I teach one yoga class a year.
Actually, it’s billed as a short stretching session in order not to drive off participants nursing hang-overs, but if you were sitting inside my head for the week leading up to it, watching the workings of my brain, you’d think I was planning the most intense 7-day retreat featuring hours and hours of practice each day — big themes, jokes, sequences.
Even if it’s only 30 minutes or so and super-casual and in the living room of the cabin when I’m spending the weekend with a gaggle of women, I spend the better part of the week leading up to it considering how I’ll order the flow of poses, what would be good given the activities of the day ahead. And which stories I’ll tell.
For whatever reason, while tramping through the woods all week with Mr Burns and thinking about this class, I thought a lot about Shiva Nataraja. It could be because Shiva is, for me at least, the foundational image of Anusara, my yoga home for the past 7 years. As a devoted student, I’ve absorbed this story to the level of my cells. But I think the ground was prepared long before.
When I was a kid sitting in my parents’ Borgward, comfy in the center of the back seat, no seatbelt, no sisters yet, age 4, on a rainy day I formed this notion about the windshield wipers while watching them describe their monotonous, reliable pattern. It was utterly silent, except for the sound of the wiper blades cutting their path; I was wrapped up entirely in the musings of my little mind. As I watched, first one wiper, rising, would leave in its wake a little untouched flat-topped hill of water on the windshield. Describing its downward arc, the other wiper would obliterate that hill and, rising, leave its own. Which the first side would proceed to smash in its downward motion. One side build, the other side smash. One side build, the other side smash. That thought at age 4 translated itself into a lifelong metaphor, not quite Sisyphus, but my own childhood myth invented in a car, so 20th century. This, I realized on the red leather back seat, is how it goes: build, destroy, build, destroy, endlessly, reliably.
Shiva is cosmic windshield wipers. All form into being, all form dissolved, all form into being, all form dissolved. Just as I did at 4, I find that enormously comforting. All things pass, the good *and* the bad. Things come, things go. Don’t hold on. Watch from the back seat with big eyes, take it all in, let things come, let things go.
The practice I imagine leading (since who knows if I’ll actually be able to pull this off) will be basic, emphasis on hips and thighs to open us up for the hiking that’s coming later on what looks like it will be a stunning sunny day in the mountains. But the point will be to work those wipers, clear the windshield, so we can see clearly where we are and point ourselves in the direction we wish to go. Because what are we if not Shiva in our own right? Breath in, booze out. What we were yesterday is gone. Breath in now, exhale the past. Clear the windshield, see clearly where you are at this precise moment, go where you wish.
That’s how it plays out in my mind, anyway. And it’s particularly important to me today to stay with Shiva, to stay with the teachings today of all days so as not to get caught up in the latest controversy around my beloved yoga, to keep my windshield clear, Shiva dancing it all here and dancing it back out again. To give my friends the gift of a little peace in their own hips — no stress or strain, just quietly watching the pattern repeat, predictable, true.