A couple of mornings ago, I was doing my usual half hour of practice when an insight dropped into my mind: I seemed to be looking in two directions at once: the present moment and the timeline of my whole life.
Whenever I have this sense that I am encountering an experience that is unusual and possibly significant, I try to hold on to it, or at least learn from it before it pops, as all my thoughts and feelings, whether or not I call them “insights”, eventually pop; returning into the faceless crowd out of which they stepped for a moment. So, now I am hoping that I can catch some of the flavor that is still lingering, like foam after a wave.
I have done some kind of morning “practice” for years, and I find that this gives me a stream of familiar gestures from which I keep hoping to receive some kind of healing, But I suspect for that to happen I would have to pour myself whole-heartedly into whatever I am calling a “practice”. But, most of the time, I feel that I am outside, hat-in- hand, hoping that some kind of greater presence will see me standing there.
I’m not sure that the word ‘practice’ will mean much to others. But I really just want to say something about an experience that I believe we all have at some time or other, in one form or another. Others may use different words to describe their experience: prayer, meditation, presence, spirit. The important thing is that we then glimpse, or even realize in a life-changing way, what we are doing here on Planet Earth.
Since I am trying to retain something of my ‘insight’, let me place it within the context of the ‘practice’ I was doing; not because that activity was unique but because I believe that doing something every day can provide a window for fresh understanding. And since each of us have activities in which we are regularly immersed—washing the dishes, worrying about a loved one, offering up a heart-felt prayer for ourselves or the world—we all have windows that can suddenly open.
My morning ‘practice’ is a slow-moving yoga that I have been doing for several years. It seems that anything we do, such as washing the dishes, can become dull, like a knife that needs sharpening. However, just as we might appreciate the opportunity to do the dishes after a prolonged stay in the hospital–looking out the kitchen window, washing, drying, stacking, glad to be home in a familiar place that knows and welcomes us, so can any routine activity reveal a new or forgotten dimension.
I was ‘practicing’ something called “Bending in the four directions” –not that this title will mean much to anyone else—but like washing, drying, stacking, and putting away the dishes, it provides a context for noticing that I am living in the world, with my aspirations, disappointments, confusions, and with my hope that I might have a vivid experience: like when a hummingbird is hovering inches away, energetic and still.
The cycles in which my life unfolds—days, weeks, months, years–are all subject to interruptions and discoveries. Similarly, my morning practice provides a shape that is unfolding in time—lifting the arms, bending slowly to each side, forward and back, lowering the arms, all repeated three times. This unfolding provides an opportunity for memories to rise and fall. Among those memories there are some that are already anchored in the gestures I am cycling through. For instance, in the first year after my son, Jon, died, I would do another practice (“Heart Gold Thread”) in his old bedroom, which involved holding my arms at my sides for ten minutes, while breathing into my heart and sending a thread of golden heart energy out into the world. So now, that experience may come back to mind as I lower my arms from overhead back down to my sides. I may pause for a few moments when they are extended outwards, and remember Jon sitting in the chair in the sunroom, where I now do my practice, saying, “Can we talk?”
A benefit of having a practice in which I pay more attention than I ordinarily do to my thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations–while moving in ways that are as familiar as washing the dishes, but slowed down more than they are in my usual task-driven activities–is that there is more time to notice whatever arises, such as memories. And I then notice that so many of those memories have visited many times before.
Noticing those returning memories, I see that they are all appearing out of a long stretch of time. This is not just evidence that the years are piling up. It is a report from a larger field than I ordinarily notice, in which I am always walking. And then another thought can arise: nothing in this field really prevents me from allowing myself to be cared for.
As repetitive as the cycles of my life can be, there is something else present in them.
There is a field of interests and discouragements that is continuously offering me a chance to respond in a fresh way. As I moved my arms hither and yon, I may recognize an opportunity to understand more, feel more, experience more.
The thought that arose a couple of mornings ago, which felt like an insight that I hoped to learn from, was: When I look back, as I may one day look back at the moment of my death, I am always remembering my entire life. But because I am usually in the grips of a limited state of consciousness, I only catch the bits and pieces that relate to my current activities. However, I don’t have to wait for the moment of my death (and the experience reported by people who return to life after a ‘near death experience’) in order to realize that my life is always passing before my eyes.
My life is like a piece of music with many melodic themes—some more discordant than others—played by many instruments and voices; and what often appears as a highly-scripted performance is at the same time my chance to glimpse a cosmic orchestra warming up under the towering vault of the heavens.