“Last call! Last call! Last call for alcohol! You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!”
We bartenders hollered it out like carnival barkers at the end of every shift. The lights came up revealing everyone in their drunken disarray; sweaty faces, squinting eyes. Some were so drunk they didn’t notice the music had been turned off too, and kept dancing as they tried to grab the waitress. “One more beer, here!” They’d holler.
She looked at them with disdain and walked on by with her empty tray, her full tip jar and a dirty rag, wiping down tables halfheartedly as she went.
When the last person finally staggered out and the bar was swabbed clean of the beer, the shots, the cigarette butts and sometimes the blood of the evening, we all went out together down the road to a late night place called the Oasis.
“Midnight at the oasis!” We would gleefully sing as we ambled down the street, arm in arm. A couple hours later, the Oasis bartenders echoed the tribal chant, “Last call! Last call!,” and we stumbled out the door ourselves, drunk, the sun peeking up above the trees, a few solitary birds beginning the work of chirping the day into existence.
Then we slept until the sun went down and did it all over again. The days were invisible to us, a forgotten luxury, the nights long and hard. Everything ran together in an endless blur of work and drink.
A lot of my life has been like that. Discarded moments. Just trying to get from point A to point B as painlessly as possible. Never sinking my teeth into the meat of life; never tasting, never feeling, never seeing. Just existing.
If you practice yoga, it won’t surprise you to hear that my study of this ancient tradition put a stop to that.
It’s more accurate to say that it made me realize I should put a stop to that and gave me the tools to do so if I had the discipline. Sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t.
One day, as I practiced at home I asked myself, “What if this was the last time I ever got to practice? What would I do?
For some reason that old phrase knocked around in my head, “Last call! Last call!” with forbidding certainty. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!”
I imagined the lights flicking on and flooding my little home studio with light, just like the bar was flooded with light at closing time. Just as at the bar, everything was in sudden sharp relief.
I found myself blinking. I could hear the clock ticking. The washing machine churning downstairs. The room darkened then for a moment, a cloud had passed over the skylight. I could smell my dog, who badly needed a bath and lay on the ground watching me. I looked at him and he edged closer to me, resting his muzzle on my foot.
I could feel everything. My blood. My breath. My heart.
When next I went to teach, I watched my students carefully. Were they present? Only they could know. I decided to try something.
I put everyone in downward facing dog and said, “Imagine that this is the last downward facing dog you will ever do.” I paced around the room. “Really imagine it. This is it. No more dogs for you,” I said. There was some nervous laughter.
I did sound a little manic—I tried to dial it down.
“Obviously, this isn’t the last one guys, but what if it was? Can you feel your hands? Your face? Your feet?” There was some more shifting around as the students tried to focus. But now they had been in dog too long. I was taking forever to make my point. “Child’s pose,” I said.
They settled into resting with sighs of relief.
A few more classes came and went, but I couldn’t shake this idea of each pose being the last pose. You didn’t have to experience it (go home), but you couldn’t stay there. You either felt it or you didn’t, the moment was over, and time rolled on.
And then I realized that each pose is the last pose.
Every time you get into a pose is the one and only time you will ever get to do that particular iteration of it. You will never be in the same body again; you will be older, stronger, weaker. You will never be in the same mood again; you will be happier, more sad, more or less frustrated: or whatever entirely unique combination of feelings and circumstances have come together for you at that precise moment.
Every single little thing will change inside you and outside you between this downward dog and the next one.
Our whole purpose is to flick the lights on and look around. It doesn’t matter what you see; your drunken self careening down a dark street, your better self, tucking your child in at night, your best self, in the moment, at peace.
Your task is to witness, accept and release them. The more you are able to do this, the more automatic it will become, and the more automatic is becomes, the more your best self shows up.
It is the simple act of non-judgementally observing ourselves which leads us to the places we are meant to go.
Turn the lights on.
What do you see?
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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