I spoke, it being thanksgiving, of gratitude. I said it is a particular kind of attention; gratitude is a way of seeing and being in the world. As such, it has nothing to do with circumstances or things. It has to do with us. Gratitude is not an attainment or a thing that happens to us; it is an innate capacity we have, a thing we practice or do not. Like all capacities, it can flourish. It can atrophy. This is the heart of yoga, I said. This is the point. The capacity to stop, shift, and pause at any given moment, in any situation, and touch on the breath. To shunt our attention away from our habit mind into our wider mind and more vulnerable heart.
I did not say this was easy.
It is hard to let go of conditions, blame, coping skills, excuses, competition, entitlement, and control. It is terrifying to let those go and accept, instead and suddenly, that the path has to do with self and reality. It goes right down the line of our sternum to our soft spots. Self responsibility, self mastery, self soothing, self determination, self motivation, self control, self expression, self knowing. Not selfishness - but letting the self break open and seeing what is there.
To linger, attentively, gratefully, in any moment will strip away our arrogance. Those things for which we may be grateful - children, family, safety, food, the age we are and the health we have - show themselves for what they are: conditions, frailties, current expressions of constant change. Little breaths of grace for which we have no real authorship and no end control. They are given us, but might not have been. They are not ours. Those things for which we might be grateful but aren't swell and burgeon in their mystery: wheeling snow, the way a highway is empty on a holiday morning and you are on it. The sunlight, the bare trees, the deafening quiet. A moment, alone.
Listen. I had a horrid holiday. Things which I thought I had gotten over, things I didn't want to think about or feel, positively smacked me into stillness. And more than stillness; they so washed over the nooks and crannies of my brain and the fibers of my body I was reduced to a seedy, snotty, sniveling depression and then ashamed of that depression. Sex and babies and age, relationship and money and longing to be loved. Tender spots for us all, surely. I have a strong tendency to resist what is tender.
Let me be blunt. A relationship that was supposed to unfold to a wedding this New Year's Eve fell apart. In its falling apart, I am suddenly back to financial fear and insecurity, an insecurity I haven't felt for a long time and thought wouldn't come again. A sister had a child, which rather than making me feel love and hope and generations made me feel old, made me remember children I have aborted or given to adoption. A surge and roil of shame for the things I've been and done and seen, bitter grief for the fact I can't have those chances back, time has passed, I may never have children or partner or family,hit me blunt wise. The anniversary of a friend's suicide, exactly on Thanksgiving, returned all sorts of memories and the unalterable fact that his presence is only an absence, now. The birthday of an old, dear, alienated from me love intensified that thing, that aloneness, that fact that time has passed and left me standing, dumb, where I am.
All, all things I am rationally aware of and fully believed healed, processed, handled.
But when the days came, and the sudden horrible cold and dark of Minnesota winter, when that infant was actually born, my wheedling and mature mind was hijacked. I crumpled. Grief and depression are not concepts. Grief is a taste in the mouth and a collapsing of the lungs. Depression is your body, gone horribly wrong, you mind rotting and broken and unworking, and no one else knowing. Emotion is a reality you live in, distinct from the realities of other human hearts.
Emotion is our reality, our wider mind and more vulnerable heart.
I skipped the actual thanksgiving meal because I couldn't bring myself to go. And felt guilty for doing so. I minced through what contact I could. I sat, in a big empty house that is suddenly mine and mine only, and I watched the first snow of the year appear in the sky. With my forehead on the window pane. Snow has no straight way down.
It is hard to stay with your breathing, then. It is hard to teach yoga, hard to walk a dog, terrible to eat and to swallow. The snow is real, you see, and the empty house, and the new born infant. The fact is grief, but also, oddly, bellowingly, a love for that baby that is tactile and teary. The question isn't what god in his cruelty makes this or what karma will balance it out again nor what it should be nor what it all means; the question is what happens, now? What is this, who am I, what is here?
My teaching, strange and raw, had a kind of clutch in the throat. But also a kind of naked. I moved, myself in practice, as if I were dying. As if I were praying. I think, I suppose, I was.
I taught Anjayeasana. The deep version, where it is hard to breath, where your heart pounds hard enough to drown you. You try to lift that heart, up. The word, anjayeasana, I forgot to say out loud as I taught, means offering. Not perfect, not pretty, but a ripped heart, the hard to take breath, offered.
To stay has a kind of humility to it, a kind of purity, and the world breaks open with questions. What am I to say to the sister (I love you, and it's panging)? What am I to teach (Feel your feet, listen for breath)? What do I do with this loneliness, these empty hands (tell someone. Make a sound in the silence. Take the cup they offer)? How am I supposed to live in this empty house, all mine, all empty (unpack the boxes, write the falling snow, live here and write this down)? Why did my friend die (I don't know, and I don't know why I'm alive, am. Alive, alive, alive.)
It is hard, at times, to be grateful. To practice self compassion, self determination, self motivation, self knowing means surrendering without knowing where it goes. To willingly slide into vulnerability and uncertainty. To take reality, whole, and swallow.
Surrender is fierce. As anything that will change us must be. All projects, any love. All healing.
To give our selves into the unknown is wild. To show up. To be changed in ways we cannot imagine, past our control, more than we intended. This is the practice and like snow, like sky, it has no straight way down.
This kind of surrender has a way of knocking us, windless, to our knees.
Which may be the final meaning of reverence.
What I have found isn't answer. I want to tell you how beautiful, how quiet, a highway gone empty can be. The reverence, the ground, holds. Your heart breaks, snow falls. The sacred is this way; humane, snotty, captivated by snow and highways and the smell of an infant's thin and many veined skin. Her breath, I tell you, is sweet. My breath is sharp with longing. We are creatures who breathe, until we can't.