Joy, excitement and mystery

Wonder relies on curiosity, a word derived from “care.” Rachel Carson knew that wonder is a prerequisite for responding to the world with delight and sensitivity. She revealed how the possibility of discovery inhabits each moment. She encouraged everyone to engage the senses. Her book The Sense of Wonder is essential reading for every parent, grandparent or teacher, for anyone who desires to be fully alive and share that.

Rachel Carson

I first read the book when I was teaching schoolchildren and took to heart Carson’s quote, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” I mostly work with adults these days and find the same need applies to them, and to me. Upon entering a teaching space, my focus shifts  depending on whether I am present as teacher, assistant or student. Really, the roles are rolled into one: wonderer.

Each of us reaches out and receives experience based on our umwelt, the collective environmental factors that influence an individual. In The View from the Oak, Herbert Kohl and Judith Kohl acknowledge, “It is difficult to understand the umwelt of creatures that have different sense and sizes than ours. It is tempting to interpret animal life in terms of human images….We have to be cautious and work our way slowly into the worlds of animals. Patience is necessary, and absolute silence. You have to learn how to be in the presence of animals without disturbing them, and to be able to distinguish slight differences between animals of the same species.”

When we explore shapes and breathing in a yoga asana, we patiently practice working our way into noticing slight differences in our own bodies and mental states (as student) and in others (as teacher). Mayhap these skills transfer into sensitivity to others–friends, strangers, animals, people–as we enter and exit their spheres.

More on wonder.

 

Hands truly free

Coming home from two days away from the internet, I found letters from pen pals in Ohio, Utah and Washington, DC in my mail box and a note from a Sacramento neighbor on the stoop. A postal bonanza!

"Ether" by Theresa Williams
“Ether” by Theresa Williams

I’ve been thinking lately of dystopian novels and television shows geared for teens, especially the pilot  of “Delirium.” The scene is a walled city where emotions are controlled by officials. A few outsiders risk falling in love and deviating into “delirium.”  The rebels seek direct experience. They want to draw their own conclusions using human hearts and minds.

After 60 hours away from email and social media, I noticed that the web effectively encloses us as securely as a paddock fence. We graze the browse of a landscape prepared for us by someone else, based on narrow preferences.

Holding the four notes, handwritten, crafted in moments of quiet in one corner of the world for me to receive in another, I thought of how freeing it is to turn off machines and connect with another person purely through feeling my response to their sentiments. A letter takes days to arrive and contains dated information…and seems like the real deal. For every letter holds the presence of two people reaching toward each other in trust and curiosity, aware of the preciousness of  time and space. (It’s sort of like partner yoga. It’s certainly like reading or writing a poem.)

Living in a corral is safe and familiar and can be companionable and easy. But how surprising that just a couple of decades into the ubiquitousness of the web, it feels deliciously insubordinate to physically walk away from all devices, eyes gazing straight ahead, hands truly free.

My Ohio pen pal, who created this art card, inspired this poem about letter writing.

Among buildings or trees

Where we are living. Map by Carrie Osgood.

City or country, among buildings or trees, the poetry of yoga asks us to rise from the dark weight of the night’s body or the dead weight of the day’s and become alive again, to be lighter in every possible way. And to see with the insight of quiet light. – Stanley Plumly from “Lyric Yoga” in How We Live Our Yoga

Moving ahead with my heart

Writing outside, my Day Poems students and I settled last weekend into what a friend calls “the pace of the body.” Pinning our pages to the table with water bottles and pens, we set down quatrains of observations stitched to facts about the Solstice, knotted to our human history and hearts. Tall trees created shade, a rooster crowed in the distance, cars guttered along highway 49, children questioned parents about the rubbly buildings, sparrows swept through the picnic area, a lone butterfly joggled past. 

In yoga class, we talk about range of motion, finding space within the body. As we wrote Day Poems in Coloma I thought about our 21st-century range of motion. Roads and planes shrink distances and increase trips. We access people and information in seconds through the internet. We are exposed to so much so fleetingly. And yet out bodies haven’t changed much.

If there’s a secret to Day Poems it’s creating stillness spacious enough to observe a piece of the world’s tapestry long enough to notice the threads, while inviting complexity through juxtaposition. “Still” comes from an Old English word meaning “to be fixed,” “to stand.” A small poem made and shared fixes a spot in personal and communal time. And then, by merely breathing the few dozens words, space is created in the body, at the pace of the human organism.


Two Poems, One Day

6/21/14: 12 hours of daylight today

The Sun is a Star

White magnolia saucers,

pale yellow poppy petals,

woolly mullein spear, orange

pomegranate trumpets: all wholly flowers.

 

6/21/14: the longest day

The Sun is the Central Body

Looking up at the sheer light

of long-distance summer sun on

pea-green pine needles I am

moving ahead with my heart.

