“The philosopher and the poet-yogin both have standing not too far behind them the shaman, with his or her pelt and antlers and other various guises, and with songs going back to the Pleistocene and before,” Gary Snyder writes. He says the poet, shaman and yogini are at ease in the wilderness and the unconscious.
Reading, writing, speaking and listening to poetry taught me to listen. It’s as if each written word is a portal into meanings beyond meanings. Many poets collect dictionaries and relish falling into a rabbit hole of etymology. But it’s more than the meaning. We know that metaphor is an attempt to carry over meaning, and that like all bridges it can fail. But looking at text can be like reading music, each letter of a word functioning like a note, together the letters making phrases of sound that are words and words with words, harmonizing. When I listen to spoken words they transport to another realm like music can.
The thing is, though, words can be pursued. One leads to another and another until they’re rounded up like wild mustangs by the helicopter of the mind.
It’s being with animals, sitting beside a stream in a patch of wilderness or on a city park bench, watching and listening to birds, in particular–because they are the animals most at ease with humans (we cannot follow them when they want to escape)–that showed me how true listening is not about tracking after clues but biding right here with what is. This true waiting requires both time and space, literal and figurative, real and imagined, in an expansive state of credulousness and incredulousness that, paradoxically, has no-thing to do with time and space as we measure them.
Yoga can be an exploration of that unmeasurable time and space within the laboratory of the body. It’s a surprise to find the nose reaches the knees today or the breath seems to seep more deeply into an area of the body that was holding. An hour-long class seems mere minutes. A challenging pose makes one minute feel like one hour.
That’s why if we meld Yoga and poetry with an awareness of the non-human world magic can happen. One definition of magic is changing consciousness at will. Sitting among animals requires us to welcome non-human awareness; poems lead us to see the familiar anew; Yoga braids through movement the three strands of body, mind and feeling (spirit, emotion, soul, self…call it what you will). One example of this process is Meditation, Movement and Verse. A beautiful poem visits the group. And another. And beauty matters because it makes us pause whether we find it on the published page, the nourishing plate, the sun-covered plain. Beauty stills us in time and in space. We are for a moment animals purely alive.
Snyder continues, “The evidence of anthropology is that countless men and women, through history and prehistory, have experienced a deep sense of communion and communication with nature and with specific nonhuman beings….People of goodwill who cannot see a reasonable mode of either listening to, or speaking for, nature except by analytical and scientific means must surely learn to take this complex, profound, moving, and in many ways highly appropriate worldview of yogis, shamans, and ultimately all our ancestors into account. One of the few modes of speech that give us access to that other yogic or shamanistic view (in which all are one and all are many, and the many are precious) is poetry and song.”
I hope to see you in a poetry or Yoga class or one that combines the two.