(Or Life’s Cyclical Nature Reflected in Yoga)
Annually, my husband and I enjoy going to hear Handel’s Messiah performed by our local Oratorio Society. There are not assigned seats at these concerts, so we have to arrive quite early to make sure we can sit where we want. We actually enjoy sitting quietly next to each other for an hour, reading while we wait for the music to begin. As parents of three, the “forced” quiet before the show is time we look forward to. It’s a rare thing indeed for us to have an uninterrupted quiet hour together!
This year, just as we settled in and cracked open our books, a large group of senior citizens began to stream in. It was already fairly crowded and there weren’t many seats available. As we were at one end of an otherwise empty row, it was a sure thing we’d be getting some neighbors. I reflexively went into the posture I assume on airplanes when I’m not interested in starting a conversation that will certainly continue for the duration of the flight. You know the one: book open, head down, body turned slightly away from the neighboring seat, eyes studiously focused on anything but the new arrival’s face.
It didn’t work.
My new neighbor was chatting before she even sat down. She was a beautiful woman, all dressed up for the show, with a bright smile on her face. She was brimming with questions. Had we been to the concert before? Did we live in the area? Did we know any of the performers? She was clearly very excited to be there and wanted to talk! I politely responded to a few of her questions, but deliberately returned my attention to my book after each exchange determined to end the conversation.
I thought my “airplane posture” had done the trick when she turned to chat with to the person sitting on her other side. As I heaved an inner sigh of relief, however, my husband (who must have been listening in on their conversation) leaned over me to ask about her retirement community. My hopes of 45 quiet minutes lost in my book were dashed. It looked like we’d be chit-chatting with this stranger. Grrr.
Within minutes, however, she captured my full attention. She raved about her community, the gorgeous facility and six beautifully decorated Christmas trees. She described the staff as kind, caring and professional. She told us eating there was like eating at a great restaurant every night, but for $13! She described the events and classes planned for the residents (she’d actually taken a 4-week class in preparation for hearing Messiah!). She proudly told us about her daughter and a grand-daughter. This woman seemed to be relishing life; wringing all she could out of her every experience!
Her effervescence must have been contagious because, after the concert ended, I was the one who started the conversation. “Aren’t you glad you came!?” I enthused. “Yes! It’s so important to do new things before you die.” she replied. Stunned by her comment, I smiled and said, “Don’t talk like that.” And then she really shocked me. She went on to tell me that she couldn’t wait to die — she thought it would be a grand new adventure. (Not to mention, she was really looking forward to seeing her husband again!) My mind was reeling. How could someone so incredibly full of life be eagerly awaiting death?
Our yoga practices teach us about the cyclical nature of the human experience. Within each posture, we learn that the beginning and end offer very different gifts. In the beginning, we’re keenly aware of our bodies, focusing on alignment, working out the physical aspects of the asana. In the end, we’re settled and at peace in our bodies and have shifted our attention to our breath and to the peace and quiet that just being in the posture offers us.
We practice the art of beginning and ending as we move through our practice. Each posture must come to an end. If this weren’t the case, we’d never get to move through the rich experience of a full asana sequence. Instead, we’d just be stuck in one posture wearing ourselves out.
Beyond individual postures, we learn that our practice in general circles from beginning to end. We begin in stillness, move through the postures, and return to finish in the stillness in which we started. We learn that our rests in savasana are more rewarding after we’ve thrown ourselves into our practice with physical and mental intensity. We learn that while the work of the postures is fleeting, the joy we receive from them is ours to carry away. In fact, we ride the waves of that joy into our rests at the end of our practice. Yoga teaches us that the more we give ourselves over to an experience – the beginning, the middle and the end — the more we receive to carry away from that experience.
I think this is what the woman next to me at the concert was trying to teach me. She loved her life, but was unafraid of its end. She’d lived a long time, loved a lot, lost a lot and, in the process received a lot to carry away with her. She was still pouring herself into life even as she looked forward to life’s end.
Maybe by embracing death as a part of our life experience, we are freed to throw ourselves into life without reservation. Maybe to really love something the way this woman seemed to love her life, we have to love it with open arms; we have to be willing to experience the joy it offers without trying to hold onto it. Maybe to live and to love life completely, we have to be willing to let it go. We have to let it unfold the way it will — relishing every twist and turn along the way– even as it unfolds unto death.
I’m so glad she sat next to me. I’m so glad I opened myself to connect with her. After all, I can always read my book at home!
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