"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eyes Open

We're in savasana, the first of the session. Two glorious minutes spent lying on our mats after fifty minutes of standing postures that have us all dripping and breathing hard. A respite before the floor series which will challenge in a completely different way. Each teacher approaches this time slightly differently. Some are mostly quiet, making the time meditative. Some will offer instruction on postures. Some will tell stories about people who have healed lives and bodies with yoga, my favorite.

Every teacher talks about the importance of keeping our eyes open during savasana. We've already been reminded at the beginning of the day to practice with eyes open, but the instruction while we're in this resting pose is especially clear. "Keeping your eyes open helps you stay present and gain the most benefit. This time allows your body to absorb what it's just done. If you close your eyes you'll drift away."

Eyes open during savasana is easy. There is no struggle to stay present. Nothing is expected in those moments beyond being and breathing.

The only time I'm even tempted to close my eyes during a class is when I'm pushing too hard. My mind tells me my body stretched that far last class so it should this one. My body tells me no. And even though I've sworn I will not compete this time, I will only do what I can and be grateful for that, I start to feel like a failure. I need to close my eyes and go inside where it feels safe.

But closing my eyes makes me dizzy. I lose my balance. I can't do the posture at all, let alone as deeply as I think I should. I get frustrated, and catch myself at the top of a spiral I do not want to spin down. And so I open my eyes, focus on my breathing, and stand facing myself in the mirrors until the spinning stops.

My life right now feels like one long savasana. A savasana earned after years of sweating and pushing myself to and sometimes beyond my limits. There is nothing expected of me. Nothing. So I breathe. I am. I see.

In past years I staggered through autumn, exhausted from the start of another school year, grasping for moments of stillness and beauty. I longed for a time when I could drink in all of autumn's glories through eyes not clouded with stress and fatigue. That time is here, and I'm drinking it in like a blind woman seeing for the first time.

Everyday sights take on a brighter hue and have the power to delight so much more deeply than I ever imagined. It doesn't hurt that we're having possibly the most beautiful autumn ever.

My daily walks with Toby have become sacred ritual. While they've always been important, when I worked I used that time to process the day. That often meant I saw very little around me while I wrestled inwardly with whatever monsters the day exposed. I was also walking at the end of a day, exhausted and sludgy.

It's become our habit to walk in the early afternoon. The sun has warmed the air just enough, and accompanies us like a benevolent spirit. Toby sprints after deer, or the hope of deer, and I marvel every time at how beautiful and regal he is. Graying around the muzzle now, almost 8, he is still the best companion a wanderer of the world could hope for.

Our route rarely varies, and I anticipate parts of it eagerly. On clear days, there is an open spot where the blue blue sky meets dark evergreens in a storybook scene often enhanced with sheeply clouds. At a certain bend in the river the resident pair of kingfishers begin their clattering call. It feels like they're announcing our arrival, although Toby is usually in the river before I catch the flashes of white and black and blue shooting just above the water.

The river itself is both a soothing constant and a source of daily surprises. One day it was eleven mallards resting on the opposite bank. I watched them preen and dabble and sleep through a frame of big leaf maple leaves while the river chuckled over smooth stones and Toby dived for rocks farther upstream, completely oblivious.

Often after our walk Toby and I will hang out in the back yard together. He chases bird shadows as they race across the lawn. I sit on the patio with a book, sometimes reading, sometimes just watching. Toby's red coat against the bright green of lawn, his marcelled ears on high alert, his plumed tail curled skyward. A Red-tailed Hawk wheeling overhead, or his Sharp-shinned cousin swooping through the feeders in search of a Junco or Chickadee lunch. The newly arrived Evening Grosbecks like oversized Goldfinches crowding the feeders and filling the air with their distinctive piercing chirps.

