Frequently, I have trouble trusting the small, still voice within. My busy life makes it a little bit harder. As I stand on my property in the heat of midsummer in Taos, watering a lone apple tree that survived the spring, and the lilacs which are finally growing large, and the small butterfly bushes and cat mint I am keeping alive out of a likely misguided tenacity, I realize just how quickly my New England life has been moving. The last ten months, I have rushed from one thing to the next and collapsed at the end of it all, deeply exhausted. But here, I allow my life to move more slowly in the summer months.
Many traditions will tell you that this is where wisdom comes from, this stillness and ease with the day and what is before us. It is what the Quakers talk about when they talk about God, I think. As a child, my neighbor held “Friends Meetings” in her living room on Sunday mornings. Everyone would simply get in a circle, sing a few songs and then, if moved to share, an individual would talk from their heart about the way they saw the divine spirit moving in the world. I rarely gather with others now in just this way–fearing the inevitable spiritual egotism, but I miss those quiet spaces that a group of people would share together, just listening for the small voice of truth.
And the last year, I have become part of a 12-step recovery program (even saying it sounds so weird), which also asks for stillness and an attitude of pausing before action, in order to move with more grace and wisdom through life. Sitting with my sponsor in her old adobe house, perched at the edge of the canyon, we talk about the concept of God and mull it all over. She tells me how each stone and plant on her little hill, she has moved or planted there. There was nothing when she began except sagebrush. My concept of God feels like this right about now, emptier than I thought possible and pregnant with the chance of a new landscape. But I keep searching for this idea of “higher power” and figuring out how the hell it will help me be a better or happier person. It’s like I am looking for something I lost or misplaced or shunned away and it is nowhere to be found, elusive and fickle.
But then I keep talking to her about how I feel, under the cathedral of aspens and blue sky, how it feels to move with river in my little boat at dusk, smelling the scent of the canyon exhaling and delighting in seeing a beaver poke its head above water, canyon wrens resting into evening, flies and bugs whispering to the water. I tell her the story of my hike up Wheeler Peak, a thirteen thousand foot haul up above tree line to the highest point in New Mexico.
A few weeks ago, on my first day back home, a friend and I worked our way through the high desert fir and pine forest to the open faces filled with scree and newly made switchbacks. At first it was fine, just slow going. But then, there came a point where all I could think was that I had made a mistake in coming up here. I was in pain. I was suddenly sure that the altitude, my lack of being in shape after a long winter sitting down for work or my general lack of character and athleticism would surely prevent me from making the summit. To be clear, this hike isn’t anywhere in the realm of hardcore mountaineering but it does require 2-3 hours of an uphill climb. After a few particularly difficult switchbacks, I felt this intense pain creeping up the back of my neck. It was likely an altitude headache but no matter how much water I drank, I felt thirsty and un-quenched. At the top of one long switchback I felt my lungs begin to burn and it was as if someone had rammed a hot poker into my chest. This is it, I thought, you might die up here. And quickly, realizing how ridiculous that sounded even inside my own head, my thoughts began to change. I began to consider why it was that I was so focused on what I couldn’t do and was totally oblivious to what I was actually doing, which was simply putting one foot in front of the other to keep going, up.
It was at this moment that I felt the whole of the sky enter my chest. It was as if the cool, pure air was actually flowing through me and I felt a burst of renewal. I was swallowing all the air in deep gulps like it was sustenance. And sure enough, I scampered to the top, running along the ridge line.
From up there, you can see the whole of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and up to the sharp, jagged Crestone range in Colorado. You can look west and see across the wide basin of sage and desert to the San Juan range and you can look down the other side to Taos Mountain and see the little lakes that linger in the gullies of the mountain and the small swathes of snow dotting the chutes of the north faces. There are few things more stunning really than being at the top of a peak like this. Once again, I was struck with how much being in the wilderness resembles the truths I seek in life. There are often difficult and challenging moments, fears to be faced. In fact these things are completely inevitable and shouldn’t concern me much. But there is always a moment when I can choose to surrender and relax, no matter the circumstances and then I feel overwhelmingly in the presence of something greater than myself, something you might call Grace. I like to think of it as moving with beauty in the right time in the right direction.
And as a yoga practitioner, and an Anusara practitioner especially, the first principle is to align with grace, to step into that stream. Yoga also can be defined as a “yoking” practice. Perhaps it means that we harness ourselves so that we can grow, deepen, and change. Coming home presents many significant challenges for me as a member of highly dysfunctional family with a legacy of unfinished houses, drug addiction, and heartbreak and poor decisions. Once again, I find myself moving heavy things across a piece of property that was once under my mother’s care. When I left this place last fall it was clean, organized and relatively functioning. But now it requires even more moving, clearing, shedding of possessions and close attention. While moving one of four couches that have somehow accumulated between my siblings and I, I just had to laugh. Family yoga. The yoga of moving and clearing a piece of earth, planting seeds, moving stones, imagining what it will look like when it comes fully into form. If I can do this family yoga willingly and joyfully, it will become a vehicle for liberation. Like Eagle pose, being bound creates stability and allows me to actualize my freedom when I am released from it. If I can’t, well, it has become clear that only more suffering will occur.
So for now, I get up every morning, early before it is too hot and keep the things I can keep alive, from disappearing into the sky for another year.