what it means to remain in stillness

During my long trek through undergrad, sitting in a range of undersized desks housed in campuses spanning from NJ to CT to NY to CO, I found myself in classes that stretched my mind in directions I never expected to go.

Two communities colleges, a college in Brooklyn and then a university in Boulder, Colorado. Years of searching through my mind to find myself. To remain sober. To challenge myself. To fall in love. To fall out of love. To lose my mind. To gain parts of it back. To disagree with professors. And then, to become one myself.

During one semester in Boulder, Colorado, I took a meditation class. I always wanted to be that person with a practice. One who could turn off life and the voices in my head in order to sit in stillness.

We began each class sitting in a large circle; there were many of us. The instructor, a strikingly beautiful older woman with long brushstrokes of grey hair, would guide us into the meditation. There we sat, trusting the space and trusting each other. In silence. Recognizing the infiltration of thoughts and allowing them to flutter past like buzzing butterflies.

I was the one wearing frizzy red hair, housing a gut of frustration, with my eyes open.

I meditated by watching.

I know. This is not the way it is done. But I have a difficult time with rules and being in groups and being still.

Watching humans being alive in this meditative state is so calming. I was envious of their lack of fidget. Each time I closed my eyes, a strobe light of trauma arrived in my mind. My panic would force my eyes open, as I realized that everyone else was far better at keeping to the rules.

I grew enamored by the array of skin, folding of limbs, welcomed palms resting on knees. I watched the sun pour in from the window and highlight the dust particles floating around us like auras of spiritual awakenings.

The teacher asked us to keep a meditation journal. We were expected to meditate outside of class and write about the experience.

What came up? What were some challenges? Any moments of enlightenment?

I remember a particular journal entry of mine. It was during a time when I felt very displaced from my body.

After handing my paper in, my teacher took me aside after class and asked me if I was okay.

“Yeah,” I said, trying not to fondle her hair with my eyes.

“I was taken aback by what you wrote. You seem so young to have had a hysterectomy.”

I didn’t know what to say. I quickly traveled in my mind to remember what I had written to make her think I had had this procedure.

“I….I didn’t,” I said to her. “What made you think I had?”

“The way you wrote about your body. The pain. The [gutting].”

Now, I realize why I feel so much more comfortable writing over speaking. When I write, what I want to say is far more direct and articulated than when I just talk it out.

At that time, I didn’t spend much time thinking about hysterectomies. Now, many years later, I’ve begun researching them, realizing a desire and need to actually get one. It’s far more complicated than this white box, which welcomes my text. It’s about gender. It’s about that displacement. It’s about pain.

But this is not about that.

This is about ways to be still. Maybe meditation is not quite for me. Yoga does it sometimes. Though there is movement, there is silence and stillness within each pose. There is recognition of life and strength with each stretch.

Biking does it too.

And writing, of course.

Often, it is just about reminding myself that I can be. Still.

day 25: pose.

I know that when I do this pose, I feel like I am giving my thoughts permission to drip out of me and then when I am ready to emerge out of downward facing dog, I can see the puddle of words and cracked worries beside me. Then, I sop them up with imaginary paper towel and walk away.

I have been trying to fall in love with yoga for a long time and I think we are just still getting to know each other (again). Sometimes, it is best to wait before making such grand announcements. While my body presses into these poses, I feel like my bones are making poetry. My breaths are filling up the room just like I imagine my words take up a page. These poses are medicinal and contemplative and forgiving.

I am working toward finding my way back in.

how to remember how to breathe.

I have been reminded several times in my life to breathe.

Yoga teacher in blueish-green bandana wrapped around head, pushes on my back to ease me further into a pose and whispers, breathe. It is not until this moment that I realize my lungs are stunned into a pause. As I shift into various positions, I am thinking about every part of my body, yet forget all about my lungs.

A lover fills in my cracks with their skin. With hips like chisels, I am led deeper into the earth. I shake against the harmony of metaphors and suddenly, I hear them whisper: are you breathing, still?

It can be difficult to remember the impact of bones and how they bend without break while stretching muscles into various alphabets and twisting fingertips into smoldering birdsongs. And. Still. Breathe.

