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July 9, 2014

Thriving on Emptiness. ~ Joe Ament

Photo: Bindhi Mehndi

I was sitting in the coarse grass, watching the sun disappear behind Catalina Island. The breeze was sweet and the air was cool with approaching night. My bike lay next to me.

The lady on the phone was telling me my life was worth living.

I was crying.

How I found myself on a suicide hotline in the middle of a beachside park isn’t really important. What’s important is that I was on a suicide hotline in the middle of a beachside park.

Anxieties of lost love, literary rejection, and the void left by a completed goal found me with a handful of aspirin in my stomach and an ironic headache given the chosen method of destruction.

That inefficacious attempt wasn’t a cry for help, I haven’t told anyone this story until right now. The book I’d dedicated three years to writing was complete, my dwindling savings was nagging my dusty resume, and a certain finality had been recently cast into a tumultuously sporadic, decade-long relationship.

My life was completely empty and I just wanted it to be over.

Today, a boundless energy emanates from my body as I sit cross-legged in that fateful park a year or so later. My mom says that she can hear her son again in my voice. My friends love me. And people I’ve never met tell me that my aura is infectious.

I am happy.

The difference between pill-swallower and strange man smiling in the park is yoga. I’m not going to say that something magical happened in that first asana, it didn’t. I’m not going to say that an unbreakable dedication to my mat healed me, I only practice four to five hours a week. And I’m not going to say I was cured overnight, I still struggle.

But I will say that yoga changed my life.

It changed it by making myself less the center of my life than my self. What a difference a space makes! That space can be found in Pranayama or Pigeon. It can be found in Inverted Reverse Warrior II or Savasana. It’s a small space that allowed me to shed that from which I had hoped to attain fulfillment.

The irony in all of this is that I was ostensibly an incredibly fulfilled person. I had retired from the drudges of cubicle life to write full time. I lived on the beach. I rode my bike everywhere, surfed all the time, read voraciously, and sailed.

The problem, though, is that it was all about me. When the structures of security I had built around myself crumbled beneath uncontrollable variables—weather, money, time, people—my self collapsed.

The things in my life were amazing and peaceful and simple, but they were still things. And things fall apart.

It wasn’t until I let go of myself, on a mat, in the capitulating position of a corpse that I found, for the first time, an emptiness of which I wasn’t afraid. My self craves emptiness. My self thrives on it.

Now, I’m not perfect. I’m still, after all, writing this piece when the best thing would be to take namaste and close my eyes. Haunted, though, by the anxieties of time and productiveness that inundate us daily, I write to nullify them both. But the more I practice, the more I realize that that nullification is ephemeral at best. Our anxieties always return.

Yoga’s ability to interrupt this persistence of our anxieties is what convinces me of its ability to change our world. When we free our minds, the duplicitous effect of our structural panacea—production, consumption, destruction—will diminish. When we are mindful, we will want for less and so tread more lightly. When we find peace inside, those outside anxieties will never have their insatiable appetites piqued.

Yoga has the ability to change our world because it has the ability to change our selves.

But that’s also a lot of responsibility to put on the shoulders of yoga. I use yoga as a catalyst for personal change, not the personal change itself.

If I were to use yoga as my change, I would find myself in the same cyclic happy-sad predicament that has always stripped my self of it’s peace. Yoga’s power would, in this case, be left to crumble like other familiar utopian systems upon which we’ve relied without looking, first, inside.

I could go on but I’m content with what I’ve said. There will always be more to write: anecdotes to build my case, data to support my claim, pages and pages of details. For now I’ll place my hands at my chest, curl my feet into the coarse grass, and melt into my breath as the sun disappears again behind Catalina Island and finds me happily empty.

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Assistant Editor: Ffion Jones / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Flickr

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Joe Ament