Dear Readers, some of you know me more personally than others. There is a facet of my personality to which I have only recently become enlightened, though those closest to me are infinitely more familiar with it than I can even imagine.
You see, there is Me, the person most know and love, and then there is Me in a Tree. That’s a whole name; Hello, my name is Me in a Tree. That’s the anxious little creature in my head who lurks and banters with Me about things that I usually can’t control.
I’ve been watching interactions between Me and Me in a Tree lately and it’s interesting. Me in a Tree hates being emotionally or mentally centered. To hell with physical alignment. Me can only do so much to stay balanced, and there’s a lot of shit out there that’ll throw me off my center.
The more I practice yoga, the better I feel. Maybe I un-wrench a wrenched piriformis muscle. Maybe I forward fold to my heart’s content after a bad night at work (paschimottanasana take me away!) I blame yoga, at least in part, for my marked decrease in aggression and greater emotional sensitivity. Sometimes, old dreams or an unbidden calling will not leave Me alone; grief and bubbling humor mingle in the mind as my heart opens and grows stronger. But what service can yoga offer to an immediate climbing of an emotional tree?
In September of 2010 I come home from work. It is Wednesday and I don’t usually work on Wednesday, but I picked up a shift. The plan is to get home, feed the cats and proceed with another installment of a 40 day practice. 40 day practices aren’t unheard of; Jesus did his time in the desert, is takes 40 days to make or break a habit, there was that 40 day and 40 night deluge in the Old Testament, in Islam Muhammad fasted in a cave for 40 days, I’m gonna say my mantra for 40 days. I’m in good company. On this particularly warm night in September, I am very near the end of this particular 40 days.
I summon the warm fuzzies to their food bowl. The Siamese is acting strange. My Manx is howl growling from beneath the bed.
The Siamese tap-dances around my feet, pleading with her orbital blue eyes for me to do something.
When I can get to my tail-less girl under the bed, I realize something is terribly, horrifyingly wrong.
At 11 at night, I drive 40 minutes to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic with the cash I made on my impromptu shift and a grocery sack containing just over a hundred dollars in rolled coins.
When I called, the emergency night secretary told me it would cost ninety dollars just to have my cat seen.
My best friend meets me at the clinic which is only minutes from her house. Who better to see me come undone in such an intimate setting as the “putting down” of my beloved green eyed girl cat?
By the time my friend arrives I am already a mess. They’ve told me there’s absolutely nothing they can do. Something ruptured or broke or maybe she has cancer that made her stomach explode.
I had no idea she was so sick. I’d been treating her at the regular vet for a thyroid disorder. They never mentioned cancer. Now, these people are mentioning death in respectfully whispered words and my best friend has my snot on her face, chest and part of her left ear. She is hesitant to let me go home alone. I think she believes I have run right up a tree I will never climb out of.
While I drive home with an empty cat carrier, I stop and buy a pack of cigarettes. I smoke one at a time, methodically almost, as a numbing agent and a big fat “go to hell” sign for everything and everyone who is not my dead Manx, who I will be allowed to pick up the following Sunday, when I will be able to pay the remainder of the bill.
When I get home and break the news to my Siamese, I look at my seasoned meditation table. I’ve had that thing set up longer than I’ve practiced yoga. This represents my spiritual practice, both mutable and stable. There are icons, pictures of my teachers, mala beads en process of said forty day practice, several elephants because it’s always good to have Ganesha around, and Shiva. There he is, with his blue throat and his hand held up in the Abhaya mudra, palm out in a gesture to “fear not”.
I look at my mala beads and the absurdity of it all and go take a shower. I make a pot of coffee and smoke for another hour. And then I crawl onto my meditation cushion. I am clutching the small dark brown rudra beads of my rosary and I’m crying again. I just sort of sit there with this perplexed pain and emptiness.
I decide that I am too far into this practice (really, a handful of days to go) for me to cease and desist tonight. I didn’t get into my spirituality to pull back when my heart rolls right out of my chest and climbs into the deep freezer at the emergency veterinary clinic.
I look at that blue throat and begin my mantra practice. Swollen and heavy tears roll slow down my face, a far distant cousin to the streaming hysterical precision tipped tears I shed on my friend. These new tears are pregnant with purpose. It seems there is one for every bead I turn between my fingers. These tears leech poison from my heart.
Let me tell you a story. Another one.
Before time as we know it, there was a war raging between the celestials (referred to as devas) and the demons. To turn the battle in their favor, the devas need the Amrita, an elixir of life, which is tucked safely at the bottom of an ocean of milk. In order to retrieve the vessel containing the end to their problems, the god of preservation, Vishnu, suggests the devas and demons work together.
Under Vishnu’s supervision, the devas and demons upend a great mountain and persuade Vasuki, king of the snakes, to be the lever made to spin this mountain in the ocean. Like a spinning top, the mountain moves the milk and a cyclone forms, first revealing great treasures from its depths.
The devas and demons are focused on the glistening pot of immortality beginning to reveal itself in the wake of their labors. Even as the desired fruit of their labors bucks to the surface among these many boons, a poison is leeched from the tumultuous milky waves.
If the poison mingles with the ocean it will bring destruction to the whole world.
The effort to gain possession of immortality’s elixir is futile in the face of such great tragedy.
Brahma, the creator, begs intercession from the Lord of Yoga, Shiva, known in this trinity as the destroyer. Shiva turns the poison to his lips before it touches the earth. Shiva swallows the product of this ardent practice and in so doing receives yet another title, Nilakantha, the One with the Blue Throat.
It is no accident that the Lord of Yoga is able to swallow the poison that would destroy everyone and everything else on the planet. That’s what yoga does. But it’s not the entire planet about which we are speaking. The poison is in the individual heart and mind of every practitioner. It did not occur to me that a yoga practice could churn the emotional and mental landscape and allow me the ability to navigate it.
My yoga practice is practical. Emotional sensitivity is not practical, a yoga butt is. So first, many years ago, I set out to get a yoga butt. But then an unbidden emotional intrusion casts light on a deep reserve of compassion I didn’t know I’d been building through my practice.
Then I see my center, from way far off.
Then I think I’m gonna teach this yoga stuff, because that’s what happens next, right?
Then something happens to my mind and heart and they meet on the battleground of loss and hurt and I return to my practice not on some distant retreat but live and in person face to face with my own self, way up in that tree.
Then I realize I can never teach this stuff.
I can only introduce it. You have to meet your own self in a tree.
I can say that yoga works, even though I don’t know how. But like life and death and all the love in between, some things don’t have to make sense.
Editor: Hayley Samuelson
Nickie Medici is a soft-hearted and con-compliant optimist. When she was eleven she began writing in a pastel pink diary and has been seeking publication ever since. She began practicing yoga when a nail client gave her a gift certificate to a yoga class ten years ago. She attended under duress and then realized there is really something to it. Her yoga practice and writing life became engaged somewhere around the time when she decided to teach, though they’re waiting to get married until the prenuptial agreement is finalized, the terms of which are detailed at http://icyexhale.com/ .