My body is a tree turned sideways, sometimes upside down. Seasons change, and I dress or undress accordingly. There is so much swelter, teasing the skin into beads of thunderstorms. I have been breathing for so many years, when is the moment where it just happens without thought. Without memory of how to.

I collapse exhales over the one who feeds me oxygen. We inhale poses of yesterday and postures of tomorrow. Sometimes it is necessary to forget how to breathe to remember how magnetic it feels once you do.


where to find your breath

First, remove city clothes. Jacket. Scarf. Jeans. Shirts. Socks. Breathe.

Look at clock. It is early. You are early. Aren’t you always early. Grab borrowed mat and walk back downstairs. Choose position. Toward back and to the left. You always tend to take this spot. Fold knees and stretch bones a little. Breathe.

The people start arriving. Teacher introduces himself to you. He is a he. Tall and soft. You notice the others. Older and younger. Curved and skinny. You are surrounded. A cocoon of stretchers. Breathe.

The music begins and it’s not moans or harmonium hums. You notice this track from the radio. When class begins, the pop songs twist into something more traditional and the elongation of body / mind has begun. Breathe.

He tells you to hold this position and look in front of you. You notice. You notice the woman right in front of you with sheer leggings and thong and you feel dirty and like an impostor and everyone else is in the moment of their bodies and you…you are mesmerized by the body of this other. You don’t belong here. Breathe.

You are a warrior amidst the dirty thoughts swirling in your mind and there is no room for a hard-on in yoga class. Cut it out. Twist to the other side. Blur your eyes. Do not look. Practice mindfulness. Practice restraint. Breathe.

You are getting warmer. From inside the sweat, find anguish, wrung out. Find sadness. The grey. The longing. The mourn. Downward dog into plank pose and you are hardening. That is called strength. That is called resilience. This is the time you often get weepy. Allow whatever surfaces to color your thoughts. You are yellow. You are burnt orange. You are lime-green. You are charcoal. Breathe.

The lights are going to sleep now and it is darker. He instructs you to lay your body down, slowly. With intention. Palms up to the sun that waits for you outside behind night sky. Let bones rest into the earth beneath the concrete and brick and subways and filth. The soil exists beneath all of this. You are soil. You are of this earth. Breathe.

You want to cry now because you have slowed down your day enough to do this. To take your body out, remove its layers, be vulnerable amidst other mindful humans. You’ve let go of worrying about being one of them. You are not wearing the same costume as them, but beneath the cotton you are all the same. Just skin. Skeleton. Construction of bones. The woman in front of you is flat on her back and her exposed panties are hidden. You forgive yourself for your dirty thoughts, stained only by your own self-judgement. He instructs you to slowly move to your right side and then lift your body up into a sitting pose. Palms up once again. Eyes remain closed, watching the darkness within yourself. The rooms. The memories. The flashes of time clocked inside your limbs. You chant and notice the extra room in your lungs. You bow to the earth, to him, to the woman, to the others who shared this space with you. You bow to your body that is weakened but holding on to strength in this moment. You bow to this space. You let go. Breathe.

when you are left with nothing and everything and that is the truth

I need to breathe out the fumes of some people/places/things.

Body wants to snooze, but mind needs to press itself into vinyasana. Clothes climb on, bones unlock bike, make it move, make it wheeze. I pedal toward a yoga class where I find myself getting turned on, tuned in and unbearably aware of every sigh retreating from me.

I watch the women around me. Gender is difficult to ignore in this tight space. I don’t miss the presence of men and perhaps we are all men trapped inside these soft bodies. Yoga does not really leave room to question one’s current gender status.

I remove my jacket and shirt, and notice the scent trapped inside the hair beneath my arms. I love letting this hair breathe out with me. I love the smell of it, spicy like trapped hours and no air flow.

Watch the others to understand where to put my palms, hips in, arms wide. There is a language to this movement and although I do not speak it, I study the gestures of their bodies and allow mine to respond.

Instructor begins with meditational accordion, squeezing air out of its wooden body as we squeeze air out of ours. There is a chant. Her voice is like an extracted cloud; it is unexpectedly magical.

My first tear drop falls. Several thousand to go and then I am free.