Finding a Calm Center in the Earthquake that is Life
I was teaching yoga on a Tuesday night in what I call my studio– my living room with its furniture pushed into the kitchen to make an open space to roll out our sticky mats.
Some students sat in chairs. I started by leading a meditation called Take the One Seat. Using Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah’s words, I instructed “Put one chair in the center of the room. Take that one seat….You will witness all kinds of temptations, everything imaginable. Your only job is to stay in your seat. You will see (many things) arise and pass, and out of this, wisdom and understanding will come.”
Sitting Still and Watching
We sat; we noticed how our minds yanked us here and there, all over: “What’s for dinner? Balancing on one leg as the earth rumbles[/caption] I hope Susie remembers to pick up Johnny. I forgot to call Mary.” The mind is shameless, meditation teachers say. Still we sit to practice. We sit still in the midst of the churning. I repeated Ajahn Chah’s words “You will witness everything imaginable. Your only job is to stay in your seat.”
We all did the best we could for a few minutes. Then we ended the meditation and talked; stories of recent surgeries, unplanned retirements, terminal diagnoses, a fun trip to Florida. Still seated, still centered, I said, “to Take the One Seat on a chair, a cushion or the mat helps prepare us for these ever-changing circumstances. So as not to get rattled in life’s many movements–that is why we sit in meditation.”
Balancing on One Leg. Finding the Center
Next we got up to do a 2-legged squat, like Taking the One Seat standing. Then, since I wanted to teach how to resist the waves of energy that bombard our bodies, I increased the challenge to one-legged balancing poses. I said, “We bob a little this way, and weave back to center. We sway a little that way, and find our central axis again and again. We re-center all day long.”
Teetering on the left leg, we lifted the right, and held. We all wobbled. I said, “Stay. Physical and mental equilibrium are hard, so we practice. Stay.”
Immediately the room trembled, began to vibrate. The dishes in the plate rack above the sink clattered. The women’s eyes darted at me. Rattled, I shrugged at them. We all plopped our lifted leg down. I said, ever so serenely “…hmm..must be the furnace kicking on for the first time.”
Out of the yogic silence, one woman yelled, “It’s an earthquake!”
Another’s face froze.
Another bolted from her mat, ran barefoot to the door, opened it, took a whiff, turned around and informed us, “I don’t smell any gas leaking.”
Practicing for Life’s Next Earthquake
Then the Earth’s rumbling stopped. Quiet filled the room again. I said ever so gently, “Let’s come back to the mats, back to finding steadiness. See? Balancing is practical for what we call yoga-off-the-mat. When the body settles down, the mind can find ease.”
Inwardly, tectonic plates in my head rolled with seismic activity. I was thinking, “The Earth might crack open and we’ll all be swallowed up.”
Outwardly, I whispered, ever so softly, “This is real life. Let’s see about finding a calm center.”
Inside, my thoughts raged, “What if we live on a major fault with major quakes and major damage?”
I smiled, ever so sweetly, “Come back into physical stability. When the body finds stillness, the mind can follow.”
And so it goes in life. Even when there is no need to panic, our inner alarms blast. The yogis are right: the mind is shameless. So in the midst of its volatile eruptions, we do the best we can to balance our inner lives as nature balances herself around us.
We try to go through our days with inner stillness, inner harmony and inner peace. Yet most of the time we are at least a little off kilter. And so every morning I take a solid seat for a while and then stand on one leg. I need to practice for life’s next earthquake.