Is it possible to be a novice at something you’ve been doing for years?
Yoga instruction books explain the normalities of those newbies beginning yoga practices. Understanding the body is essential to yoga practice and in the early stages of yoga, the body unleashes a reliable yet unexpected stream of energy. This may help explain the decreased need for sleep early on. But as the body adjusts and muscles are strengthened, the amount of sleep normally needed returns. I always found that living contradiction marvelous. As the body uses new muscles which should deplete energy, the body experiences a temporary abundance of wakeness. As the muscles become familiar to moves and stretches, the nocturnal pattern returns.
I have begun and left yoga only to return again months later. With my frequent stints, a lasting period of beginning and ending, I’m at a constant state of novelty. This disloyalty has continued for nearly two decades. The epiphanies are always the same once my body remembers the arches, pulls, and smooth arm arcs: I should keep this up. I should commit to furthering my practice. This feels amazing. And yet when my routine changes, my morning yoga is the first thing I remember to forget.
The same is true for prayer. My kind of prayer. The kind of prayer where I stand in front of an closed window and open it slowly, allowing panefulls of breezes to wash over me. I stand in the same spot, hear the same creak in the wooden floors beneath my bare feet, listen to the trees rustle, temporarily pierced by a far away siren and take in the glory of mystery. Why am I here? Why was I born in this time? Who do I love, and do they know it?
I take it back. Prayer is the first thing I remember to forget when things get hectic.
Reading a book, hard thick paged reading, was abandoned a long time ago. As a child, I read voraciously, to the point of my staunchly religious mother wondering if the devil was tempting me through silent words of a stranger’s mind because I read in secret, openly, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and every free moment in between. My fifth grade teacher would tell you that the days she relented and treated the class to a game instead of quiet time, the class would squeal as they played Four Corners and I, to be obedient, would play along, too, but only with a book in my hands, my eyes moving left to right while I followed the herd of my friends, trying to choose a corner that would not be picked by whomever was It. Last one standing won the game and got to be It. Even with my book, never paying attention, I won and resented becoming It. It forced me to put my book down and play a silly game with lots of giggles. I wanted to be lost in the world of stories, guessing, and feeling like someone was drawing a picture for me in my head.
“Remain in me.” So says today’s reading.
Well, what does that mean? Remain in me? Who is “me?” Those beautiful trees I pray in front of in the morning? My noisily sleeping, teeth grinding child in the next room? How does one remain?
“I have told you this…so that your joy might be complete.”
Ahh, yes, joy. That word that everyone writes in wedding cards and birthday greetings. That word people use to up the anty on happiness. The idea that something beyond ourselves is attainable yet is only given by something other than ourselves, this Joy that must be granted, not oddly earned.
Joy is the even streamed energy that bolsters my joints, limbs, and mind. The sources for it are, unfortunately, those first things I remember to forget when life gets hectic: prayer, yoga, reading. And upon rumination, the list continues: friends, writing, dancing, painting, learning, laughing. These are the first things to go, the first people thrown off the boat to preserve whatever distortion we have of life. But these are precisely the things we stay alive for. What kind of survival ends with misery if all that gives joy is surrendered?
In the strange mix of extroversion and introversion, I need both relationships and solitude to thrive. Somewhere along the way, I think, the idea that my life is purely to serve others without taking joy for myself began to breed, especially when I became a mother. It is time to reclaim those pieces of myself in sustained practice.
Yesterday morning I did morning salutations and so I woke at 4am, feeling quite refreshed. I picked up the book I had been waiting to read for quite some time, “An Untamed State” by an author and editor who is slowly shifting into a permanent state of Important in my life, Roxane Gay. I read for nearly three hours. And I feel, suddenly, like the adult I envisioned I would be as a girl: a writer with big dreams, stealing literary moments when her family sleeps, running on foreign lands I’d never been with an expert tourist called an author. Today it was Haiti. I close the book when my body calls for water, or food. I go to write my morning pages.
God asks us to remain one with God. God is in us, We are in God. To remain in God is to remain in ourselves.
Do the things that continuously bring you back to yourself. God awaits in the pages, in the arm arcs, by the window pane.