An Open Letter of Grace
One of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, once wrote:
Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.
To be here now; alive in the twenty-first century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune. Survival on Earth is a surprisingly tricky business. Of the billions and billions of species of living thing that have existed since the dawn of time, most—99.99 percent—are no longer around.
The average species on Earth lasts for only about four million years, so if you wish to be around for billions of years, you must be as fickle as the atoms that made you. You must be prepared to change everything about yourself—shape, size, color, species affiliation, everything—and to do so repeatedly… The tiniest deviation from any of these evolutionary shifts, and you might now be licking algae from cave walls or lolling walruslike on some stony shore or disgorging air through a blowhole in the top of your head before diving sixty feet for a mouthful of delicious sandworms.
Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely—make that miraculously—fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so.
Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result—eventually, astoundindly, and all too briefly—in you. – Introduction, A Short History of Nearly Everything
After reading that, I usually laugh at the image of myself licking algae, and often get quite emotional and teary-eyed. It’s similar to that feeling that you get when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you look up, and there’s the whole entire Milky Way spread out above. You feel so small yet so big, and you just marvel at the wonder of it all, and the fact that you are alive and that you can see this incredible sight.
In that spirit, this post is an expression of gratitude.
If you were to look at things from a certain perspective, it has been a very tough year for me personally. (I know most people don’t start counting a new year until January 1st, but for me, the new year occurs in November, my birth month.) I’ve gone through lay-offs, rejections, financial losses, physical injuries, family issues. After having lived on my own for so long, I moved back home, waving goodbye to my dear apartment and the carefree, blithe, “single girl in the city” lifestyle.
In theory, I should have slipped into some sort of depression, or at least periods of low self esteem and pity, given everything that happened, and given that I had been well conditioned to being on the other side of the fence: straight A student in high school, Dean’s list in college, groomed to be in a leadership, fast-track career path, etc.
Yet, for some strange reason, the opposite thing took place. I have been living rather, ecstatically, running around and loving, marveling at life like a goldfish who’s seeing everything for the first time, over and over again.
“Are you okay?”, friends would ask out of concern that I haven’t found a “jobby job”, and I would say, “Oh god, yes! I woke up this morning and went to the bathroom, and there was toilet paper! And a toilet that flushed! I went to turn on the shower and there was hot water! Isn’t that incredible? I’m *more* than okay. I’m like, so lucky to have what I have!” “Um, okay, really now, are you okay?”
I am okay, I am very okay, and I have to say, that I owe a lot of it to yoga.
Now, I know that I may sometimes come across as a bit irreverent, skeptical, cynical, a little disrespectful, even, of “this whole yoga thing”. I know that sometimes it seems like I’m not quite sold on any spiritual context of modern yoga. But, let me say it here and say it now, I am a staunch believer in the transformative and healing power of yoga, for which I could not be more grateful. (And besides, in my humble opinion, doubt is an integral part of a healthy belief.)
Before we go on, I want to emphasize that yoga did not, does not, and will not remove or eradicate any of life’s oopsies and resulting ouchies. It also does not make you numb to life’s realities and ignore your responsibilities. It can, however, help you live more fully in the moment, which is something that all those smart people, living and dead, have been urging us to do since the beginning of time.
“Things are more like they are now than they ever were before”
A little over a year ago, when I started my teacher training at Pacific Yoga in Seattle, little did I know that beyond getting bendy, I was going to be equipped with something akin to a flashlight for the dark and rugged sections of the hike. The flashlight may not tell me where to go and how to get there, but it surely helps me get a good sense of where I’m at, and what’s happening right now.
Right now, I have a father who’s almost 70, in good health, and driving my mom crazy with his landscaping projects. I have a mother who constantly tries to convince me that I need to eat more (of her food, of course), and who will come nudge me every night to set her up in a Restorative yoga pose. I have a brother who’s also my best friend and occasional drinking buddy, and who will come to me when our parents start to drive him crazy.
Right now, I have a boyfriend who is supportive of my dedication to yoga, even though he cannot possibly fathom why anyone would voluntarily go without the Internet for 10 days, and how on earth did I not talk during “Meditation Camp” (it was a Vipassana 10-day silent retreat).
Right now, I have my health. Today, all my cells have agreed to continue to be me.
Right now, I have been transmitted the teaching of yoga, and I have taken on the responsibility of giving it away in the role of a yoga teacher. These are the two things that I will never take for granted.
I think teaching is the most sacred, the most important thing in life. The subject doesn’t matter—yoga, bicycling, whatever —because it is not what you do that is important, but what you awaken in the other person. – Dona Holleman, from Yoga Journal September/October 1982
It is Wednesday, November 25th, 2009. In the context of yoga, I want to send out an enormous amount of gratitude from the bottom of my heart to all my teachers, mentors, peers, and students (who also teach me much more than they realize). I want to thank you, my readers, whomever you are, for coming by and getting to know me “mo’ betta'” virtually.
And of course, since yoga isn’t separate from my life, and my life isn’t separate from yoga, gracious thanks, too, to my awesome family and friends, old and new, near and far. You may not know it, but you help me practice my yoga, and you help me, you know, keepin’ it real. And I’d like to thank the Academy… oh wait, wrong speech.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.