Being and Becoming: The Practice of Embracing Change
OCTOBER 12, 2017 BY KATHRYN ASHWORTH
On August 21, the day of the full solar eclipse, many people living in North America looked up at the sky with protective eyewear. Depending on where they were geographically, they experienced different degrees of dim—perhaps even total darkness. And on this day, like any other, myriad human experiences occurred. In my own case, I turned 30.
Now, three days later, I am flying from the East Coast to the West, where the sun always seems brighter. And I am writing these words to pass the time. There is only so much yoga-in-tiny-spaces that one can do, only so many pages of a book that can be read, and only so many songs that can be listened to when sandwiched for five hours between two strangers. And I am writing to mark the occasion.
In light of turning 30 and experiencing the eclipse, I find myself pondering transitions, shifts, and changes of all kinds. In particular, I wonder why some feel so big and others so small, and why some make us feel more alive than others.
It is often said that when we’re on our mats practicing asana, the way we transition between poses is as important as the poses themselves. It’s suggested that we need to bring presence of mind to the entire journey, rather than just to what we may perceive as joyful stopping points along the way. But off our mats, in daily life, we can easily get so focused on the objective destinations—work, errands, dinner—that we lose all sense of joy in the journey that is our life. Instead of finding it in the present moment, we wait expectantly for the rush of new love, a fantastic vacation, a birthday celebration to light up our life or wake us up.
A teacher of mine says that human beings go to work just to come home and walk between the kitchen, the bathroom, and their bedroom. While this paints a somewhat bleak picture of existence, there is some truth to it. I, too, have succumbed to this Groundhog Day existence of same-old, same-old.
When someone asks me “What’s up?” my response has always been “Not much.” Even after not seeing someone for months, I often catch myself saying, “Oh, nothing’s all that different.”
But as I watched the moon crawl across the sun I felt more engaged with my life. I experienced the rare feeling of the fleetingness of all material things, including myself. An eclipse such as this won’t happen again for another twenty-three years, I thought. So I have to make the most of it.
As the sky grayed, the community of practitioners I live with came together to meditate. And as we sat in the shrine, I could feel change rolling across my skin like a thick fog—a feeling that was also more palpable because my 20s were being eclipsed.
Although my latest birthday came with some agitation—sleepless nights when I wondered, What am I doing with my life?—turning 30 actually felt like the offer of a blank slate. When a zero was tacked onto my age, everything felt new. Exciting even.
This feeling of “wow,” similar to the feeling many of us got as we watched the solar and lunar merge, is also something we work toward in our practices.
I remember listening to Ashtanga yoga teacher Richard Freeman talk about yoga many years ago. He defined it as a moment that can take us by surprise, a moment of “wow.” This feeling of “wow,” similar to the feeling many of us got as we watched the solar and lunar merge, is also something we work toward in our practices.
When a mantra fills our mind, we are led into this secret space that facilitates the “wow.” Our minds become less dogged by their own roaming tendencies and less bogged down by the kleshas (afflictions): ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life. When we practice asana, we can also feel this way. We walk off the mat feeling lighter, more spacious, and ready for the newness that each moment presents.
We let go a little bit. Then we do it all again. And even if we do our practice every day, it is never the same—and we are never the same. Realizing this, we can also see that nothing ever has to be the same.
Maybe then, when we walk between the kitchen and the bedroom and the bathroom, we can attend a bit more to the journey, to the transitions from room to room, rather than just hurrying onward to the next destination. We might observe the feeling of each foot as it lands on the carpet or wood or tile, and the temperature or texture of that surface on our bare feet. Perhaps we also notice a small flower on the lawn outside our home and continue to observe it throughout its season. And when that flower dies, we might notice another small, fleeting thing.
And like this, we can turn our whole life—which is ultimately a string of small and big changes and transitions—into a moving meditation on what it means to be, become, and to finally no longer exist in the same way we do now. We won’t have to wait for something big, whether an eclipse of the sun or a total eclipse of the heart, to be amazed. We can keep finding “wow” everyday, we can keep on waking up to being changed.