Working Toward Stillness

Yesterday, I returned to yoga after a hiatus that began with my 3-week trip and that continued a little longer than it should have upon my return to the city.

My wonderful flow yoga teacher announced that we would be devoting the class to Vishnu’s Couch, the side-lying pose in which Vishnu reclined in stillness before creating the universe. That’s my abbreviated version anyway, cribbed in part from class and in part from googling after the fact in an attempt to get my story straight. The point, ultimately, was to find a place of stillness to make room for creativity.

I liked the class, liked getting back into flow, the way the teacher called on us to find the rootedness of Mountain Pose, feet strong and flexed, in other contexts. When it came time for Vishnu’s Couch Pose itself, I rolled onto my right side, still rooted through the soles of my feet. Stephanie said there might be some rocking while we found the balance, but I was OK — rooted, somewhat still, able to loop peace fingers around my big toe even if I wasn’t able to totally release my hip and hamstring for full expression. I felt solid.

We released the pose, went back through our flow, and then rolled onto our left side. Now, I am a right-handed person. My hands and arms have inched closer to ambidextrous where massage is concerned, but pretty much all of my obvious physical weaknesses run through the left side of my body, from my bound up jaw down through my clicky knee to my sometimes weak ankle. When I rolled onto my left side, prepared once again to slide into stillness, I found my body rocking like crazy trying to find balance. I rocked, wobbled, giggled, and flopped my way through the pose. From the outside, I doubt very much that it resembled anything akin to grace or stillness. Inside, I felt pretty good.

It was a small thing, to be sure: a yoga pose that was new to me, stronger on one side than the other, but I was grateful for the experience. Walking home from class, I thought about the reasons I wouldn’t want it any other way. It was nice to feel strong on my right when trying something new, even after a break from yoga that left me feeling more trembly than I was last month. And, even though it seems counter-intuitive, I like that I wobbled and fell out on my left.  It humbled me a little, but it also nudged me to celebrate the greater ease on my right, to remember that I had other strength from which to grow. Clearly a nice, gentle reminder for other areas as well: we all have our weaknesses, but we all have strong sides, too, to support us through the ways in which we falter.

The experience in class reminded me of a conversation I had the other day. A particularly busy friend of mine mentioned how bad she is at doing nothing, and I found myself pointing out that doing nothing isn’t easy, and that is why people call it a practice. Even within the realm of meditation, there are many ways to practice. My momma sits in the morning (when my little brother was just learning to talk, he called it “sleeping sitting down” as he toddled into her room to lay his head in her lap). For me personally, stillness comes most easily in the midst of movement — yoga, walking, dance — unless I am out in great big nature, when just breathing brings that deep, still calm. Maybe it matches my environment. I don’t know.

What I do know is that there is a qualitative difference between the lethargic stillness that I recently felt in the first few very hot days of summer and the stillness that we worked toward in class. The simple act of being present brings a stillness that is far greater, full of promise. Some of the stories I read about Lord Vishnu’s Couch mentioned that his whole serpent sofa floated in the “cosmic sea of possibility.” I like the sound of that.

On this Federal holiday, when offices are closed and many are off work, I wish you your own sweet stillness, a moment of meditation, a concentration on calm in the midst of movement, a quiet from which possibilities rise. You can find me out at Rockaway Beach, floating and staring out at the sea. It may not be cosmic, but as yesterday’s class (and the intense desire I felt when walking home to write, cook, learn, plan, create) reminds me, this world of ours is full of possibility.

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