Looking back, fully free

Painted when I was lost and then found, seven years ago.

Most of my psychic energy in the past two weeks has been spent on new and sub classes and leaving my class at Pengu Studio.  On October 1 I started teaching the 7 am class at Tranquil Space Dupont and will begin the 6:45 am class at the Arlington studio on October 16.  On weekends I try out sequences, trying to get the flow right. I worry incessantly, and occasionally in the past week, I’ve been right to worry!  For all my big talk about embracing beginner’s mind, I’m terrible at it. As my beautiful and wise daughter reminded me, everyone is perfectly imperfect. Get over it.

But I don’t want to turn away from the worry, because it has been a dense, rich soil for my creativity.  For example, this month’s asana Bharadvajasana has been an inspiration for me on so many levels.  The pose has so much going on it — part hero, part lotus, deep twist, bind.  As I try it out in my body, I think of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World.  The autumnal colors and the fact that Christina turns away from the viewer gives the painting such a beautiful nostalgia.  But this feeling is balanced by the horizon — there is hopefulness of creation and the freedom of spaciousness.   This is exactly what Wyeth wanted us to take away.  Christina was a neighbor of Wyeth’s who was afflicted by polio, who “was limited physically but by no means spiritually.” Wyeth explained, “The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.”  (From the MOMA website. It is part of the permanent collection.)

The pose also brings to mind the Zen teaching:  “The past is already past.  Don’t try to regain it.  The present does not stay.  Don’t try to touch it.  From moment to moment the future will not come.”

Our nature is to turn back, to look for meaning, to right things that went wrong, to revel in the good feelings or wallow in the bad.  And even when we aren’t looking back, the past comes looking for us.

Two Mondays ago was the seventh anniversary of my Mom’s passing.  I hate to admit that this was the first year that I didn’t feel the loss in the marrow of my bones as the day approached.  That evening I ran into one of Mom’s dearest friends at a work reception.  It was a coincidence that was a gift .  It reminded me about what is truly important about my past.  We chatted until way too late about Mom, and I drove home feeling enlivened by the old stories, even the hardest one to relive, that of her last few months.

The next day, I went looking through the past for more of that warm embrace from the past.  I flipped through her correspondence from Bangladesh in the 70s — hoping that there was a message.  Anything for me here?  Lots of talk about Dad’s job, my first Brownie uniform, how much weight my little brother had gained, the incessant monsoon rains, the fabric she used for upholstery on the drab government issued chairs.  Nothing.  Just the past.

Bharadvajasana is fully ground in the present.  The sit bones are ground into the earth, the deep twist coming from the ribcage.  Even though the heart pulls us into the past, our root is in the present.

This poem by Linji has helped me get to this sense of freedom from, in spite of, because of the past:

If you want to be free,

Get to know your real self

It has no form, no appearance

no root, no basis, no abode.

But is lively and buoyant

It responds with versatile facility

But its function cannot be located

Therefore, when you look for it,

You become further from it.

When you seek it, you turn away from it all the more.

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