Thursday, May 30, 2013

"To the destructive element, submit"

"The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up."  Joseph Conrad

When I was a child, my family spent part of every summer in Cape Cod where we languished all day on the beaches of the National Seashore and bundled up for nights watching baseball games or sitting on the cliff overlooking the moonlit bay. We synched our rhythms to the tides and the sun, and we sought out the beaches with the biggest surf to satisfy our thirst for adventure. 

At many of the ocean beaches on the Cape, the waves are unpredictable, coming in short intervals and rising quickly to huge heights before crashing powerfully onto the rocks below at high tide and rolling gracefully over sandbars in long whirlpools of crested spray at low tide. Lovers of the water, like my family and me, needed to know how to navigate these fluctiations to avoid being bashed into the rocky shoreline or dragged into the vast ocean. I learned as a small girl that there were only three possible choices for staying safe in the tumult. You could face the horizon and dive into the belly of the wave, emerging in the tranquil waters on the other side. You could get beyond the crest and float above as it rolled beneath you, or you could turn to face the shore, lift your feet off of the ground and take your chances with a ride all the way in to the beach. This third option was always my preference. I loved being carried along by the rolling energy beneath me, stretching my body over the top, connecting my breath to the flow of the water, and taking my chances with the landing. Most of the time, I would arrive safely onshore in a swirl of receding ocean, but every so often, if I miscalculated, or resisted, I would get tossed about underneath, swirling and scraping, bumping and bouncing between the rocks and the surf. I would find my way out bruised and disoriented, often just in time for the next wave to knock me down again, and until I could steady and soften myself to reconnect to the rhythm of the sea, I would continue to fall.

It turns out, these early forays into the water have served me well as an adult. For the past 18 months, I have been caught in an incredibly powerful series of potentially devastating waves.  Since December 2011, I have had a cancer scare and 2 surgeries (all is well, thankfully). I have gotten separated and divorced.  I have fallen in love and had my heart broken. I have opened a yoga studio. I have begun an advanced yoga teacher training and completed half of it. I have traveled to Costa Rica, the Bahamas (twice), Jamaica, the Berkshires of Massachusetts (twice), Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, Paris, London and Africa.  I have adopted a puppy, and I have been steadily and mostly independently raising two teenagers and three dogs while maintaining a home. All of it has been much like riding that surf of my childhood. Each wave presented a choice to either resist, dive in, float over, or go for a ride, and, for the most part, true to my girlhood self, I have chosen to embrace the ride, but I have also made mistakes along the way. I have miscalculated and fallen out of synch with my own rhythms and the rhythms of the Infinite energy surrounding me, and I have learned my lessons the hard way by getting bashed into the rocks, emerging disoriented and afraid, and finding other waves looming ominously above me. 

I suspect that I am not alone in this experience.  Many of us are stumbling through rocky ground trying to find our way out of difficult currents.  

The good news is that this is an inquiry we get to explore every day that we come to the mat in yoga.  Every pose offers an opportunity to ride the wave, to surrender to sensation and find a way to deeply connect to the flow of the Prana Body. It is not always blissful…a miscalculation, a failure to attune to the subtleties of the alignment or energy, a choice to stiffen when we should surrender or to pull back when we should dive more deeply can render us exhausted and disoriented, leaving us flattened on the metaphorical beach ready to give up instead of moving back towards the infinite sea.  But we must remember again and again that crashing and getting tossed about is just as integral to the process of self discovery as floating effortlessly over the top.  Each experience deepens the next and recalibrates the natural inclinations of the body to find their way back to the rhythms of Nature.  

It seems that in the tumult of life experience both on and off the mat, whether we know it or not, the only way to gain safe passage in the end is to focus, flow, and finally... let go and ride the wave, and if you find yourself lost and rolling helplessly in the middle, take some advice from Rilke: 
In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.

-Rainer Maria Rilke