The deeper I go into my study of yoga, the more life provides opportunities for me to walk my walk and talk to my talk. Take this illness, for example. In the midst of an asana class, and especially during challenging asanas, I invite my students to look for their neutral and spacious mind, the one that transcends labels like pleasure and pain, good and bad, strong and weak, like and dislike, flexible and inflexible, success and failure, right and wrong.
I encourage my students to experience being, and to reach for the space beyond all of the stories of the mind. “Imagine the space that would be left behind,” I tell them, “if you could drop the stories, even if just for a moment. What would life be like, if instead of labeling your experiences, you could just allow yourself to have them?”
And it all seems grand as I watch my students breathe and reach for their courage and their will, as I watch them reach for their own being. And during savasana, there is this peace that pervades the room, when they allow their bodies to be still, when they allow themselves the experience of being in this moment, abiding in the self beyond the body and the mind, the infinite awareness that transcends space and time and physical phenomena. I love to see their open, calm faces after relaxation, and I’m not going to lie, when they take a moment after class to express their appreciation for my teachings, it feels really really good.
But now here I am, feeling weak, and sick, and tired, and nausea is certainly an unpleasant sensation in my mind; it’s hard for me to see it any other way. And I’m wondering how can I reconcile my own grand teachings–that which I ask my students to do–with the reality that I’m human, and I’m hurting, and a neutral and spacious mind seems a million miles away?
Just trying to make it through the day feeling like hell seems like a monumental task. Layer on the guilt for not being an energetic caregiver to my two kids, guilt for needing my husband to take on extra responsibilities when he himself is trying to get well from a respiratory illness, guilt for subbing out two of my classes thereby decreasing our monthly income, guilt for letting my life get so out of balance that my body would need to get sick to make me slow down, and now not only do I feel like hell–I’m in hell, the hell of my own mind.
As I was preparing myself to go upstairs for my evening routine of posting to my blog and meditating, I suddenly remembered a beautifully touching French movie, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon; based on the true story of the editor of French Elle who suffered a massive stroke leaving his body paralyzed, but his mental faculties remained completely intact. In English the movie is entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I don’t know why I remembered the movie right then, but something triggered visions, scenes from the movie. It must’ve been my feeling sorry for myself for being in my current state of illness. Something in me was saying, “It could be worse…” That same something in me probably also said, “…so stop complaining already, you’re being a wimp!” But by that time I was so involved in remembering the movie that I wasn’t listening to the inner meanie. I was remembering this man, Jean-Dominique Bauby, whose only means of communication following his stroke was blinking his left eye, and how he and the woman who painstakingly took dictation–one blink, one letter at a time–had the perseverance to write an entire book which sold 150,000 copies the first week of publication. He described how he felt like he was one of those old time deep sea divers that wore the heavy brass helmet over their suits, hence the title of his memoir.
All at once I was touched and I felt very emotionally alive, pondering the courage it must’ve taken him to stay lucid inside a body that could no longer move or speak. His mission became sharing his story, telling the world what it was like to be him. It took around 200,000 blinks to write the book; approximately two minutes were spent spelling out each word. Can you imagine? He had the stroke December 8, 1995, was in a coma for 20 days, who knows how long it took to develop his means of communication–which means that he began writing his book some time in early 1996. His book was published a year and some months later on March 7, 1997, and he lived for two days longer, long enough to see the book receive critical acclaim. Mission accomplished.
As I climbed the stairs noticing the weakness in my body and the emotionally drained state of my mind, the phrase, “Dive deeper” appeared in my awareness…and I thought, “Of course. Yes. If my body is suffering, then I must dive deeper and find the joy within. The joy beyond the body, the mind, beyond time and space and physical phenomena. Yes.”
So now, it’s time to dive deeper. Hopefully I’ll be able to maintain my seat in meditation for long enough to feel the stillness and the space. The ailing body can be a great distraction, a great hindrance to attaining meditative states, but I guess this is an opportunity to practice what I preach, to develop greater concentration, to exist beyond the labels from the world of duality. Wish me luck.
On the surface of water,
out in the middle of the vast ocean
there is a small ship
and a raging storm.
Streaks of lightening
tear into the black of night
then the thunder clatters
and the wind howls
and the ship is tossed about
on mountainous waves
as if it were made of cardboard and twigs.
This is all very frightening. Terrifying.
How will the passengers survive the storm?
Dive beneath the surface of the water.
The deeper you go,
the more still, the more quiet it will become.
The deeper you go,
the more you will remember the truth of who you are.
Leave behind the impressive storms of thought and emotion,
abandon the frail vessel of the physical body,
and dive down into the vast ocean of consciousness.
It will hold you in its depths,
you will be cradled lovingly in its infinite embrace,
and you will know the true meaning of peace.