I flunked the test: Practicing amid Tragedy

It was beautiful the morning the boy next door never woke up.

I step outside, beckoned by the sun that now surrounds me, along with despair, the sound of which rings unforgettably in my ears, police cars, ambulances, a neighborhood cul-de-sac of toys, kids and twinkling lights now a circle of dim, stunned faces.

The opening mantra which I love to sing out loud when home alone usually stirs my breath to life but today it makes me cry. I don’t even know why: It is not my loss. And yet it is. The grim reaper visited, stepping too close to the door that holds all I hold dear. Bad things– they happen to other people, not to me! (Is this the delusion that keeps me going?) But then, when death passes over this close, just outside my window, I cannot help but feel the rank, stale breath of this most unwelcome visitor.

I am selfish to feel this way.

I pretend to breathe on my mat. I don’t want to do this. I argue with myself. You haven’t a bad day in forever, give yourself some slack. WTF how is this even an argument in you head when you are surrounded by sorrow, the depths of which no one should have to know? So your T12 vertebra is out of whack and your right hip is tight. Who cares? Why am I here? Why am I doing this? 

I thought I understood: Life is ephemeral; the line between a heart beating and not just that– a mere line. Indeed I know, don’t I, from the children in my own body that never came out to play on earth? I thought this gave me  enthusiasm and love for living every day. But here I am, dumbstruck and reduced by the reality that we have no control, that nothing — and no one — is guaranteed.

It seems I’ve flunked the test. And by saying so I flunk again: It seems selfish to have a personal experience out of someone else’s tragedy.

I sometimes tell his (Ram Dass’] story to students who worry that they too have “flunked the test.” They’ve practiced meeting difficulties with mindfulness, but then they encounter a situation where the fear or distress or pain is so great that they just cannot arouse presence. They’re often left with feelings of deep discouragement and self-doubt, as if the door of refuge had been closed to them. ~Tara Brach 

There is no refuge on this mat as I eke it out; I fail to finish the series I love. Not today. Not tomorrow, when I make it all the way through, as if watching my body muddle along from the outside. It doesn’t even feel real: my leg behind my head for the umpteenth time, how did I get here? Not even the next day, when I will myself up the canyon to the Mysore room.

I lamely salute the sun. I am so strong. I always look alright. Especially the once or twice a week I practice with people– I bring my A-game, my me times a thousand. Today, however, I consider leaving after the first few backbends at the beginning of the series, embarrassed by my own humanity. My head tries to talk me out of practice but my body goes through the motions in a way that almost annoys me. Screw this refuge. I tell the teacher — I don’t ask — that maybe I should stop. He says, “No! Finish the series.”  So I do, and —

My forearm stand (a pose I struggled with and fell out of everyday for a year) is solid, comfortable. I belong here, here where I never thought I would; I could stay here forever, suspended.

Perhaps I should.

On this perpetually spinning planet swirls a clusterf*ck of unfairness, a mother’s agony for her child, shocking deaths of two local kids and a suicide attempt in less than a week, social media anesthetics, Donald Drumpfian racist, sexist, violence-mongering rhetoric amounting to presidential candidacy fare, Facebook wars on every level from the cause of 9/11 to what counts as “real yoga” to thinking yourself thin and the Kardashians to cat videos and Facebook live! and Instagram storyland and the breaking news that yes! the reason why you ate all that fat free crap in the 90’s was because of fraud perpetrated by people who care more about money than your health….

In this turned around world the only place that makes sense is upside down.

In practice there’s a certain survival mode you have to adopt to practice daily and one of the tenets of this survival mode is this:
Whatever you don’t do doesn’t matter.
No regret. No guilt. No shame.
It’s what you do that matters.

Direct your energy accordingly.

-maps and musings of David Garrigues

I feel myself coming to life. I think of something Peg Mulqueen once said in the mysore room on an out of whack day: just make shapes. I finish the series. I move on to third. The poses are…ungraceful, powerless — but shapes nonetheless. Whatever you don’t do doesn’t matter. No shame. I approximate the stature of a bird that feeds on moonbeams– a sign of things to come. A sad bird, out of whack, but something in me starts to fly.

When we’re in an emotional or physical crisis, we are often in trance, gripped by fear and confusion. At such times, our first step toward true refuge—often the only one available to us—is to discover some sense of caring connection with the life around and within us. ~Tara Brach, True Refuge

That afternoon I will reach out to the family grieving near me. The next morning I will again visit this mysore room. I will do the same postures. But I will be different. I will assist the beginners next to me when the teacher is busy. I will help my neighbor bind in marichyasana C. The bird will fly closer to the moonbeams.

It’s what you do that matters.

I do my best.



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