6 April 2016
Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart. ~Kahlil Gibran
One of the first stretches in my morning yoga is not really a yoga pose. It is a simple extension into the vertical and the horizontal. Standing, I lift my arms up from my sides to shoulder level and push the heels of my palms away from my body. Simultaneously, I reach the crown of my head up toward the sky. I imbue my morning poses with intention and for this pose my intention is about joining these two symbolic vectors — the horizontal and the vertical. The horizontal is symbolic of the physical tending to our lives, the work of householding, the daily doing of our hands. The earth. The vertical represents the shaft that plunges in, sinking into reflection, and rises up, into spirituality. The sky. At the intersection of these two vectors lies the heart.
I love pushing my palms out as far as I can, feeling the fibers in my arms stretch. I relish the sensation of my head gently drawing up my spine. Crooks and crannies increase their intake of air. My heart’s capacity expands.
In this beautifully evolved world, I’m not sure it’s an accident that at this meeting of our deep reflective capacity and the ability of our hands to manifest rests the organ from which we create connection and develop wisdom.
Years ago, I stepped way beyond my comfort zone to attend a silent Buddhist retreat. My knowledge of Buddha’s teachings is very limited but I know one of his aims was to reduce human suffering. The point of the silent retreat, although I didn’t understand this beforehand, was to put us in direct contact with our mental machinations — pretty much a guaranteed prescription for suffering. Steeped in the travails of a mind left completely to its own devices, I experienced a screenplay of anxiety and discomfort. By the third day of the ten-day retreat, my mind was in hyperspeed with intent to damage. It railed against this self-indulgent reclusion when there was so much in the world that needed to be done. It pelted me with every possible criticism, past, present and future. My body, naturally inclined toward motion, vehemently protested the double-digit hours perched on a meditation stool every day.
Because I am a hard person to pry from the track I lay for myself, I persisted. Slowly, very slowly, the doubts, the pain, the self-criticism quieted. And I recognized the power of witnessing, of being trapped in the maelstrom with strict directions to simply sit with it.
Observing myself created space. And this spaciousness, this gap between me and my thoughts, allowed me to realize I was bigger than my thoughts, more than my actions.
I appreciate the pose that calls this to mind because often I get stuck in my horizontal plane; feeling behind, always trying to get more done, comparing my days to others’, thinking that when I accomplish the next milestone or achievement, then I’ll feel happy and worthy.
But when I open up to that spaciousness inside, it’s not a hungry space. It’s a roominess, an ease, a capacity for fullness. It’s satisfied and loving. It rests in being uniquely enough and doing accordingly.
More and more I take it to heart that happiness and life satisfaction are indeed inside jobs. That they come not from what life presents, but from how I engage with whatever is presented. Other people don’t make me safe. Things arranged in the way I want don’t assure enduring happiness or satisfaction. These qualities are a result of living from that place where my being and my doing mingle and merge.
I went to the retreat hoping to connect to a source of wisdom and peace. At the end, I found what I was looking for. Within me, laying at that connection of two axes, was a place that contained both, a harbor of peace in the storm and wisdom to guide the hand ready to reach out.
I have forgotten and remembered this thousands of times in the years since I went on that retreat. Remembered for a day perhaps or recalled for only a moment. But, either way, I believe these moments are cumulative connections that build heart to nurture this place and muscle to return to living our own unique life here between earth and sky.