My favorite, however, is one particular hummingbird. Either a female, or more likely one of this year's fledglings, this bird has a singular buzz. More playing card on bicycle spokes than anything else. A much louder whirr-click than any of her counterparts. She is drab, with only the tiniest of hints of color at her throat. And she is fearless. She'll eat at the feeder to my left and then she'll move to the huge hanging fuchsia to my left, often stopping in the middle to study me. She hovers a few feet away and then moves closer, often getting close enough I could reach up to pet her without extending my arm. The first time she came to study me, I was nervous she'd get too close and I'd lose an eye. Over these last weeks I've relaxed. I pull my glasses down so we're looking directly at each other, eye to eye.

Even in a life that is now mostly savasana, where it's easy to be as open-eyed and open-hearted as my being is capable of, there are challenges that make me want to close my eyes. Both in denial and in an effort to cope. What's different now, just like in class, is that I am more willing to re-open my eyes and to face whatever is in front of me. I don't like being off-balance and dizzy, and I'd rather move through.

I'm in my third week back at yoga. I'm adjusting to the heat and the rigor and the routines. I'm learning to listen to my body and to push right up to the point where just right becomes too much. And perhaps unsurprisingly, I've begun to find savasana clarity in the middle of postures more and more. I stand before the mirror, body in correct form, breathing and concentrating. Eyes wide open. Heart wide open. Open to whatever comes next.


tricia said...

Awe. I miss you so much! When can we connect. I want to hear everything!

Linda Reeder said...

What a great analogy, this resting time with eyes wide open, taking in the beauty around you. When there is a pull to do more, you will rise again and assume your position, whatever it is.

lily cedar said...

I can't believe Toby is eight years old now. I remember when you first got him, or at least when he was young and full of energy. Retirement sounds like quite lovely, something I'm looking forward to as well. A chance to slow down and breathe.

DJan said...

having done Bikram yoga for years, I can see you in there, and know what you're going through. I wish I had a good studio around here, I might actually go back to it. You remind me in this post how much is possible there. I'll be seeing you in less than a week, and we can talk about everything! You have become our Creative Director in my mind, since you are able to communicate your lyricism so well to me in your posts. I want to do that, too! :-)

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

This is sooo beautiful. Carrying savasana awareness into daily life...it sounds like Mindfulness, or something like it. My yoga instructors never told us to keep our eyes open, but it makes sense.

This piece would be a bit hit in just about any medium geared to retired people!

yaya said...

Your beautiful description of your days makes me long for my retirement....3 1/2 yrs to go! I don't like to wish my life away but finding time to really connect with nature, my world, and myself sounds heavenly! Yoga was never my best activity and I would usually fall asleep during the relaxation part at the end. Now I see where I went wrong! Have a great week! We're having a beautiful Fall season here also!

Linda Hoye said...

I loved this post and your description of your new life. I retired 18 months ago and it's such a joy to have the freedom to order my days the way that suits me. Retirement is such a gift, isn't it?!

Dee said...

Dear Deb, In the last two days I've read DJan, Linda, and Sandi's postings on the annual Vashon meeting of the six of you. Each of them enthusiastically reported on the writing conference you facilitated for them. I find myself envying them; I'd so like to have you as a teacher.

From this posting, I'm thinking that you are not in the classroom this year but that you are being gracious to yourself and growing into your skin. And that you have come to a place of acceptance of who you are for yourself and for others. That is an enormous step and I'm still making it.

The past year of dealing with physical ailments has tempered my natural bent toward being a workaholic and also being my own taskmaster. I'm being kind to myself more and more now. My friends have often encouraged me to be as kind to myself as I am to others and finally I am taking their advice. Living without the burden of producing something "meaningful" "worthy" "tangible" each day is contentment for me right now.

Take care. Please continue to be gracious to yourself. Peace.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Dearest Deb,
I have let myself go away from writing and reading for health issues but my blog friends remain in my heart.at times though we are miles appart and never met your vibes pass this way and I sense your awareness. As you long to find your way in retirement I shall send you vibes too. Perhaps you'll sense them once or twice?
There are some invisible connections we have the chance to draw into ourselves.
Your words have power. I love how you put them out here and I get a sense of joy having met you through them. Thanks for that:)