I glanced at my fingers, outstretched as they were in Warrior Two, and saw how a single band of sunlight could spin them into gold. Inwardly I smiled, then started to retrieve my mind. I was home – I was on my mat, and I felt peace. I felt empowered. I felt gently strong (or strongly gentle)…
(thank you, dear friend, for watching my children and giving me this time!)
These days my home practice has a simple routine. I set out my mat, usually nudging the dog and some toys to the side. I step onto my mat. Within moments, my children swarm me. Laughing, smiling, tugging, jumping, they delightfully throw their bodies onto mine in a variety of ways. Usually this lasts about 15 minutes. Then they meander off to their own activities, periodically coming back to lay underneath me as I plank or downdog, to lay atop me as I rest in child’s pose or some smaller backbend, to straddle my legs as I move into Warrior Two or lunge. Usually I’m off the mat myself every few moments, gently guiding my 13 month-old out of danger, responding to requests for snacks, or trying to mediate small disputes between my son and my daughter. After about an hour I’ve accumulated at least 15 minutes to myself on my mat. As I complained to my hunny the other night, it’s just enough time for maintenance. It dials back the tightness that my days and nights compile in my body. But it’s not enough for advancement. And, you know what? I am perfectly fine with that: This is where I am at. This is my present. This is my practice. There’ll be no stellar selfies of me in crazy postures in the near-future. But I’m perfectly happy trading that “advancement” for these brief days in which I’m the target of such unencumbered limb-grabbing and joyful ruckus.
Accepting my practice for what it is, however, does require some personal flexibility as to how to practice the fourth yama, or brahmacharya. Brahmacharya is translated a variety of ways – continence, celibacy, moderation. These translations are good but I prefer its literal translation: “to walk actively with essential truth, or divinity.” Isn’t that phrase more rich, more meaty than just continence or moderation? For sure, we can walk with divinity through a practice of sexual or sensual celibacy, but the openness of the full translation gives us modern (and perhaps non-religious) yogis more to consider.
What about those projects that flirt with my time and my attention? Am I promiscuously expending my energy into projects, people, or relationships that do not comprise my “walk with divinity?” Is my innate creative and personal power diffused, or spread too thin, because I cannot commit my attention? Has my path towards “essential truth” been littered with half-projects and partial expenditures? Is the path more labyrinthian than straight and true?
As I type this post, I’m trying to watch Downton Abbey while periodically browsing over to Facebook, pinterest, and whatever other silly website strikes my fancy. Writing this post is going dreadfully slow. I like to think I’m a good multitasker (in fact, I am), but even with multitasking there is the time for singular focus. A time when the mind can steady, the environment and its demands can fall away, and one’s energy focuses undiluted. People, situations, tasks, our selves …all these thrive under unadulterated and loving attention.
It’s not just the focus that can be sent adrift. We can indulge our senses. Food, caffeine, liquor, wine, beer, cigarettes, drugs, cinema, sex, cuddling, tv, adrenaline, etc., etc.. There are so many ways that our integrity – our wholeness – gets whittled down. Brahmacharya reminds us that we are most potent when we are whole. When we do not let ourselves fragment unconsciously through either our minds or our senses. Hence, Buddha’s terrific reminder:
He whose longing has been aroused for the indescribable, whose mind has been quickened by it, and whose thought is not attached to sensuality is truly called one who is bound upstream. – Buddha
“He whose longing has been aroused for the indescribable.” Dare we say, for the essential truth?
The path of yoga is not for the faint-hearted. It requires real courage, steadiness, and heart to look honestly at one’s self, habits, actions and reactions, and relationships for the purpose of living ethically and well. It also requires a filtered approach – time, space, and quietude where the mind can start to watch itself as well as learn how to let go of its need for distraction. The mat provides one such space.
I’d say it provides a critical space, which is why seeing how my home practice comports to anything like brahmacharya gets tricky. Amidst mayhem, albeit loving and lovable mayhem, how do I walk actively with essential truth? It’s true that sun-filled moments of solitude and quiet like the one I had today aren’t constant in my home practice. In my home life there is no such thing as a clean space, free of debris, children, or dogs; quite the contrary. But I still have those moments of clarity. They’re brief but they do light up my path. And this, too, is the yogic way in a modern life (one where I’m not meditating and practicing for hours on end in a cave). It’s a matter of finding one’s way amongst the clutter. More importantly, of realizing that what first appears as “clutter” is, in fact, an element of one’s essential truth. I don’t turn to yoga to find asceticism; I seek presence, even if it means just staying in my present.