Inspired by my yoga practice this week:
DIFFERENT WAYS TO PRAY
When the teacher asked
“Now, which of you has a sacred space?”
the students began to clamor,
about the bustling walkway through the city,
the barbershop that made hair smell
like wet noodles in the snowy air,
the wooded single-track through the ponderosa pines
studded with screaming birds,
the café that smelled like warm butter and boasted
the incessant thrum of a coffee machine,
even the abandoned construction site where
sawtooth dinosaurs in macabre ballet poses
danced amidst stray dogs with tattered tails.
Only in the back, there was a boy,
whom the others heard and grew quiet,
and when he spoke, they nodded:
he talked of the comfort of putting
the key into the ignition
of his grandfather’s whispering old blue Buick,
and of turning the key,
of the CD’s noiseless slide into the player,
and the bass thrumming every mile,
of each calcium syllable forming and crumbling on itself
within the chapel of his mouth,
and his fingers making fractals on the dash,
and the wheels spiraling,
and going and going.
We wish for eagle feathers,
toeing the line between hulking crag
and fall, knowing a misstep means a
plunge means being engulfed by the
motherly maw of a tired earth.
Means sweet breezes passing overhead
amidst trees with pillared feet
that murmur green,
bent into forever-dance by
the wisdom of fires, trunk-skin mottled with spots
massaging wrinkles into our arms with old age.
When I press my palm close enough
to the skins of leaves,
I can hear the songs in their veins.
I can hear them breathe.
This week, I have been learning all about what it means to let go, to accept. So often, I feel that acceptance is seen is a negative sort of compromise, associated almost exclusively with bad happenings and situations. It’s like having to swallow a bitter medicine and just letting it sit in your stomach until the negativity dissipates with time. Now, I’m trying to re-learn to associate acceptance more with equanimity.
As a runner, it is hard for me to draw the line between acceptance and the feeling that “I can keep going” because running has led me to discover an enormous reserve of mental strength within myself. While training for all of my marathons, I never once took water on a run (honestly, because I didn’t feel like carrying it), and I usually wouldn’t eat breakfast before my morning runs. I would run 15-18 miles without stopping without water or food because I was so absorbed in the run – and partially because the cold distracted me from my thirst. This began to be a problem when I stopped getting enough sleep and was running 40-50 miles a week. Not only did my mile time become slower but I was tired and hungry all the time. My coach told me that I would incur an overtraining injury if I didn’t cut back and sleep more. I learned to accept that my body needed time to transition slowly, even if my mind was overeager and ready to run those long distances without sustenance. So I learned to carry food and water with me on my 20+ miles long runs. It learned that it’s not possible to force or push things to bend to the ego.
Acceptance is not only knowing when to change your outlook on a situation, though; it’s having undistilled and limitless compassion for yourself no matter how things go. I am taking a conducting class this semester and many of our assignments consist of writing up and practicing rehearsal plans with our classmates as makeshift choirs. Our first assignment was to come prepared to teach a Bach Chorale to the class in 5 minutes. I was very nervous at first, as I stepped up to the stand and began to assign everyone in the room parts. The thought came that “Everyone in this room wants you to do well. If you put in your best effort without expecting praise from your teacher, this in itself will be rewarding.” My conducting immediately took on a genuine, natural quality and the rehearsal flowed smoothly. My clarity of thought improved dramatically as well! My rehearsal certainly wasn’t perfect, but I did the best I could, received constructive feedback from my teacher, and more importantly, didn’t let the objectively bad part of my performance overshadow my desire for growth. I kept the key to my happiness in my own pocket.
I dream of becoming a physician (right now, a pediatric oncologist, although my interest may change) so that I can continue to practice this self-awareness daily and extend selfless service to others through my profession. Currently, I work as an scribe 16-20 hours a week alongside doctors in the Emergency Room. I already see how even-mindedness, ability to think clearly, and express myself calmly will be vital to interacting with and treating patients, especially in the event of delivering sensitive medical information. In emotionally malleable settings, it is all too easy to get caught up and swept away (there’s the wave metaphor of the mind again!) by attachments and feelings. Especially in the unpredictable setting of the ER, I have observed how various patients’ cases don’t progress according to plan, and the state of mind that doctors must maintain in order to reassess them to provide the best care they can give. There is no time for disappointment – only a focused attention to the task at hand, that single-pointed awareness.
A famous violinist once told me during a masterclass, “Don’t indulge so much in the music that you lose the ability to observe what you’re doing.” I was becoming so emotionally intertwined with the piece that my musical performance was becoming compromised. There’s a yogic balance between one’s worldly involvement and equanimous observation of that involvement (this reminds me of Virabhadrasana II – where the body becomes firmly grounded in the present, with arms stretching steadily from past into future), and it’s this balance that I am determined to practice.