Make today Saturday. A poem, an essay and a practice.
You Are Not Your Eyes
Those who have reached their arms
into emptiness are no longer concerned
with lies and truth with mind and soul,
or which side of the bed they rose from.
If you are still struggling to understand,
you are not there. You offer your soul
to one who says, “take it to the other
side.” You’re on either side, yet
those who love you see you on one side
or the other. You say Illa, “only God,”
then your hungry eyes see you’re in
“nothing,” La. You’re an artist
who paints both with existence and non.
Shams could help you see who you are,
but remember, You are not your eyes.
I – La
Yesterday as we drove out of Joshua Tree, my brother asked me, does every day feel like Saturday? When I sighed and said no, he was baffled. Last spring when I quit my job, I had budgeted six months out. I’ve been job free and home free now for ten months. I feel the squish of something besides a weekend afternoon. Saturday by nature requires a Friday, a Wednesday, and even a Monday. Saturday means the week is done, you get to relax. Besides, even when I was a teacher, I spent plenty of my Saturdays hunched over a stack of essay rubrics. Granted, I also spent many weeknights lounging with friends in local parks and dive bars.
When I first hopped in my Mazda 3 to leave SF, I thought it would feel like all Saturdays, but that’s not who I am. I like to work. For each adventure there has been planning and processing woven in. I wrote as I traveled, I sat with strangers asking questions about their gods, I lined up budgets for money and time. These things balanced the carefree and wild times I’ve collected alongside. But still, I was witness and participant. It’s the work I want to do, but it’s work. Writing about this I remember that aphorism by Confucius to “choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” But he didn’t say anything about getting paid, and he didn’t say that you will never be done. And now as I aim to make this work more official, I see time differently.
Time unstructured pulls back benchmarks that show growth. In these plains, you can gaze at one Joshua Tree, or the miles and miles of dry earth leading up to the hills. Growth isn’t always visible. In the desert it’s not Saturday. It’s today. For me I see my growth in a blog post, a booking for a class or workshop, an insight hour here and there. The work I do as a teacher and a writer is consistent, but off grid. I have to set my own boundaries around time and transformation. It’s hard.
From my brother’s passenger seat, I gazed out at the patterns of desert scrub, and still felt the world outside that moment calling me to attention. How can I make money with what I love? How can I be more useful? How can I take these seeds of light and plant them where darkness reins, both within me and outside? I remember at age eight, sitting on the backyard fence in Citrus Heights California, making a deal with god that if s/he offered me insight, I would spend my life opening doors, sharing that wisdom, granting wishes. I want to take the impact of each mammoth rock formation and make it a metaphor that I can hand out like a bookmark. Share.
The perfect present tense of Joshua Tree was humbling. But much like in meditation, at the gate of bliss, my mind still spun off path. I thought of all the work I have to do, all the work I’m doing, and wondered if it’s making any impact. My work right now is still uncertain, there is doubt twisted in with the trust. But this is how things begin. For me. It’s tricky to be a process based person in a results based society.
At junctures like this, when things are unclear, what I know is that I have to believe harder, trust more. I have to see with my heart, not my eyes. The faith I’ve grown over this year has exploded in me like the desert will explode with flowers next month. And as we wound back towards 29 Palms, I told myself all would be well. I believed it, even though I didn’t, and don’t know how it will come to be. I watched the shadows grow long on the Russian Thistle and Sagebrush, and I looked at the dirt between. There is so much life in a climate so dry, so drastic. So much invisible.
II - Illa
With my head leaning against the seatbelt, I did what I often do in vast and stealthy landscapes: I sighed. It amazes me that in the ever expanding universe I somehow came to exist, and still do. In my small life, I have lived through climates much harsher and more drastic. This is not to say that I am a desert plant, but that I am part of something bigger than myself. To remember this took one thing: a deep breath. On the most basic level, this breath keeps me alive. We all need water, warmth, food, and I’d argue human company, but the thing we can’t go more than a few minutes without is breath. But more importantly, this breath is a presencing tool when my mind wanders into the internal tundra of chaos.
Without fail, my breath has been a causeway to the divine. In the past few years I have nurtured a regular yoga practice, and taken myself to social dances and hiking trails whenever I can. This has been fun in its own right. But more importantly, as I have moved more, I have grown in my capacity to breathe more, and breathe more deeply. I’m no athlete, but I know that when I breathe better, the world feels abundant. My boundaries around time and transformation have been in my breath. The retentions between inhale, exhale and inhale again are small ones I can control. And in paying attention to this, I have grown exponentially in ways that bely the eye. I have been able to tap into the oneness that I sometimes do glimpse with my actual eyes. In ten minutes of pranayama, a practice like Samavrtti or Nadi Shodhana, I know I have gotten closer to myself, to my growth, to my Saturday.
III - Samavritti Breath Practice:
The Sanskrit here translates to equal (Sama) breath. I have found it to be calming and centering of the fluctuations in thoughts (vritti).
Sit in a relaxed position where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes. Take a few natural breaths at your own pace. I recommend you move through part A for 2 minutes, part B for anywhere from 2-8 minutes, and return to A again to close out.
Inhale for a count of 4
Hold for 2
Exhale for 4
Hold for 2
Inhale to the count of 4
Hold for 4
Exhale for 4
Hold for 4