Welcome to the Burning-ground.
Near the beginning of this year, I was walking up some steps when something inside my left knee crossed awkwardly over something else. I felt a slight tug, a brief suspended sharpness, and then a wet flooding sensation engulfed the entire area. I knew that whatever had just happened was very unfortunate.
In disbelief, I began to write about my torn-up knee while I limped about, waiting for MRI results and looking longingly at my students’ easeful lunges and cross-legged seated poses. Then a week or so later, Anusara Yoga imploded and, reeling, I began to write about my broken heart. In my mind, the first incident became a metaphor for the second. My inner and outer lives were mirroring each other.
I had to have a torn section of my left lateral meniscus cut away—a fairly run-of-the-mill operation. What I learned is that I had what is called a “discoid” meniscus, meaning that the little inner hollow in the crescent of a normal-shaped meniscus was missing. I had an oval instead of a crescent. “You have twice the amount of meniscus as an average person,” my surgeon told me. “You mean I’m special?” I asked him. And just as my knee had torn from just a little too much something, so had my yoga community. Too much expansion, too much hyper-extension, too much shifting stealthily and unhealthily below the surface, causing a chafing, a fraying, and a seam that was waiting for its moment to tear completely open.
I soon found myself confined to my couch in far more Post-Op discomfort then I had expected, my throbbing bandaged knee connected to an ice machine. My creativity was effectively channeled into an obsessive focus on what this meant for me as a yoga teacher and I became fairly lost in the labyrinthine intricacies of my physical discomfort.
In the midst of this extended stint on my couch, a two-day flurry of phone conversations and emails ensued between several of my friends and fellow Anusara Yoga teachers who, like me, had chosen to resign their Certifications yet remained committed to community and to collaboration. This two-day brainstorm resulted in the birth of a grass-roots organization that we named the Yoga Coalition. In the midst of an interesting phase of dissolution in my life, things shifted and reformed, as they inevitably do. An organization had coalesced that hadn’t even been a notion just a couple of weeks earlier. Life, like nature, stands still for no one.
I currently find myself inhabiting that place where dissolution and creation meet in a very vivid way. This is not simply a philosophical observation – this is playing out on the stage of my life: the burning down of things I loved and my adjusting to the spaciousness of the new landscape.
There is quiet relief in the ashes as well as a sooty and devastating sadness, and a hope for things to rise.
During this rebuilding time, however, I find it important to remind myself that the burning down may not be finished. A few years ago I went through a nine-month phase in which I lost six people whom I cared about. Every time I began to recover from a loss, I found myself right back in the flames. I’ve learned a lot of different things from that time, but one big take-away is not ever assuming that it’s over.
All month I’ve been teaching about the Five Acts of Shiva. I began with Dissolution, then Creation, moved through Maintenance, and am currently teaching about Concealment and Revelation together since they are so beautiful that way and so exactly like life. I teach while sitting on the floor, my left knee propped up and stretched out to the side, explaining that this cycle is never not happening. It’s happening right now in every part of your body. It’s happening in personal relationships and societies, in organizations and governments. It’s occurring in every corner of nature. Every aspect of this cycle is always present, like an unending song with millions of overlapping choruses.
In the fullness of this current cycle, what most moves me, what feels deeply meaningful to me right now is Dissolution. I can’t stop thinking about it—it is like a magnetic field toward which I am irresistibly drawn. If you ever have the chance to attend a Homa, as I’ve previously written about, watch what is thrown into the fire – things that are beautiful like sari silk, sweet-smelling such as ghee and sandalwood, and practical such as seeds and grains.
As you watch the flames consume the offerings, you churn through all of the Rasas, the various flavors or tones of experience. Your personal processing is fast-forwarded by the Homa like a time-elapse film. There are moments when you are peaceful and moments when you want to cry. You shift from amusement to boredom and then fury, holding anxiety and joy in the same breath. As the flames consume the offerings, you witness this cycle inside yourself, and if you’re lucky, you fall a little bit in love with the burning. It’s in your best interest to do so, because what the Homa is showing you is the truth of your own experience.
I found this small song to Shiva that I keep murmuring to myself. Every time I read or recite it I am reminded of the beauty of the Burning-ground again. I hope that you are too.
“Because You love the Burning-ground,
I have made a Burning-ground of my heart—
That You, Dark One, hunter of the Burning-ground,
May dance Your eternal dance.”
(Thanks to Frank Andolino for the ongoing use of his exquisite photos of our South India trip and to Sue Elkind for her brilliant graphic design skills on top of being an amazing yoga teacher and a serious sister)
Editor: Kate Bartolotta