This morning I walked through the woods with my son Ursa. We walked very slowly. He held my hand willingly through the particularly slippery parts, explaining that patience and care-taking were gifts his fairy godmothers had given him when he was born. We paused often to examine the forest: the striped turkey tail migrating across the fallen logs, the bright green moss that had been knocked off the tree branches by the birds, and the dark- blue stellar jay spraying its proud squawking song. Ursa went down to the edge of the pond and looked the crooked blue-grey heron right in the eye, and then we lumbered on to the next miracle. At one point toward the end of our walk, he stopped and said, “I wish you were better, because then we could run.” And I thought to myself, “I don’t. I am here, right now with you, moving slowly, taking care and it is perfect.”
Two weeks ago I tore a ligament in my knee, so the visit to the canyon this morning felt particularly sweet. When I am healthy, I walk or run through these woods five times a week. It’s one of my favorite places in the city. I come to these woods to ground, to breath, to make space. Prior to injuring my knee, I would zip along the trails, stopping here or there to pick some berries, watch the heron be a heron, or spy on the shy-great white egret. Slowing down had been more of a practice than a necessity. This morning was the first time in two and a half weeks I have been able to visit these woods and plant my feet in the mud. In my absence, the trees had gone forward and sprouted their juvenile green fuzz, the geese are in heat and arguing loudly about who’s who and what's what, and the water is clear and clean from the rain and cold. Everything felt familiar in its change except for me.
In the beginning of her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron describes how she came to Buddhism. Her husband had revealed to her that he was having an affair, at which point, she looked at the New Mexico sky, the steam rising from her tea, and experienced a limitless stillness. Then, she writes, “I regrouped and threw a rock at him.” After his revelation, as much as she tried to regain her footing, her sense of security, fortunately for her--and us as her readers and students--she never could. Instead, she had to stay with the groundlessness. “To stay with the shakiness-to stay with the broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge--that is the path of true awakening.”
When I injured my knee in front of my students a few weeks ago with a loud stellar-jay worthy, squawking-pop, I felt that same sense of stillness…..until I didn’t. At which point I threw a rock at myself. I believe the words I uttered out loud, in front of everyone, were, “God, I am such a dumb ass.” You see, after the moment of stillness, I could see everything clearly. I knew exactly what I had done to myself, how I did it, and exactly how bad it was. Hind-sight is, afterall, 20/20.
After class, a dear student, aptly named Angel, said “Audra, stop being so hard on yourself, you aren’t a dumb ass, it just happened.” Angel’s words echo in my ears. The voice that rose from within me was the stern leader who demands perfection, who will not accept failure or weakness, and because that voice is so much a part of me, she is very difficult to see, let alone engage with kindly. But for Angel, she recognized that part of me immediately and called me out. For that I am very grateful.
The last couple of years...perhaps even decades... have been a whirlwind of peaks and valleys. I have been operating in extremes for so long that even I was beginning to feel a deep need to slow down. But slowing down a high speed train, built for covering lots of ground quickly, all by yourself, is more difficult than it seems. I did not honor this inner knowing, this deep need. In fact, I sped things up. So, I got my divine intervention. A woman I was studying with the last time I was in San Marcos, Texas said that she regards all of her injuries as divine. All of the parts of herself that we normally might compartmentalize and disown, she calls God. She envelopes the falling apart pieces into a new kind of wholeness, perhaps not the same, but still whole. This concept has stuck with me.
A week ago, I could not have written this blog. A week ago, I would have told you I was fine and not meant a word of it. A week ago, I told everyone that I had stopped feeling sorry for myself, which was a complete lie. Today, I am on the precipice of understanding the words of Pema’s teacher Trungpa Rinpoche “Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news."
Slowing down, all of a sudden out of no where, is complete and utter chaos for a speeding train. And I am learning how to be in with it, to greet the good news. To accept and shift, to engage with my daily life a little more awake, and with a little more care. The teachers that life throws our way are hardly ever convenient, or as glamourous as we imagine them to be before they happen. While walking in the woods this morning, I felt overcome with a feeling of purpose around my injury. I have slowed down. I am right here. Whether or not it is possible to take these lessons a step further and integrate them into my daily life after I am healed, moving at normal speed, remains to be seen. Although, I have high hopes that this kind of long lasting change is possible for all of us, and I am grateful for this lense of yoga through which it is possible to make meaning and bear witness to this great art project of life.