 

Alexa Mergen

 

 

Ustrasana + Judy Halebsky

Ustrasana, camel pose, opens the chest that holds the heart; it calls on strength of legs, arms and abdomen. The pose can access a flood of emotions: recollections, forgettings and wonderings–to observe and release.

On the Coast

I forget how to measure with my hands
the length between the root cellar, the room at the back of the house, the
clothesline and the shore
I forget the dream fish, the tooth fairies, the angel’s wings on me in the night
I forget how to nestle the worry
up into my lungs
tuck my memories into dark crevasses
with the tobacco and stale smoke
how I moved so far away, why I didn’t study biology, where were the babies
when these weary bones could stay up all night
I try to remember
the dry texture of breadfruit in my mouth
the sand shifting into the shape of my body
our shadows in the night while I push you to push me
out into the water
that lasts forever
and then disappears

– Judy Halebsky

Note:  first published in mamazine; poem used by permission of the poet

Pair with: ustrasana

Speak: The poem uses stanza breaks to bring in space. Let the silence of those spaces resonate.

Consider how much we hold in our heart’s memory.

Become it

Danielle Foster forming wheel pose beside a classic high-wheeler bike at Davis City Hall. Photo by Adrienne Heinig, June 2014.
Danielle Foster in wheel pose beside a classic high-wheeler bike at Davis City Hall, California. Photo by Adrienne Heinig, June 2014.

 

Teacher and dancer Mary Anthony encouraged her students to “find their physical, spiritual and emotional center.” Artists and athletes access this center through imagery. “Find a verse of poetry and become it,” Anthony said. Sculpture, language, photography, movement, yoga: become what you are at the center of your being, even if for a moment.

Today, look for your center, of gravity, of inspiration, of self. As for the scuba diver swimming for sunken treasure, wonders can be seen in the very act of your seeking.

Virabhadrasana II + Leza Lowitz

We take a solid stance, feel our connection with common ground and can be. Then rejoice (!) as the poem’s speaker calls on us to.

The Six Perfections

 

Be generous:

giving.

Be virtuous:

kind.

Be patient:

devoid of anger.

Be happy:

cherish others over yourself.

Be still:

honor the silence.

Be wise:

understand the nature of all things

as empty.

 

Rejoice in these six perfections.

They are

the path and the light

a meteor

an illumination

a shelter

a home

a goal

an island

a mother and a father.

The six perfections lead to knowledge.

to understanding,

to supreme, truly perfect enlightenment.*

 

Practice the six perfections to perfection.

Then lavishly pass them on.

 

* “supreme, truly perfect enlightenment”: R.C. Jamieson, trans., The Perfection of Wisdom

Leza Lowitz

Note: previously published in Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections (Stone Bridge Press 2011);  reprinted with permission of the poet

Pair with: virabhadrasana II

Speak: This poems has three distinct sections. Think of it as a body posture, different parts making an integrated whole.

Consider what happens after a practice. Sharing?

Behind our backs

Robert Webster at the Enid A. Haupt Garden, Washington DC, June 2014
Robert Webster at the Enid A. Haupt Garden, Washington DC, June 2014

 

“Time and light are the same thing somewhere behind our backs,” writes Charles Wright in “Meditation on Form and Measure” from Black Zodiac. Wright was named America’s Poet Laureate last week.

Make a gesture or create a form that invites time and light behind your back today. It could be a gentle backbend (lovingly called “heart openers”) or sitting on a bench facing away from the sun, letting it warm your shoulders.

Viparita Karani + Ziyong

A gatha verse becomes part of a meditation, often a gratitude practice. Repeated, the sounds of the words of a gatha invite you inside them, similar to lectio divina. Time and space seem to shift. Remember parroting the same word again and again as a little kid? The word loses its sense in sound, throwing the known world a little off kilter, in a good way. Here the poem’s speaker recognizes samadhi in small gestures; she recognizes that wisdom can be found all around. Viparita karani can lead to a similar experience: resting, gentling the body, making space for the heart, wisdom arrives. The shape is uncomplicated, legs up the wall, and just different enough to feel as if you’re transported for a few minutes outside the time and space of a regular day. Renewed.

Traveling Gatha

I still recall how, with my bag on a pole,

I forgot my yesterdays,

Wandered the hills, played in the waters,

went to the land of the clouds.

The lift of an eyebrow, the blink of an eye–

all of it is samadhi;

In this great world there is nowhere that is

not a wisdom hall.

 

– Ziyong

 

Note: previously published in Daughters of Emptiness: Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns (Wisdom Publications, 2003);  reprinted with permission of the press

Pair with: viparita karani

Speak: This poem is two sentences, one of description and one of conclusion. Allow your voice to gain authority as the poem progresses.

Consider the double negative: “there is nowhere that is not a wisdom hall.”