The first days of summer have presented me with a very clear theme through such events as the recall of red toxically painted Thomas the Trains made in China, (which means that James #5, my son Liam’s favorite, could potentially poison him), a no-holds-barred geyser in the front yard from a broken pipe at 2am Solstice morning, and a bird who inadvertently committed suicide against the newly washed windows of my in-house yoga studio, a result of my best efforts at creating clarity through Fung Shui. I’m considering my relationship with the earth and the responsibility that comes with being a serious yoga practitioner.
Last week I lay down on the grass in San Francisco and looked at little puffy white clouds moving by at a good clip. I got out my camera and snapped. I thought about the phrase we yoga teachers almost universally use referring to meditation, “watching thoughts pass like clouds, notice the thought; then let it go.” During periods where my meditation practice languishes, I tend to get attached to the significance of my thoughts as if what I’m thinking is actually how it is ‘out there.’ So I sit – and watch on a regular basis– Fung Sui for my inner life.
As for the nature of the clouds I was watching on my back that day, this is what I observed: some clouds merge into others easily. Some get really close to one another but there is this mysterious space between them that keeps them from ever fully joining. Some dissolve into the sky on their ride to somewhere else. And there really are clouds shaped like hearts. The sky wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic a backdrop without the presence of clouds. In our practice it is admirable to aspire toward a cloudless quiet mind and I am forever grateful for sitting. But I’m also glad to be challenged by my own reactions to front yard geysers, dead birds despite my best efforts, and relationships that force me to grow.
Climate change will demand we all change. I’m asking myself where I’m willing, when I’m not and why — and learning about my attachment to comfort and to raspberries each morning that use more fuel than they’re worth, being shipped from South America. It seems to me that caring enough to sacrifice some comfort for the sake of other people and the planet requires two qualities. A book I’m reading by a Harvard professor on the anatomy of joy (“Stumbling on Happiness”) delineates two kinds of joy, the first being as he puts it, the easy one, is the happiness that comes from emotional or sensate enjoyment. The second type of happiness comes from living ethically. Yoga offers both. The asana practice in many ways falls into the first category because it creates the sensation of relaxation. On it own its a panacea. The first two limbs of yoga, the ethical disciplines, present us with a foundation of being. When we are able to tell the truth consistently, then we know who we are. Until then we are simply hiding — mostly from ourselves.
So it is with love. The word ‘love’ gets terrific airplay – I love my students and I love my son and I love Lululemon apparel and it’s not all the same. There are flavors of love like flavors of ice-cream and some I’ll always ask for more than others. As for the great notion of loving, throwing ourselves in and knowing that sometimes it’s going to turn out differently than we planned is a great deal more worthwhile than remaining tentative. So I’m spending alot of time outside because it feels good and I want to love the earth like some of the people I most respect do. Love it so I can tangibly feel it, as well as love it because its my responsibility to love it. So far the greatest success in emotional loving has been lying down on the ground where the ones I have loved the most in life lie buried. I place my head on the dirt where my dad’s ashes are. I couldn’t get too much closer to the earth unless I was in it myself. And I talk to that dirt like its listening with the great big heart of my dad.
So far this is what summer has been made of: The bird died despite my good efforts. Each cloud was dramatic and beautiful in its own rite. James number 5 has been surreptitiously confiscated. The way we are using water at our house is totally up for consideration and the raspberries have yet to be sacrificed. I keep sitting so as to remind myself that the clouds of my personal challenges are topping on a blessed sundae of a life. Meanwhile the trees keep bearing fruit with no attachment to getting anything back for their efforts and everything is in bloom. There is a long joyful summer ahead… full of caring for each other, our bodies, minds, and hearts, and the earth as best we can.
May your summer be great and may you find yourself in places inside yourself you have never been before….
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.
-Lao Tzu, trans. by Stephen Mitchell