This post was originally posted on my former blog but last night this pose reappeared in my dream time and so I thought I’d resurrect it. Originally I was writing at the time of the Arab Spring. Now, one year later, it’s amazing to see how things have changed, what we remember and what we forget about the change and upheaval of that time. But the truths of Hanuman Asana and the fearlessness and creativity we seek, seem to be just as relevant. Now. Anyway, for those of you who’ve already read this, sorry. For those of you who are new to the blog, hope you enjoy!
From April 2011:
If I may call upon a pop icon and his wisdom for a moment I just want to mention that I think Wyclef said it best when he said: “When you roll into the Carnival anything can happen, What? Say what say what? Anything can happen.” This is precisely how the world feels to me at this moment. As if a door has opened and what has rushed in is forceful, terrible, human, new, powerful, tragic, irreverent and ringing violent bells for our awakening. Between bombings in my old city, tornadoes and floods in the Midwest, nuclear contamination in Japan , and wind and violence everywhere I find myself thrown into both reverie and uncertainty.
Last week I attended a yoga class where we practiced Hanuman Asana. A pose in English we would call “the splits.” The theme of the class was centered on the story of Hanuman, an ordinary monkey who was transformed by the earnest quality of his heart and the depth of his devotion into an eternal servant to the embodiment of the Divine in male and female form—Ram and Sita. This class left a mark on all who attended it I think. What I left with was a serious pondering of how we accept the things that come our way with a truly open heart. Just as Hanuman faced adversity, a demon king who would have destroyed the universe, his own deepest fears of inadequacy and his shortcomings, we must all face some fears in order to achieve our fullest potential. Our potential of course, is infinite. In his case, he moved an entire mountain top from India to Lanka. I would probably settle for merely being a better person, but anyway.
The instructor said that Hanuman can skillfully teach us to accept the painful gifts along with the joyful boons of our experience. And yes, you will probably need to remember such a mantra as you attempt to do a move that you haven’t tried since you were five in gymnastics class, one that tests your ease, your calm and your purpose. Recently, I have found that my yoga practice has really deepened and has begun to inform many of my daily experiences. But this is not anything unique, in fact it’s cliché. Most people who develop a spiritual practice will tell you the same thing. A friend described it like you’re wearing “God glasses” and can see God everywhere you look. However, and more importantly, I find focus with the personal experiences I explore as I begin to look through the lens of acceptance and surrender, the lens of sympathetic joy and self-effacement.
The first truth I have found is that this practice doesn’t make it all easier, only sweeter. The second truth is that the world has become more sensory, even more vital and bright. I may not be the only one who is experiencing this lately. All around the world is swirling, Carnivalesque. The swooping clowns of tragedy are performing their inescapable dance across Japan, America, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Israel and Palestine. They have now landed in Marrakech. I used to live there. I spent a year teaching English at a school there in the Ville Novelle or “new city” and yesterday, in the Medina or the “old city,” someone bombed a café. The café Argana was a small, second story establishment frequented mainly by tourists. It was shiny and light and they charged twice as much for orange juice as the stalls on the square. In tourist logic, this means that you have a slimmer chance of getting sick from it. They also had ice cream and sometimes we would go and sit there, taking a view from a new angle beside our usual Café France perch to watch the square.
The square, or Djemm-Al-Fna is where the magic happens. It is where the carnival happens. It is the largest open air market in Africa and is filled with stalls that sell orange juice, snail soup, food of all kinds cooked over open coals, dried figs and fresh dates, nuts and sweets of many varieties, cheap goods from Malaysia, snake charmers, henna artists, storytellers, dancers, acrobats, policemen, tourists, locals, children, pilgrims, stray cats, beggars, holy men, probably even whores.
The first time I ever went there, we walked through the Bab Doukala, an old neighborhood with narrow streets where they sell cow’s feet, fish, vegetables and shoes. Eventually, we arrived in a flood of foot traffic to the ineluctable center. That is exactly what it felt like, like the relief of finally arriving in the CENTER of something. It truly felt as if I’d been waiting my whole life to see this place. I found the core of this place to be a living thing, vibrant and deeply collective in its expression and endlessly fascinating. I also began to recognize something sad about my own culture: we don’t have this. Our center is seldom a living, improvised and continuously participatory entity. We have strip malls which elucidate sameness and order. We have restaurants that scatter the landscape and are striving to be identical. Americans seem to find comfort in knowing that the Applebee’s they enter in Milwaukee will be the very same one they eat at in Barstow. There is something to be said for safety and comfort—it doesn’t inspire bombings apparently but it does kill the natural existent force of culture that is present in a setting where all the rules aren’t already laid out for you. Even our carnivals, a basic human expression, are co- modified.
Which brings me to another point about carnivals: a favorite Russian theorist of mine (yes, I have one) talks about the carnival as the open, free space for play that is crucial to a creative construction of our reality. If we can’t turn the world upside down every once in a while, if we can’t parody ourselves, disguise ourselves and wear masks in order to better tell the truth then we lose a part of the dynamism of our humanity. It is part of the dialogism that becomes our identity. This is one of the things that Marrakech taught me: it is ok to trust people around you. Also it is valuable to have reverence for what is deep and old and tender, the patterns that we have collectively agreed upon and which we can all live safely inside of.
My first thoughts at hearing the news of the bombing were of the safety of my friends and family there. Alhumdullilah, they are all safe. My next thoughts, the ones that came later as I walked across a sagebrush mesa with a friend at sunset were of the visceral realities of this act. What would it be like if I was still living there? Would I want to go out in the street and go to the oldest center of the city? Would I feel safe? Do my friends feel safe bringing their children out or is the city quiet now? Somehow, because I know this place and because I have breathed its air, the circumstances seem more real to me. It is not as easy for me to simply put aside my own feelings and accept it as something happening “over there.”
When we understand our connections, we learn about compassion. As my yoga teacher said, none of us can pretend any more that events of this magnitude won’t happen near us or to us. Alabama is in shambles, Missouri is flooded, people who are standing up for their freedom are being quelled with violence in Africa and the Middle East, Japan is poisoned and the breezes will soon bring it even nearer to us. Here in Taos, the wind is blowing at gale force, re-enforcing our drought and I have to wonder if this is at all normal.
All of this information has helped me to notice that when my experiences are purely joyful it is easy to see the order of the universe. When the delights in the wrapping paper are terrifying and painful, it is easier to question. And, both of these questions are the true gift. Not shying away from these questions maybe, just maybe, offers the chance to guess at what is happening on the other side of my fear, clinging and ignorance. The world is changing and we don’t have to guess at how any more. Some mysteries have been revealed but I am sure there are more to come.
It is tempting to believe in the end of the world at times like these. It is enticing to put our faith in God if we don’t already, as a means of taking refuge from the uncertain nature of the planet around us. And, in the end no words can justify what is happening. Nothing I can say or write can actually integrate the experience of whole communities of people and their experience with my own. I just keep going back to my mat to see what I’ll find there. I just try and remember to breathe when my life feels too heavy to bear.