a pose - nothing new or complex or workshopy, just going back to the beginning and practicing what we already know - the class followed. I let them hold the pose for a deeply long, 20 breath or minute hold, 30 seconds for deep strength or balance poses. Then I'd ring the singing bowl, signaling an end to the pose. I'd demonstrate the next pose, they would follow, and we'd just breathe together until the bowl told us the pose was done.
As I write, now, reflecting, I notice not only the starting of thoughts that end up in typed sentences, but the spaces between the thoughts, the spaces between the words. The spaces give meaning to the confusion and irresolution of everthought and nonsenseword. Thoughts and words mean nothing, go nowhere, without a pause of meaning and understanding.
And I recall the spaces between our poses this morning, and hearing a teacher whisper at one point: healing happens in the pause between the breath. Find the pause between the breath.
Years ago, when I was starting a practice, teachers told me so much about breathing I grew sick of hearing about it. They reminded me to breathe, ad nauseum. Yet I started to realize what they were doing was directing my attention back and back again onto my own self: they were teaching me to find the moment of pause.
The moment before reaction, before automatic thought. The moment before I repeat old habits for the thousandth bloody time or surrender to the self sabotage or negative thought patterns. It was in their directives, in the occasional glimpses I caught of this 'space between' that began to teach me to SEE the patterns I was caught in, as well as to witness how fleeting thoughts and emotions were. It was in that suspension that I started to notice edges - and to notice how teaching others about that edge, that half second of crazy time when all hell is breaking loose, the half second when anger is inhaling an explosion, when fists are raised, when chaos threatens to break apart whatever stability has been patched together during the infrequent moments of calm. The suspension interrupts moments of violence, sadness, boredom, or life as automatic. To break the cycle of despair that gets passed from generation to generation when anger wins and calm is absent. Or the cycles adults put them through, day after day and year after year, when we know longer remember what growth and vibrancy and passions are, when we no longer learn, when we can't really say we're still living or what we're living for.
The yogic path is to slow everything down, learn how to breathe attentively, to create space between the breaths.
There was a time, years ago, when I didn't really understand this was possible. Not really. Pay attention to the breath, whatever. Remember to breathe, sure.
I didn't realize there were paths away from eruptive fears and the powerful slipping of time, gone and gone and gone again. One breath at a time, I was taught how to breathe with attentiveness and space.
As we progress through the breadth of what we experience in this moment - the sensations, feelings, thoughts, memories- we are able to help each other sort out the chaos, and see within the maelstroms places to hold fast. From those new vantage points, we see paths away from the anger and towards peace; paths away from judgment and towards acceptance; paths away from fear and towards Love.
We breath and find the healing between one breath and the next, the ceremony between one day and the next. The edge of time between night and dawn. The moments when actual change and reflection are possible.
If you can find the pause between the breath, you can heal. You can learn to enlarge time, find choice, repair old wounds, start whole. You make more space to live in. You enlarge, find meaning, understand.
Without contempalation, without pausing to look, listen, and feel out the meaning of things, without purpose, we get lost. The passing of time is just the passing of time. All we can do is watch.
Contemplation is the lending of purpose, the finding of meaning. The participation in being alive.
It is the space between words that makes things into phases, sentences, understanding. It is the pause of reflection and intention that draws lines and makes sense of things. It is the space beneath the surface of things from which we live.
Under the superficial is the more of life. More love. More energy. More hope. More health. More breath.
If the moving of one year into another means anything to me today, it means that paused breath, the suspiration, the sacred rite of exhale.