The point (practice)

The point, I think, is not to live some other life but to fully live the life that we have. It is not easy for me to swallow this.  More often than not, I want things to be different.  I am not entirely satisfied with the face that I have, nor that I am a middling age woman, nor with my bank account.  I live smack dab in the middle of conservative suburbs in the Middling West, which is the antithesis of what I expected and worked for.

I overheard a woman in a restaraunt the other day, with a crestfallen look and her hands limp on either side of her plate: this isn't what I wanted, she said.

Which is what most of us get.

I used to teach a woman who was driven and focused as a tiger.  She was beautiful and, I think, relatively 'successful' by anybody's standards.  We practiced headstands one day and I saw frustration cloud her face to a cool marble tone.  I'm not strong enough, she said; I'll never be able to do the variations.

I answered that it would come.  But I think I answered, wrong.  I think I should have said it doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter whether or not she will ever find lotus and hanumanasana and pincha while standing on her hands.  It is a truth that she maybe never will.  We can't predict things and she may never practice again, let alone for the years more the pose might take.  She might lose her limbs or her health.  She may lose interest.  She may never get the poses she wants.

But the practice still has a radical and precious worth.  I watched her move away from the wall and knew she was more comfortable doing those poses in which she looked like a rockstar.  It's enough, she said, speaking of the sweat and the work out and the core work.

But there is something, something to practicing those poses we are not very good at.  Something to inhabiting the land of This Is Hard For Me.

When I was a little girl, I believed, I knew, that I was going to be a monk.  I wrote silly poems that were half prayer, half song, and half magic spell and this seemed to me the most important thing I could do with my life.  I felt the truth of human love and suffering and likened that somehow to god.  And, it seemed to me, that if god or love exists, the only rational way to spend my life was in dedication to it.  As I grew up, though, I lost my sense of god.  Churches seemed ridiculous places for me to be.  I lost all feeling of 'faith' without losing that first tug and pull to be what I wanted to be: a monk, serving love, writing poems, standing for healing in a broken world.

These suburbs rankle me, and newspapers bother me, and my schedule sometimes leaves me feeling very little of 'purpose' and much more of 'fatigue'.  I spent the afternoon, yesterday, writing poems and daydreaming under a tree next to a monstrous bed of peonies.  The poems were intoxicating and wild and breezy, the heat was dizzying, the afternoon passed slow.  But I hit a wall of doubt: the notebook is so messy.  The poems are not finished, not edited, not publishable let alone memorable.  I looked from the black ink on the limpid paper and then to the ants, colonizing the blooming peonies.  What's the point...I found myself thinking.  I can't describe these flowers.  No one will ever read my poems.  I will never be a monk.

I stood and brushed the humid dirt from my knees and my seat, gathered my papers and headed back into the house.  But as I did so I remembered some of my students, the conversations we have had, the way their movements sometimes strike me dumb and make me teary.  I recalled to myself the days I am most tired, most frustrated, think myself most stupid and a bad teacher and stuck in middling america; the moment I show up, my mood no longer matters.  Something happens.  I let my 'self' be pushed aside and let the yoga talk, instead, I try to be present not to my wheeling thoughts but to the bodies and lives that show up in the room with me.

I wanted to be a poet monk, to stand for love, to touch beauty and heart and soul every day.  It occurred to me, standing in the hot sun with my arms full of half written poems, that that is exactly what I am.

The point is not to change our lives, but to change our selves so that we can live our lives, fully.  To find the precious worth of what we can do, are doing.  To appreciate that we are getting the myriad benefits - postural, hormonal, strength and tissue and joint wise, now and today.  That this is more real, and more beneficial, and a bigger point than the imaginary pose we might or might not someday hit.  This is real, while we spend most of our lives blind and desirous of the imaginary.

To be present while moss covers our face, or the drone of suburban lawn mowers drills into the fantasy, to watch ants and peonies and be okay with whatever poems we can write.