“The Fascination of What’s Difficult”

There's a dance party in my head, and you're invited. Dancing Ganesha, from the Norton Simon museum.

Today is my birthday. Because it falls around Thanksgiving, I’m used to a sort of mixture of remorse (for what I ate), gratitude (it is a day to give thanks, after all), and a deep sense of my own mortality (a natural by-product of all birthdays over 30).

And with all the Ashtanga news lately being totally preoccupied with things that are most decidedly not one of the Eight Limbs (whether or not it makes you skinny, whether or not it’s from the Devil–that sort of silliness), it’s part of my contrary nature to take stock of my own vanity.

It’s true that I didn’t come to the practice to deepen my connection with the universe or learn Vedic philosophy. But it wasn’t to get skinny, either. I had early onset degeneration and arthritis and was trying to beat back death (see earlier sense of mortality, but I was in my 20s). Ashtanga was the only practice where the teacher never told me to “stop when it hurts.” Everything hurt. I felt, instinctually that I needed to do it, even if every forward fold was excruciating. Steve remembers all the times I would come home from practice, weeping.

Now a new study out of Northwestern University is suggesting I’ve made the right choice. (NPR did a story on it this morning–very timely.) Those of us who practice in pain are doing the right thing.

It’s not like there was never any doubt. You might check out this poem by W.B. Yeats, the poem of my title above, to see what that’s like. But it was the philosophy of yoga, and Ashtanga in particular, that got me through it, and still does. Reading Ramesh Menon’s translations of the great Indian epics, classic translations of the Upanishads, the poetry, and learning to connect to the divine through the image and stories of Ganesha, the Lord of Obstacles.

What’s a goal? Me and my ego still have long discussions over my second series practice (I hear Tim in my head: “Avoidance is not the answer”). I try hard to remember the whole journey. Every time I put my hands together over my head in a suryanamaskar, there’s a little party in my head, a little dance (I couldn’t do that when I was 28). I suppose you could say that’s vanity. Or demonic. Maybe, though, it’s more “daemonic,” in the ancient Greek sense, a moment that belongs to the intermediary between me and the universe. Whatever it is, it makes me smile, even on the day I complete my 47th year.

Posted by Bobbie

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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