by Mary Oliver
These are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You are not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
When headlong might save a life,
Even, possibly, your own.
Times takes on a difference pace in India. Getting some simple grocery items takes a long time while two hours of yoga practice is just one-third of the time for yoga here. A day like today sailed speedily into the late afternoon yet a few moments in the four-hour master class with Geeta Iyengar (Geetaji) felt like so eternal.
Back in her signature green bloomers, Geetaji walked out of the elevator independently and began to raise her voice in her native tongue to a local student. I was probably not the only foreigners who were wondering if she was upset about that student’s placement right at the Patanjali’s statute, obstructing her access. It was hard to tell but certainly put me on notice about the “tone” of the class. Sometimes moments like this trigger part of our subliminal impressions buried deeply: families, experiences, social norms, political values and deep emotional entanglements. 2018 has been a difficult year for me, both personally and politically. The recent ethics complaint concerning a senior teacher from California has affected many of us in the Iyengar Yoga community in various ways. Along with other happenings, this has further sparked a stream or counter-current of consciousness that is characterized by fears for the unknown, clinging to the known. It has also been a period of revisiting unaddressed questions, over and over again, of reflecting upon new inquiries: How can I reconcile in dealing with conflicting values and situations? Can I overlook certain aspects of my longheld identities while holding the rest at high esteem? Can I both love someone and denounce his or her actions? The question marks are many but the answers remain unclear.
In a class last week with Prashant Iyengar (Prashantji), he introduced the metaphor of “twilight.” I love twilight and have taken numerous pictures during these ephemeral moments. The atmosphere carries a mysterious mood, being either completely lit nor completely dark. “It is neither klista or aklista. It is neutral.” Prashantji pointed out. He suggested that we seeks such conditions of neutrality in our mind. It is neither pleasure-seeking nor pain-avoiding as either state brings sufferings. Twilight is this in-between, blurred zone. It is the viksipta state (distracted state) of consciousness. As Swami Hariharananda Aranya comments on Vyasa’s bhasya: “This [viksipta mind] is different from the restless mind. Most of the spiritual devotees have this type of mind. A mind which can be calm sometimes and disturbed at other times is regarded as a distracted mind. When temporarily calm, a distracted mind can understand the real nature of subtle principles when it hears of them and can contemplate on them for a time.” In other words, it is the twilight: mysterious, confusing, dissipating and beautiful. It is either good or bad, it is a naked field of light and space, the neutral elements of life. The whole point is being present in this field and nothing more is necessary.
At Geetaji’s class this morning, after who’s-counting how many Ustrasana (Camel Pose), my body sensed fatigue and the mind was looking for ways to ameliorate the perceived “distressful situation.” Am I just busy doing and doing and dying? Will Geetaji move on to other backbending poses? It is really hot in here or just me? When she moved onto Urdhva Dhanurasana, I made the “choice” to integrate Prashantji’s teaching, particularly on the associated breath, body and mind. Wait. I am in Geetaji’s class. Let me try and see. “One more!” and many more. “Place your hands. Feet closer. One more.” “Push up. Higher. HIGHER!” Geetaji’s voice was fierce and unrelenting. Yet it was so different from the voice I registered at the beginning of class. This didn’t feel like an external voice but an internal voice. The ego mind had disappeared at that moment, or a few moments in the thread of backbending poses. The likes and dislikes were not concerned. The breath felt like the light particles in a twilight sky, filling the space within. It is not about perfecting the poses, obeying Geetaji or working the body; it becomes a fleeting moment of freedom that is felt from the body inwardly toward a deep core, unconditioned by my identities and memories.
This is why I continue my studentship of Iyengar Yoga. May we all rest in twilight, a refuge within us.