At night, I sleep in a barn — one of the first Sears and Roebuck catalog barns — that Edna St. Vincent Millay built in the mid-1920’s. There are, of course, ghost stories about the barn, but I think I sleep too soundly to believe the barn is haunted. However, as I fall asleep at night and think of ghosts, I find it comforting to think the rumored ghosts are gentle, literate, barnyard animal ghosts — ghosts of horses, pigs, sheep, cows, and roosters — who move with stealth around the barn; who purr quietly, pause, and skim through the barn’s bookshelves before moseying along to the nearby field above which the ghosts of hooded warblers, red-winged blackbirds, and cedar waxwings float.
There are butterflies in Austerlitz. There are also moths, the butterfly’s drab, nocturnal sibling. Last night, a dead moth appeared on my desk. Its wings were white. Its eyes were black. I cupped it in my palm and felt its body. Each day, I am writing sentences about the adverb ‘not.’ I write: I am not tired. By which I mean: I am exhausted. When I say I am not, I am saying that I am. Days stretch out here, a friend says. 25 days will feel like 40. But to tell this story — which is both her and my story — I need a break from sleep. I need blue light, cold air, and flowering trees. And, to a great extent, I need a break from my body, from dwelling inside my body, my body which exists, must exist, yet is not as it hovers in the soundlessness.
There are butterflies in Austerlitz. There are also moths, the butterfly’s drab, nocturnal sibling. Last night, a dead moth appeared on my desk. Its wings were white. Its eyes were black. I cupped it in my palm and felt its body.
Each day, I am writing sentences about the adverb ‘not.’ I write: I am not tired. By which I mean: I am exhausted. When I say I am not, I am saying that I am.
Days stretch out here, a friend says. 25 days will feel like 40. But to tell this story — which is both her and my story — I need a break from sleep. I need blue light, cold air, and flowering trees. And, to a great extent, I need a break from my body, from dwelling inside my body, my body which exists, must exist, yet is not as it hovers in the soundlessness.
It seems appropriate that I began writing this post on my last day of teacher training and am now (finally) ‘publishing’ it on my last day of my teaching.
This past year — and especially the past few months — have been strange and transitional (among other words [like these]). I could make a list of the things I’ve done, but a list wouldn’t document anything. I could say, ‘Over the past year, teaching kept me energized, grounded, and perplexed.’ Truth is, I don’t know what else to say.
* * *
In yoga classes, it’s common for teachers to make this statement: ‘Get rid of that which isn’t serving you.’ With regard to physical practice, that refers to things like bodily tension or the urge to go too deep into a pose, and serving speaks to the notion of being of use. To be of use. I think of Smog, then I think of education. Big box classrooms. So little love. How, I wonder, do you get rid of that which isn’t of use to you when you’re trapped inside a system that isn’t serving you?
* * *
Most classrooms — most boxes, I suspect — make no room for love. Or, if love is allowed, it’s of the industrial strength, ‘tough’ variety.
(Pause while Claire becomes the protagonist in a middle-grade YA novel: ‘Call me crazy,’ she says, ‘but tough love is of little use to me. I’m hard enough on myself as it is. Why on earth would I need someone else to break me?’)
Why do so many teachers turn toward power, impatience, discipline, deadlines, failure, and scare tactics? This semester — especially over the past month — I’ve thought a lot about what (could) happen(s) to a classroom confronted by love. What might a classroom space in which kindness prevails look like? In response to these questions, I’ve tried to become more aware of (‘engaged with’? So many loaded words and phrases tonight!) ways in which I can and do and will and want to bring love into my classroom(s), focusing my mind on a pedagogy of patience, empathy, warmth, and collaboration.
‘I appreciate how patient you’ve been with me,’ one student said. I’ll keep it with mine.
* * *
Standing at the root, gripping onto the stem, identifying vulnerability’s nucleus and containing every word inside my heart, the same way the heart contains its four magmatic chambers that periodically erupt, producing pain: a spotless flare, a cloud of vapor, the image of your finger sliding across the surface of this text.
* * *
I removed seeds from the basket and repeated one word: Ishvarapranidhana. Surrender.
The mind is covered with light.
The lungs inspire air into the blood.
The heart is carved into the shape of a palm, which reaches out.
I rest alone at the base of my spine, repeating one word.
* * *
Text appeared in my palm, made its way to the crown of my skull.
Text appeared in sleep, and I set fire to my hand.
When I awoke, I cupped the orthographic projection and considered time and space.
My feelings burned.
I burnt my palm.
My body inscribed an elliptical shape.
