By Mary Boutillier
Each path is unique, and no amount of study or insight from others can give us what we alone are seeking.
Taking a deep breath, I sit here with so many thoughts swirling around in my mind. Some productive, some not—my puppy mind at the height of activity. Recently, I spent the day (starting at 4:30 a.m.) sitting at the hospital with a loved one—nothing life-threatening thank goodness, but still exhausting for the patient, for me, and my husband as we sat waiting for the nurses and aides who came in and out of the room at regular intervals. I marveled at the efficiency and the bureaucracy of it all: an environment filled with the known and unknown, with immense suffering and sweet relief. I was struck by both the presence of death and the lullaby music that played in the background announcing another birth. And as suffering seems to like company, I then went home and watched the news, as if I hadn’t had enough for one day! So there it is. There is my pity-party. Sometimes it’s like that. Some days are easy and effortless; sometimes it’s hard and weary and just plain stinks. This day felt like one of those days to me—like enough was enough.
Then I went into my yoga space and put my legs up the wall in a pose called—you guessed it: Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose (aka Viparita Karani). Yoga Journal Magazine wrote, “There’s a general consensus among modern yogis that Viparita Karani or Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose may have the power to cure whatever ails you.” After careful consideration and about 10 minutes lingering in the pose, I started to think that they might be right!
As I lay on my mat on the hard floor, legs up the wall, gazing out a window, I watched the movement of a very tall bamboo stem that was just within my view. The pointed pale green leaves rustled in the soft breeze; it’s lanky, long stem swayed back and forth but never broke. And as I watched it, I thought, “It is all.” Three simple words. This is the bamboo being present in all its bamboo-ness allowing whatever comes its way. It doesn’t feel sad for itself when a strong wind blows; it rarely breaks under pressure; it is what it is, and it does what it does in the present moment, having the experience of it’s life. As I laid there in quiet observance, watching it bob and weave against the clear blue sky, I felt myself start to settle down. For a moment, I felt my place in the world as whole and complete and full, able to ride the rollercoaster and recover, literally having the experience of my life.
This message was what I needed to “hear” that day, for pity parties really shouldn’t last too long! I allowed a softness to alight in my body, smiling at the folly of my own peculiarities, and I felt gratitude for the pose, which felt so good, and for my willingness to receive the bamboo’s simple example.
It seems that we often want to pick apart our lives, labeling this as good and this as bad —pushing away or pulling in, in a constant tug of war with our own humanness. And yet, it is the cumulative experience of our existence here on Earth that makes us who we are right now. What would it feel like to embrace and move through all of it, maybe understand and gain insight from it, instead of wishing it were different?
Over the last week or so, I read Hermann Hesse’s book Siddhartha. One of the many gems I gleaned from his book is the fundamental need to experience life in one’s own way. Each path is unique, and no amount of study or insight from others can give us what we alone are seeking. We might gain an intellectual understanding of how things work, but until we feel it in our bones—until our hearts break with sadness or burst with joy, there isn’t true resonance. The word “water” doesn’t feel wet, and “love” is just a four-letter word on paper until you have lived it deep within in your soul.
Our experiences ripple out into the world and join with all those who have had similar experiences. For example, we don’t truly understand the death of a parent until our own beloved parent dies. Our lives are full of these moment-by-moment occurrences conveniently placed for us to learn more about ourselves, and our involvement in them allows us to develop compassion, gratitude, empathy, strength, and more. These moments create wholeness. Sometimes I feel like the bamboo and sometimes I’m just a stick in the mud, but then I remember that even the lotus flower starts out life in the mud!
The central message in Siddhartha is one of unity with every living thing in the world, that each is beautiful in it’s own right, and that there is not one voice, but the voice of “thousands” melding together into only one sound—the universal sound of Om.
From Siddhartha: “And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life.”
It reminds me that I’m not alone, that these follies in my life are impermanent and passing. Like the breath, they come and they go. Maybe they happen a little less each time as I gain wisdom, but life is never a straight line—there are layers to uncover, understanding to be gained, and the realization that I am all of this and more.
Yoga Master Sri Swami Satchidananda said, “We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?”
I take a deep breath, smile, and accept that “it is all.” It is all on purpose, it is all encompassing, it is all love.
Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at: SimplyogaOm@gmail.com.