Wherever I stay–a tent, a trailer, a bungalow, a borrowed room, a hotel, a townhouse, a loft, a studio apartment–an observation post is essential. Previous posts include a front yard Adirondack chair, a stool on a shallow balcony overlooking a parking lot, a porch swing, a stoop step.
Yesterday marked three weeks in Washington, D.C.; this morning, I found a lookout at my new home. A vital piece to the jigsaw puzzle of new routine.
The apartment building fronts Connecticut Avenue and faces west. Two driveways flanked by slate-paved sidewalks funnel cars and people to the lobby’s glass doors. Centered in the courtyard is a fountain with three spouts. Within the walls of the entry space, cascading water shushes traffic noise. To the right and to the left as you walk toward the 11-story building, four cedar benches are tucked in two alcoves beneath shade-giving dogwood trees. The gardeners are attempting to espalier magnolias along the stone walls without much luck.
Choosing a right-hand bench, on the south side of the driveway, I observe the world.
Straight-ahead: Residents in skirts and suits clutch briefcases and totes, some on the phone already. Nannies and parents come and go, pause if a tot tosses a stuffed duck from the stroller. Dog walkers hurry poodles and beagles to the park. Housekeepers sort keys. Carpenters carry their lunches in coolers.
Out on the street, more people, in cars and buses, driving garbage trucks and delivery vans. Intrepid bicyclists claiming a lane. All machines with wheels I ignore.
I’m concealed to observe sidewalk pedestrians.
Writing instructors advise novices to sit in a cafe and people watch, to notice tics and expressions that make their ways into stories’ characters. By imagining a stranger’s life, they also practice empathy.
Certainly taking in the world during hours seated in airports and on buses, subways and trains fleshed out my stories and triggered poems. Make up two characters and put them together in a situation and you’ve stitched a relationship: there’s a story.
Catch a phrase, place it under a bell jar and it might metamorphose into a stanza of verse.
As a writer and an editor, I look for relationships of the parts of the body of a piece of writing to the entire piece. I show a student how tension between a sentence and a line harmonize in a poem. We’ll rearrange an essay’s paragraphs to bring ideas into logical order.
As a yoga teacher, I look for relationships of parts of a body to the whole. Together with a student, we uncover the body’s sense of internal organization. We harmonize movement and breath. We ask, in what ways, physically and emotionally, are we motile?
Yoga models as seen on YouTube and in magazines resemble cyborgs more than they do real-life teachers and students. Most of us inhabit forms that aren’t particularly symmetrical, pure, grand or refined. They are, in all cases, beautiful-bods that are lopsided, steady, injured, whole, small, tall, resonant, reedy….what have you.
Instead of personalities or plots, from my blind I am seeing the wonder and range of physical life.
How do two shoulders relate to each other? Where do fingertips fall? Which leg leads a step? Where is the neck in relationship to the entire spine? In which direction lends the gaze? How do the feet support the body, the sitting bones the torso?
I’ve had amazing hairstylists in my life. (When my hair’s a mess, it’s not their fault! I am a wash and brush person.) Looking at me they take in strands’ texture, condition, color, shine and how the mop falls. Their minds spin ways to enhance whatever’s happening on the head that day. Sure they notice a necklace or new sweater, expression, posture and demeanor but they are attuned to hair. Hair is what they can do and what they love to do.
Bodies are the same way for me. Your hairiness or hairlessness, t-shirt or blouse, that zit or wrinkle are irrelevant.
When I see you, I am listening to the body, observing it.
My mind flips through its Rolodex for possibilities of breathing exercises and postures, and meditations to complement them.
To me, dear student, your body is bonny. We find places where it can move. We find space for breath. We invite the mind to rest. By assuming yoga postures, we align the kit and caboodle of your being with this gravitationally ruled planet.
And, strangers, when I seem to be sitting idly on a bench, know that I am working. As a musician attends concerts, a painter museums, a poet readings, I am attending to my craft, familiarizing myself with movement patterns, immersing myself in possibilities, honing intuition.
It’s by paying attention that anything is learned.