Hidden inside of my mind, I thought, is my palm.
Hidden inside of my palm, I thought, is temporary light.
Aware of the mind-body crevice, I sever each part of myself —
The mind, which is pacified by thoughts, space, knowledge, and tactile sense.
And the mind, which is warm, honest, and cordial to every living being but myself.
* * *
The mind asks the following question: What is that horrible stench?
Had I known the critter was dead, I would not have pressed my mouth against it.
Nor would I have grazed its soft hair with my lips.
Water laps against the shoreline, then retreats between my lips.
My lips graze against the surface of your mind. Therefore, you must consider this text.
This text consists of flesh and salt. It enunciates every single word. Yet every time I speak, no words come out, ‘no words come out,’ I speak.
“In communities around the nation, youth organizing groups are becoming effective and powerful partners in school reform. The articles in this issue, produced in collaboration with the Alliance for Education Justice, provide a firsthand glimpse into just a few of their efforts in different communities.”
Listening to this song while studying for my final exam, feeling appreciative, and thinking of Northern California, Kundalini, and sleep.
Two more days, both backward and forward. Two days unlogged and two days to go. I’ve been thinking about savasana in preparation for when I lead a group through (in[to]? beyond? against?) it tomorrow morning. Today, I closed my eyes and spoke out loud in empty space to practice being less frenetic. On the train, I wrote things down in ink: ‘You are not defined by your thoughts,’ ‘bring your attention to the bones in your skeleton,’ ‘draw your attention to the space between your thoughts,’ etc. The caesura, the caesura, the caesura. I can’t help but think this all is not exactly what I mean.
But I don’t know what is, yet.
One piece of savasana-related advice that’s stuck with me over time actually comes from Daniella. That piece of advice is: choose stillness. Last winter, I took a trip during which I went climbing with a friend. That night, in bed, I found myself unable to sleep: all I could think about — visualize clearly — was my body climbing up the wall. Choose stillness: I remember repeating this phrase to myself over and over again until I fell asleep, unable to distinguish between my waking mind and haze.
When you feel something in sleep, do you feel the thing you feel in waking life? For example, if I close my eyes and sleep and feel a palm resting over mine, does that palm exist, or is it a sensation in my mind?
It was also in the winter that I began to visualize asana poses in my sleep.
When I sleep, I don’t know anything. Recently, I pictured myself flying an airplane. Then I pictured an apocalypse. My friend, my twin brain, was there. We were holding hands. We were walking toward it. ‘That means you love and trust her,’ JJ said. Which is true.
Speaking of love, I’ve been thinking about it. More on that soon. In the meantime, this blog will be ending in a couple of weeks, but before things wrap-up, stay tuned for reflections on and interviews with three marvelous yoga teachers: Ross Gay, Angela Arnold, and the aforementioned Daniella Rosales-Friedman.
I could write about a certain symbol being dead, but by what means? I do not believe in turning any living person into a body: a dead, once-living body — even if that body, in its life, seemed deeply unalive, already half-dead, unlike a human being who is, in fact, living, being, existing — breathing in reality, the fact or state of having lived, having died, having already felt half-empty inside while remaining very much alive, but not yet buried.
* * *
As I breathe, I ask you, How? You stand near the door, press your palm against my speech and practice the art of answering the question: How? In what way or manner? By what human means? In any way — however — the space between the speech pressed against your palm is filled with light. What do you see? Dead or alive, day or night, by any human means, the body reflects light, which occupies its speech.
Or, I write into this space, which has come to symbolize something to me. For some time, I found myself unable to write. Or, I wrote, and I knew I was writing. Now, I am writing, and time stops: I form a loop, don’t know what I write, thus I reread and rewrite until a sliver of meaning reveals itself. (I tried to tack on a simile, but you don’t want to read the phrase ‘like a stranger emerging from fog,’ right? Right.)
All of this to say: I began this experiment in documentation with the vision that I would read books, create playlists, list the foods I ate, etc. I never thought this work (this play, really) would move me toward a book: that I would begin drafting a table of contents for something (what thing?) called The Short Sharp Life. I’ll write in the abstract for a few more days. I’ll also incorporate some recommendations and reflections on my time doing yoga in NYC, because this blog is about yoga — in part, after all — a different form of union, which has rewritten and revised my life.
* * *
In conclusion, the past few days have felt surprising and light (surprisingly light?). I feel hopeful about May: sunny nights, question marks, friends and Special America at EPoetry. And I’m grateful that, this summer, I will be able to continue seeing my students, albeit in a new capacity (leading meditation).
The future is, or it may be.