the fog and the practice

Twice this week I’ve left my children in the care of their terrific nanny in order to craft a post about rituals and the yoga mat; twice, now, this task seems self-defeating as time ticks by and the page remains blank. My brain is too tired. If I’m lucky, I will write this sentence without second-guessing its syntax or vocabulary. If I’m lucky, I will not lose the train of thought that is v e r y  s l o w l y  r e v e a l i n g  i t s e l f. Sleep deprivation tends to affect my language as much as it does my memory. It’s like trying to pick my way through a general fog of confusion: Did I say this already? Did I say this correctly? Did I observe that rightly? Am I remembering it clearly? What was I doing? What was I going to do next?

I feel a bit like a cliched mama when I say that my teething, non-sleeping seven month-old is leaving me exhausted. Falling back on this excuse is hard because it seems to negate how I like to think of myself – as someone capable and (mostly) clear-headed. But it’s hard to ignore the “facts:” 1) I’m not getting good sleep and 2) the lack of sleep is affecting me.

So instead of talking about rituals, let’s talk about how we pick out our paths in foggy weather. This enterprise consists of acknowledging the fog rather than rejecting or ignoring it. And fog requires presence. Concentrated presence that engages the full artillery of sensations and drills down to the minute unfolding of the given moment: the ridged pads of my fingertips against the silky surface of my keyboard; the slight resistance and spring of the letters as I press them; the cool porcelain of my cup and the flood of slightly chilled coffee, tinged with honey and mingled with milk; the buzz of the coffeehouse – bits and pieces of conversation ringing out amongst the beans’ staccato as they’re poured into bins, the whirring of a grinder, the laughter of baristas, the whoosh of the air as the door opens and the slight thud of wood as it falls shut. Now I can find a bit of clarity. Now I can find my thought. Now I can locate myself. More importantly, now I can find my ground and, for this given moment, root myself.

It might seem strange to think of moving through life with this kind of attention to presence. It’s especially strange for most Westerners who have a sense of temporality that impels us towards the future. “Leaning in,” for example, seems to require that we know where we’re going and that we wholeheartedly drive towards it. But this impulse for continual forward movement obscures the very thing that fog emphasizes, presence. And, in that presence, mindfulness. What would happen if we loitered in the present? What would happen if we cultivated mindfulness in each action, no matter how small? How might our sense of time change? Might our present moment (and our future) be enriched if we give it our full attention?

Right now, my children are my best teachers for being present. If I hunker down with them and fully devote my attention to them, that moment becomes more vibrant, more detailed, and more loved. My patience spreads. This is the fourth time that you want to read this book, my child? Lovely. What can we discover this time?  If my attention flutters to the clock, then my stress explodes. Read this book again?!? Ugh. Why can’t you just eat your lunch so that I can clean it up and get you to your nap?  The agenda remains – read book, eat lunch, go down for a nap – but the quality of my relationship to it is different. The first is loving and kind; the second is harried and hard. One creates ease; the other creates effort. Imagine which my child might prefer.

The yoga mat offers another space for experimenting with and experiencing this kind of presence without external factors like children, work, errands, and tasks. On the mat it is just me, my breath, my thoughts (because the effort to keep my mind quiet is, in fact, an effort), and my movement in my body. Here, though, I can feel my hands and my feet on the tacky surface of my mat; I can feel the length in my spine as my sit bones reach skyward and my hands root downwards; I can find the space that always resides in me but gets obscured or blocked; I can find my breath and I can grow light. I cultivate presence from the inside-out and, by doing so, I give myself the internal resources for days like today.

None of this is easy. Being present is hard, and it’s easy for me to be too tired to devote such careful attention to the ongoing moments of my life. But I can try. And I can be grateful even for the fog that descends because it offers me an opportunity to practice, to learn, and to grow. May you present. May you be light. Namaste. 

photo by Charles Cramer

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