Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lights: On!

The other day as I was driving to yoga class in a wintry mix of snow and rain, I noticed a van on the highway that was speeding along without lights. Since I could scarcely see the road ahead with my car lights on, I wondered how this individual could be so unaware that he/she had ventured out onto the road without some form of illumination to guide the way (not to mention the hazard this posed to other drivers).
This got me thinking, not surprisingly, about yoga, and the teachings we use to guide our paths, because for me the principles and tenets of yoga are like beams of light that help to illuminate the path I’m on each day, regardless of whether the weather is sunny or bleak.
For instance, if I’m thinking of making a snide remark to someone who has crossed my path, I’m often reminded of the yogic tenet of Ahimsa, to do no harm and to show compassion for all living things. If I’m conjuring up a little white lie (or even a big one!) I’m often held back by Satya, or commitment to truthfulness. The physical postures (or asanas) practiced in yoga keep me physically fit (or at least, headed in that direction), and the mantras and meditations that are used in my practice connect me to the knowledge that there’s a greater energy overseeing the planet (for many, religion may offer some of these same functions, of course).
But for me, yoga is the way of Light, the practice that reminds me to turn on my headlights every day. Being aware and in the present moment ensures that I don’t stray too far off the road I intend to be on, and also ensures that I don’t willingly or knowingly do or say something that might cause harm to another. How many people, I wonder, are navigating their daily lives without even realizing that their headlights aren’t on? Like that van driver, how many are putting others in danger because they’re too preoccupied or disconnected to even realize the hazard they pose to others’ emotional or physical wellbeing?
As I arrived at my yoga center that day and emerged from my car onto the slippery parking lot, I was ten steps away before I realized I’d forgotten to turn my headlights off. I thought that was a rather humorous nod from the Universe, which seemed to be suggesting that once you’ve become “aware” there’s really no turning back to the darkness.
 Still, a car is a car, and I didn’t want to run down the battery!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Courage of Trees

Trees are resilient. People chop at them, build fences through them, and torture them in various ways; still, they drop their seeds and sprout up again. Every year, on the East Coast, I’m reminded again of how much trees give us; when the hills are shimmering with vibrant color, I’m reminded that trees offer shelter, shade, and beauty every day.
           We’re like trees, as every yogi knows. We can stand straight and tall, our roots planted deeply into the earth even when the wind blows, even when insults are hurled our way, even when we face illness, or the death of a loved one, or any number of tragedies. Like trees, we just keep coming back, asking for more. You can knock us down, but we don’t give up easily. Like the tree, we possess the will to live, the will to grow, and the will to spread our little acorns around.
          Long ago, I wrote a story about some trees that the city chopped down in front of my childhood home. My dad, who was an avid tree-lover, retaliated by planting butternut trees where the maples once had stood. Today, those butternut trees tower into the sky, and their butternuts sprinkle the street, no doubt still a headache for the man who runs the street sweeper (who probably is clueless about my deceased father’s long-ago disagreement with the local government). I’ll never forget the pride in my father’s voice when he told me about his idea; and I’ll never forget the pride I felt, knowing that my father cared enough about trees to conjure up such a scheme.
         As winter grows near and the trees shed their leaves in my neighborhood, I look forward to the still, frozen nights when I’ll gaze out my window and see their bare branches arching against the sky. There is an oak tree not far from my house that has been there for more than l00 years. My neighbor has had it lovingly trimmed and cared for over the years (ironically, her father is a tree man too—the kind who actually climbs high up in trees to clip off dead branches).
        Trees serve as excellent examples. They stand tall every day and hardly ever  say “I can’t” or “I won’t” (except perhaps in a terrible storm, when they might be toppled). They may bend and sway, but rarely do they give up of their own accord. They remind us to open our hearts and spread our arms to embrace the world. They remind us to be brave—and not to slump.