Poem: A Beat Behind

A Beat Behind

AspeninWY

Kant says we are removed from these moments
of our lives and we only know their effect
just as our vision of stars’ light, living on after
their technicolored deaths, is distant from the star
itself, heaving gas and heat, a flame – no, a frame
of light just visible and always a beat behind.
Millennia ago they sang their swan songs.

I’m learning to let myself be in time, in this
very second. Between chimes of the ting-sha
Tolle says that past and future are both illusions;
all we have is now. Kant has said we don’t
even have that so I choose to believe in beauty
over truth, to see echoes of stars and be struck
dumb by their pinpricks through this dark
matter fabric lightyears away, years ago.

PoudreCanyonCOSunset

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Yoga Teacher Training Musings

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of dharma recently, since it’s been a major theme in some of the readings for my yoga teacher training, like the Bhagavad Gita. Dharma is similar to the western concept of “love what you do; do what you love,” or the Christian concept of God’s plan (Jeremiah 29:11) or will for each individual. In simple terms, dharma is your life’s work or purpose; it is the answer to the questions, “Why am I here?” and “What’s the meaning of this life?” According to tradition, your dharma can change over time, and it does not need to be your profession, although this is why we ask people upon first meeting them, “What do you do?” Really we’re asking, “What are you about? What do you value in your life?”

My main question regarding dharma has to do with its relationship to success, because my first instinct in thinking about dharma is that, in order for something to be your life’s purpose, you should be successful at it. Obviously it’s more complicated than that, but how, exactly? I think about figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Paul Gauguin. King saw his ideas gain traction but didn’t see much concrete success in his own lifetime, and was actually murdered for his pursuit of equality. Gauguin’s paintings didn’t become widely known until after his death, and he didn’t start painting until after he’d begun working as a stockbroker. (He was later a salesman before painting full time, and this decision led, in part, to his divorce.)

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So are we supposed to achieve some level of success, maybe during our lives or after our deaths? Or maybe just a sense that the work we’re doing is important, somehow? At what point do we interpret obstacles as a sign that we’re not on the right path rather than a sign that we should persevere?

A teacher once told me that I’d know if I’m a writer if I need to write. He suggested an experiment: stop writing for a while, a couple weeks, and see if the urge to write occurs, and inspect this urge. Are its motivations guilt, wistful longing, or necessity? I have tried this sort of thing off and on. There are certainly times where the only way I can think through something properly is to write it. There are other times where a phrase or image comes to mind and I think, how great that would be in a poem, or story! A week ago a friend told me about a little girl she knew who, in times of stress or discomfort, would imitate a cat. She’d respond to questions with, “Meow,” crawl on all fours, and lick herself. The girl’s father was at his wits’ end. Wouldn’t they make excellent characters in a novel or short story?

There are times too when I sit down to write, or just think about writing, and my mind becomes a blank and boring and clear as I wish it would when I try meditating. I waver between complete doubt, feeling as though I’ve lost any artistic ability I’ve ever had, and complete confusion and a sort of awe at what emerges (this was here all along?!?!). It’s something like staring at a kitchen counter covered with bags of flour and sugar and cocoa, proceeding to go into a trance and, an hour and a half later, staring in amazement at a fully formed, perfectly pleasant-looking cake on the very same counter. Who knows how it tastes, but hey! It’s a cake!

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Did I need to write this? Maybe. But maybe someone needs to read it too. Love to all.

Firsts

I was jamming to this song (“2080” by Yeasayer) while cutting up some shallots the other night. I’ve always misinterpreted one of the lines to be, “It’s the first spring some have seen.” (These are the real lyrics, if you’re interested.) I prefer my version because it reminds us that spring is special and beautiful, and that some of us are experiencing that wonder at nature’s beauty for the first time.

When my little brother Sam was four or five years old, I was visiting home during that season’s first snow-shower. Sam had his nose and the palms of his hands pressed up against the glass door, staring out at the falling snow in disbelief. It had snowed in years past, but he’d been too young to remember.

“Sam,” I said. “What’s that?” I pointed outside.

“Snow!” he cried.

“What’s it like?” I asked him.

He rolled his eyes at me and, as much as a four-year-old can sound exasperated, said with a sigh, “I don’t know.” As in, how should he know? I’d figured he would answer with something like, “wet,” or “cold” – something he knew about snow without actually having experienced it, but instead he was perfectly honest. He knew snow when he saw it, and that was all he knew about it but, as evidenced by his nose on the glass, he was eager to learn more.

And who wouldn't be eager, with gorgeous snowy trees?

And who wouldn’t be eager, with gorgeous snowy trees?

I think many of us value first experiences to a certain extent, new parents especially: first smile, first steps, first word, first day of school. There are new experiences for us adults to celebrate too: first car, first home, first vacation, first international trip.

While listening to that Yeasayer song, a reading (The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele, chapter 6) I’d been assigned as part of my yoga teacher training occurred to me, and a particular passage of that reading, about letting go, or non-attachment, which is also an important tenant in Buddhism (I’ve found that Christians tend to refer to this concept with the terms “idols” and “idolatry”). The idea is this: if you’re spending time, energy, and effort regretting a past action or experience; holding onto some false conception of your identity; or even something that makes you sad – a poorly ended friendship or missed opportunity – what you’re really doing is taking space away from any  new opportunities, experiences, or adventures that may come your way. If I continue to beat myself up about a bad breakup, I’m keeping myself from fully enjoying all the other relationships in my life. More concretely, if I hold onto every single pair of shoes I acquire, pretty soon my closet won’t have any more room for even lovelier heels and flats and boots and sandals that may come my way.

Children are able to have so many new experiences so easily because they are spacious and eager to fill their shelves but, as we grow older, we must learn to make space and part with our pasts.

[Don’t worry, I still keep all my prettiest shoes.]

Love to all!

Easy to Forget

Below are a few brief thoughts I wanted to share with you all before I get back to doing what I should really be doing. (That ever-growing pile of clothes next to my bed isn’t going to fold itself?)

A wonderful description of love I came across today, from this poem:

“I have one way
to be happy
and she is that way.”

I believe it is easy to forget the love others have for us and the love that exists in our lives, the same way it is easy to forget the existence of stars, and whole worlds that orbit them, while living under the dark night skies of a downtown somewhere.

We are not just this conversation on the sidewalk under a streetlamp. We are not that failed hour of practicing piano that turned into watching YouTube videos, or the forgotten promise to walk the dog. We are what they are – all those stars and distant, distant planets.

This image from the Hubble space telescope is estimated to contain 10,000 galaxies.

This image from the Hubble space telescope is estimated to contain 10,000 galaxies.

We are the entire universe “becoming conscious of itself.” We are energy the same way starlight and symphonies and ocean currents are energy – but we also have love.

“If you are comforted
by this thought you are welcome
to keep it.”