5/10 Countdown: Yoga and Meditation

The proverbial wisdom is that if you fall off the horse, you get back on. But this seems to blame the horse (you can’t let it get the better of you). My experience with getting slapped in the face, gut-punched, and shot down is that the horse has gotten hurt, too. You can’t break yourself without the thing you’ve fallen off—life—being affronted as well. Maybe it’s the butterfly effect, the ripple of a stone in the river.

But it’s true. You can’t give in, no matter how large the hole you’ve fallen into. I wrote about this in a poem called “Second Year,” which my friend Keila had told me is worse than the first year, after her son was killed at 16 in a wreck.

dreams thrust up their skinny arms
and fingers catch the light
before they sink into marshy sag.

There is no desire.
It doesn’t want to eat the rest,
it just does.

In another poem, “Architecture of Loss,” I tried to describe the way that heaviness becomes who you are. In the last section of the poem, I imagine that weight as a spot in the palm of your hand. Even when you want to share it, to get close to someone, you are unable, defined by that weight, which is just too much for the other person to handle. So you end up alone.

Matter condensed and carried just inside.
If I pull it out and show you, it will sit in the center
of my palm for a moment and then pull my hand
to the ground. You will kneel down as well, curious,
and then the earth will tremble and you will notice
that a crater has formed around us,
my palm and the thing I wanted to show you
there at the center, attached by an arm, a body.
You will scramble away, pulling yourself
branch by branch toward the crest, and wave
over your shoulder—I don’t blame you
for your swift departure.

To prevent myself from devouring myself, I went to two, maybe more, yoga classes. But, I wasn’t ready. Every time the teacher suggested I focus on my breath, I cried. I loathed the body that was moving around on the mat. I decided to try meditation instead, and went to a group meditation at our local UU church. There, the meditation leader Frank introduced us to the Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg. I found her easily enough on youtube, got a couple of her books, and discovered I could do this in my own room in my own house, the way I could not with a group of people, no matter how lovely, in a yoga class.

What was especially helpful was Salzberg’s book and youtube on lovingkindness. Because I was so consumed by my own thoughts and feelings, it was important to get out of myself. The meditation involves repeating May I be safe, may I be healthy, may I live with ease, may I be happy. Then you imagine a benefactor, someone who did you a kindness, and you repeat, saying, May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease, may you be happy. Then you think of someone you have less positive associations with and repeat. Eventually you work your way to someone who deeply troubles you. If that’s too difficult, you can place that person with someone else, and now the singular “you” becomes the plural “you” or even “we.” This movement outward, from self to all sentient beings, is at the heart of Buddhist lovingkindness meditation (as I understand it).

I have for about five years had an active yoga practice and am deeply appreciative of 4Yoga (and before that Harmony Yoga) for what they offer our community. I guess what I’m saying is, yoga helps you get back on the horse, and it does it in such a way that the horse herself is better, too.

We meet upstairs where that window is, and here’s the studio, overlooking Fountain Square. Photo credit: Heather Kessler. (The square is mine.)

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