The day feels fresh, like something is new and it is lifting me up. One new delight in my life is the reopening of 3 Oms Yoga. Returning to the studio has been a poignant mix of many feelings. It’s an embodied reminder of the richness of practicing with folks in the same room, and feeling the presence of their precious humanness.
Riding in, right behind that wave of delight, comes another wave, this one of salty tears, for all we have lost this past year, all that we have been holding tenderly, wondering what will be recovered. It reminds me of actually being lost, in a city or in the woods, wondering if the life I’ve thought of as “mine” will ever be in my possession again. Once I find my way to familiarity, back to safety, then I can let all of that vulnerability gush forth.
We are perfectly wired to suppress pain for a short time. Our brain and endocrine system concoct the essential combinations of hormones to assure we reach safety. Some years back a plane crashed in the mountains in this area. The elders were both killed, but their granddaughter survived. She had minor injuries but was able to walk away from the site, through thick forests, for many miles, until she was discovered and cared for. She collapsed right away and her clever body “turned off” the flow of adrenaline and other chemicals so she could transition into healing mode.
If we stay in that bath of trauma chemicals too long, it can lead to physical, emotional and mental illness. This past year hasn’t always allowed folks to nourish or nurture themselves, and it may show up in confusing ways as we return to once-familiar activities.
As our world slowly reopens, how can we midwife ourselves through each of these upcoming transition steps? Yoga offers many practices for support: āsanas, breath work and meditation to challenge and calm the nervous system. I include meditation, poetry and art in my bag of healing wisdom. Mary Oliver wrote a poem where she says she feels “like Adam, in his lonely garden, on that first morning, shaken out of sleep, rubbing his eyes, listening, parting the leaves, Like tissue on some vast, incredible gift.”
She reminds us that this moment is unique, an exquisite gift, even if it is painful, but we usually move right past this fact. Our brains are wired to bring us to a sense of safety as quickly as possible, so we look for the familiar pieces, internally saying, “Ho hum, another sunrise.” and continue to scan for danger OR or try to move away from discomfort and miss out on healing opportunities. The nervous system still prioritizes a basic form of survival over the longer lasting sense of well being gleaned from meditation or sitting still to bask in the colors of the morning sky.
Rather than schooling us, Mary Oliver leads by example, her poetry the clue that points to time spent living slowly, listening, watching, feeling, and then scouring the trove of words to describe her findings. She has compressed hours, or maybe years of labor into her art pieces. When we linger over her offerings, really tasting and savoring the images, they can re-expand, like those compressed sponge animals, waiting in their capsules to be reanimated. The lonely garden is reawakened inside us, and our own hand pulls back the leaf-tissue to reveal the gift.
Dr. Angus Fletcher, who has advanced degrees in both neuroscience and literature, says that our nervous systems are effected by our reading choices. If we read stories that include empathy, our bodies grow empathy. We are learning intellectually, and Fletcher’s think-tank at Ohio State says there is also much more happening than thoughts. We grow neural pathways in bizillions of ways, and we have some agency over what or where we’d like to grow. When we prioritize the witnessing eye of the artist, slowly taking in the details of life, our nervous system attunes to this. The same happens with meditation practice, and over time it can be easier to drop in to that place inside.
If you’re a lover of literature, you know the magic of immersing yourself in a book or a poem. Some of us also disappear into music, fine arts or “crafts”. Sometimes we might try to explain where we’ve been, but the inner life might feel too private, precious or just unwieldy to share. I believe it is a healing place, this eternal interior landscape, and it may help uphold us as we wake into our emerging new life.
I encourage you to contemplate the way you want to feel, then search for images, poetry or fiction that reflect this desire. Maybe you want to create an art piece that tells your story or follow Andy Goldsworthy’s lead and arrange dandelions to please your inner eye. Surround yourself with that which you want to become. In Fung Shui we’re encouraged to arrange and adorn our homes with this intention.
What kind of support will buoy you into Phases 4, 5 and beyond? Maybe you can hear that this idea of phases is just a construct, that our transitions will go on and on, until that final transition of death. This brings us back to the gift of this gorgeous day, this life: it won’t last. It is like the gift of an ice cream cone – you need to eat it now, you can’t put it off and have it another time. It’s already melting.
I am delighted to be able to offer scholarships again for yoga therapy. Please don’t be shy if you are in need of support and do not have the financial means right now. Likewise, if you’re moved to support this program contact me.