“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day 66: The World Outside the Window

I used not to be the most observant person in the world.  Either I had a lot on my mind, or I was in a hurry.  Or both.  I remember once, when I was about twenty-four, I had just moved into a new apartment and a friend was picking me up to go out to dinner.  I had made the decision to break up with my boyfriend and move out so quickly that I hadn't really paid attention to what the new house looked like.  It was a cute little mother-in-law studio above a house in Greenwood, with white walls and a nice view of the street, and the price was right, and I had just walked in and said, "I'll take it."  So when my friend asked for directions on the phone, he said, "What color is the house?" I asked him if he could hold the phone for a second.  I went outside, then came back up.  "It's white," I said.

In my meditation class with Rebecca Rivers, she talked about how one of the reasons to do yoga and to meditate is to scrub off the windows that interfere with our ability to see the world clearly and to experience our highest selves beyond our professional and familial identity.  Meditation allows you to just rest in pure consciousness.  She had asked us all on the first night to answer the question, "Who am I?"  A year ago I would have said, "Duh, a writer and professor."  I knew that wasn't the answer she was looking for, or even the answer that felt true to me now, but "I am a being of light" (those words actually did come to me) sounded a little too teacher's pet-like, so I just said something about how I'm trying to learn a lot of new things right now, so the answer of the moment is "student."

But what was the answer?  No answer sounded quite right to me.  When I was eighteen I once went out with a boy who called himself a "a poet, a dreamer, and a student of life," which was his prelude for saying, "I don't do relationships," so those phrases were definitely out.

The word"purify" comes up often in yoga and meditation, and it has a scary connotation to our Western ear.  I think it's just a bad translation from Sanksrit of what happens to our consciousness, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and philosophically, when we stop attaching to ourselves the limiting identities we hold so dear.  When we are young we struggle to figure out what to do in life and once we are firmly launched on that path of vocation we know something essential about ourselves.  Decision made.  Next?  And if we are writers and artists in a culture that values commerce above all, to claim the identity of artist is almost transgressive and hence, hard-won.  Why wouldn't we want to inhabit that identity fully? 

But to cling to this idea that we are just these brains with these personalities in these bodies, to grasp onto that nexus of desire and ambition, is tiring, really, at the end of the day.  What I like about yoga and meditation is a central paradox.  That the "I" becomes less constricted, more expansive, vast enough to incorporate the universe, just as the ego drops away.  To be open to the "union" that is yoga, to join the stream of life, that force that pulses through everything alive on this earth, is to know great freedom and bliss.

Some of the most serene moments in my life and some of the most intense moments in my life have been those instances when I forgot who I was, my gender, my age, my nationality, my personality quirks: when everything dropped away.

I love being on a train or a bus watching the scenery floating by outside the window and to imagine the lives being lived in every place we pass.  In this picture below, Zoe and I were on a bus with my husband and some students coming back from Honfleur, in Normandy, and we'd had a wonderful day looking at art, walking on the beach, and eating ice cream.  Zoe had gone swimming in the sea. 
On the bus back from Honfleur, Natalia and Zoe
The other day when Tara Freeman gave me a photography lesson, we stood at the window in my studio looking out at Zoe, who was staring at the river, doing her canine meditation, utterly focused, transfixed on the play of light on water.  Tara was trying to show me how even when your subject is  flooded with light, you can still take a picture, but you have to choose an ISO with a very low number.  I remembered this moment in meditation class when Rebeca asked us who we were, and I almost cracked up.  I was so tempted to say to Tara, "I am a being of light."  She has a great sense of humor, but I would have had to explain.

When there's less inner chatter, I've noticed, there's more to see out the window.

For example, I used to spend my breakfast planning my day.  Today I noticed that there were quite a few birds at the feeder.  Then, to my surprise, I saw that there were at least a dozen tiny birds on the ground trying to get the seeds the squirrels had spilled in one of their raids.  The next step will be to open the bird identification book on the counter, but I was having too much fun just watching.  I think some of them were brown nuthatches, but to be sure, I just signed up for a Cornell bird newsletter while I was trying to find a matching picture of them on google.

the birds are close in color to the bark of the tree

there are tiny birds in here with the squirrels

The view out my window as I wrote this post

The view to the deck windows, where Zoe likes to watch the river
It's going to be really cold this weekend here in the North Country.  Highs in the single digits.  A good time to spend indoors writing and reading with a certain dog beside me, who, when it's cold, likes to stick her paws and snout on the windowsill and watch all the life pulsing out there, in our yard, along the river.

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