Arda Chandrachapasana. It looks like this:
No one has ever told me why it got its name but “Sugar Cane in the Moonlight” does feel like a thing bending in the silence, quiet and perfect. In a class a few weeks ago, Suki taught this pose and we built up to it for over an hour. She reminded us that this pose is about complete integration of many parts. This is because it is a standing pose, a backbend, a twist and a balancing pose as well as an inversion. Whew. No wonder. I love this pose. She also talked about how this is an asana you not only have to build with all of its appropriate parts, but you also have to be fully prepared to surrender to it. It’s a pose of ecstatic extension and deep integration.
I’m coming back to this pose because what I’ve been experiencing in the last week is a series of things I was completely Unprepared for. I’ve been scrambling with the feeling that the ground came out from beneath me and darkness swallowed me up for a few days. You see, I came home from a few weeks at home in New Mexico to find that my physical world was in a state of disarray here on the east coast. There was a broken window and door in my house and a non-functioning sink. And then there was my vehicle. It was damaged in several places. My dog-sitter swears she has no idea how it happened. My insurance won’t cover it. Then, two mornings later I went outside to find that two of the four wheels on my car had been stolen in the night, in front of my house. Seriously? Yeah. First, I blinked in the morning light. Convinced when I opened my eyes, the scene in front of me would be gone. Then I called my neighbor, who was asleep, and who eventually came to help me rescue it from resting on its wheels right on the pavement. Then I cried, called my dad, who graciously offered to help me out some and helped me stop crying, and called my boss who (thankfully) laughed and reminded me how actually ridiculous it all was to begin with. It’s just a car right? A week later, I have an easier time saying that. In the moment, it felt like walls crashing down.
In the past, I would have spent the bulk of my energy in feeling victimized or in blaming my house sitter or wondering who stole my wheels. And, I’m not saying I didn’t spend some time thinking like that. I did. I spent some days feeling pretty sorry for myself. But I also got full coverage insurance, called a tire place right away, filed a report with the police and bought locking lugnuts. I had my landlord install a motion light. Then I went to breakfast with a friend, took a bath and went to a yoga class.
However, this experience has brought up a lot of things in me that feel deeper and darker than what I can grasp with my proactive steps towards solutions. I spent several days feeling exhausted, sad and afraid. It was as if I had no control over the feelings of helplessness, of the abyss of our worldly lives and the fragility, which holds it all in place. Then, I began to look at my foundation. When you set up Sugar Cane, you start with your feet. I had to look at my working class ethos. I identify with difficulty and struggle, particularly when it comes to material possessions because that was my childhood experience. I began to think things like of course this happened. You shouldn’t have a nice car in the first place. You’re an affluent, white person relative to the rest of the world; perhaps you deserved this in some way. You should just go back to having a terrible, unreliable car because this never happened when you had a clunker.
Then I began to look at the way I was resting on those assumptions and how I feel rooted in the world. I found myself hopping out of bed in the night, fearing someone was outside my house and that they would come back for more. I began to think about the risks in being a woman, living alone, far from home. I ended up feeling lonely and afraid. When you set up your hips in Artachandrachapasana you have to first open them and then ground from the tailbone in a way that isn’t just cranking on your joints but is creating space for them to move and align. Otherwise, you can’t open. It’s a process of moving through opening, leaning forward and trusting and then letting the parts of your pelvis move into relationship with one another.
The next step of the pose is to both pull into your center and extend through your spine, getting long. If you let your need to do the pose perfectly take over, you will not honor your limitations and you’ll lose all you’ve built by trying to reach back for your foot. But if you hug into the midline and extend like a leaf moving in an unseen wind, your foot is right there for you.
Once you’ve got ahold of it, you can begin to lean back into the isometric opposition of upper body and lower body, rooting your tailbone, trusting all you’ve created from foundation to crown. From here, the front body opens like a secret sweetness in, well, the moonlight. The pose feels like a tilt-a-whirl or a boat where your opening heart is the sail catching the breeze, strong and taut.
And much like the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, you keep one hand on the earth, a continuous line ground to sky, a reminder of where it all comes from, where it all connects. It’s not a way to martyr yourself, but a way to stay humble. The earth becomes a witness to all the possibility, and beauty that might come from the grasped opportunity of alignment, integration and opening. Like, I said, I love this pose.
By Wednesday evening, I had my car back, with four brand new wheels. 1600 dollars down, I drove through the darkened streets, feeling the smoothness in the ride of my beautiful car. I don’t know about deserving, or the crazy voices in my head but I love this car. And I began to feel as if things were looking up. I have some questions about how much the temporary loss of a material object affected my emotional and mental state so drastically. But in the meantime, I’m just glad I can get to work when I need to. My car is still damaged; more work to be done. But I’m slowly coming down off the adrenaline rush that the last few days have wrought.
Through this whole experience, I have wished for comfort. I think this is a natural human reaction. But, what is really the truth, is the uncertainty we are greeted with in our lives. What are you gonna do, right? I don’t want to live in fear though. I want to cross over, and through it to my happy self, a self capable of seeing the whole picture.
Sitting in Suki’s kitchen with Genevieve two weeks ago, I asked, how do I let go? And, the thing I am learning is this: I don’t have to know what it looks like on the other side of my fear or my sorrow. I don’t even have to know how to get there. But starting at the foundation and trusting that I can build something beautiful and good out of all these parts of me, pulling in different directions leads me to places I could scarcely imagine. I just have to want to get there and be willing to get there, however it happens, when it happens. I’ve seen some old, scary patterns arise this week and at times I have felt groundless, out of control but I also have had the words and love of my friends and family to keep me here, to remind me what it’s all really about. I’ve had neighbors and friends step up to drive me to the doctor, keep me company, take me to dinner.
So, then, the even deeper question is, what do we need to be happy? The president spoke in his inaugural address today about our central, American tenets of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Our happiness is not guaranteed, that is to be sure. But we can cultivate it, pursue it, make sure our own place in the world, allows others to be more free. When a friend asked what I needed the other day, I thought, I really miss my sister and my girlfriends. And in truth, I miss my mom who died six years ago, today. When I asked another friend what he thought he needed, he just said “this.” As if being in good company was enough to satisfy all the needs that might arise in that moment. I think he just might be right. If we can be as simply beautiful as a piece of sugar cane in the moonlight, maybe that is just where we should be.
Yoginis: Genevieve, Suki and Brigitta. Photo from Shree Yoga Taos.