Reality Check

And then sometimes life smacks you upside the head with a no-joke reality check.

Crept home yesterday in the rain after a sweltering, sweet final class at Flying Yoga. I'd been a little worried that my almost-37-weeks-prego self wasn't going to be able to hack it through the humid 90-minute sweatfest, but it was fine, and everyone was so damn lovely, so after stopping at the bank, grabbing some Super Bowl snacks at Trader Joe's, and loading up on gas, I headed home to savor the rest of a rainy day with my Mister watching the big game next to a roaring fire.

Relief. Exhalation.

My belly has gotten to the point where it can no longer squeeze between the tight rows of 60-some bodies packed into that hot studio. I'm always whacking people with it right and left, inadvertently, awkwardly.

Feels like it's finally time to be still and rest.

Saw the news about Philip Seymour Hoffman yesterday on leaving class. Shocked and dismayed, along with everyone else, to hear of his unexpected passing.

("To be loved, I think, is the thing that gets you up in the morning," said PSH himself on NPR's Morning Edition, back in April 2012. Have to agree.)

So there was a strange and somber tone injected into an otherwise-celebratory day, matched somewhat by the cool grey rain, as welcome as that much-needed relief was to all of us feeling the drought here in California.

I listened to Tara Brach on my wet, careful drive into class Sunday morning, doing my best to navigate the slippery roads. She talked about how everything we experience — thoughts, feelings, pleasant and painful sensations — is like a weather pattern, coming and going, appearing, staying for a few breaths (or a few days), and then passing along. And how our job as meditators, as yogis, as, well, people just trying to get through the day, is to relate deeply enough to the fundamental understanding of our own Buddha nature, our own pure awareness as that of untouched clear blue sky — so bright and still, naturally placid, radiant, rich with innate equanimity and balance — that when the inevitable severe thunderstorms of our lives roll in, we are decently equipped to step back, take a deep breath, layer on a few raincoats, pull on our galoshes, and sit quietly with the blowing clouds and the gale-force winds until they eventually, in an hour or in a week or a year, pass.

I found this metaphor particularly apropos as I drove through the wet and the cold and realized how deeply we needed it.

I thought it particularly insightful as I witnessed the collective joy from everyone in the Bay Area on waking (finally!) to rain. Facebook and Twitter were blowing up with commentary from folks overjoyed at the long-awaited graceful inconvenience of having to stay home and snuggle up and listen to the rain pelting down.

I was reminded of its truth especially in driving past the near-evaporated Nicasio reservoir and witnessing the dead brown hills lapping up rain along Lucas Valley Road.

I felt the thirsty earth's gratitude for this little tease of nourishment from the sky.

I left my umbrella in the car and savored the little wet drops on my way into the studio for the last time til after the baby comes.

I spoke a few words in class about how we should all lend some healthy skepticism to any yoga teacher or system that says you should always be happy, that every day should be sunny, that enlightenment looks like perpetual bliss. We in California these days know too well that a life of perpetual sunshine is not a good thing. It's unbalanced. It doesn't lend to equanimity. It leaves us wanting for nourishment and wholeness and a certain necessary complementarity. We have witnessed this truth with dire consequences in the last few drought-ridden months.

So I said a little something more about how the metaphorical rain of our days is welcome, how we need to usher in the more chaotic, messy, sloppy shit-storms of our lives, remembering that they, too, are simply weather systems, coming and going, and they're just as nourishing and as essential and as healthy (and as yogic) as the brilliantly sunny days. That we can't have one without the other.

And this all felt very wise and true and balanced, very yin/yang, very Taoist, this reminder to welcome the rainstorms along with the sun.

And I felt so grateful, again, for the slop and the sludge on the slow, drippy drive home, remembering how comforting the sound of rain hammering the top of the big blue van had been as a kid, driving home along I-29 in South Dakota.

But then last night after the game (can we really call that pathetic whomping a game?), fire still roaring, bellies full, convinced by the Broncos' listless showing that the 49ers still deserved to reign in the upper-echelon of American football, we heard this news, unbelievable, really, heart-breaking in the most inconceivable of ways.

The kind of news that hits a whole community like a punch to the gut, that leaves a whole expanse of folks reeling.

The kind of news you think just should not possibly ever be.

The kind of news you're sure is just too unfair to be true.

Alex and Ron's 4-year-old son, Ezequiel, was diagnosed with a very rare Stage 4 cancer just a few weeks ago. (That's Ron and EZ in the picture, up above.) He's been in the hospital undergoing chemo, and just finally came home on Friday.

Word has traveled quickly amongst West Marin folks in the last few weeks, and it's been heartrending to witness the power of so many people coming together with love and support for their family. Inspiring. Gives you hope amongst the sadness.

(Your heart just hurts, even hearing the news. I don't even know them that well, not the way my husband does, or like some of the local people who've all grown up together over the years, and it still makes me quiver.)

Sunday morning, Ron, EZ's father, had a massive heart attack and died in his sleep.

Just like that.

One day after coming home from the hospital with his chemo-treated son.

Holy shit.

Holy impossible.

Holy what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-the-world.

Holy this is why we owe it to one another to learn to sit with, to honor, to witness, every range of feelings and experiences that comes up.

Because life is NOT all fairies and unicorns, in spite of what many yoga magazines and Instagram accounts and lots of perpetually blissed-out green-juice-drinking yoga-lebrities want you to think.

Because life is often unfair, and incomprehensible, and painful, and oh-so-full of suffering.

Because we know that's true, because we've all experienced it in one way or another, though most of us, through sheer random luck, perhaps, not to the degree that the Powell/Porrata family is right now.

Because we, all of us, need every tool we can possibly get to be ok in moments like these, the moments that seem far too unbearable to even be true.

Because sometimes the weather systems of our lives are soft little April showers, and sometimes they're snowpocalypses that wreak havoc and dump shitloads of snow everywhere and close all the roads and trap us at home and leave us wondering how and if and when we'll ever dig out.

We practice for those moments in our lives. Those moments wherein we think there's no way to ever get through, or out, or around. Those moments wherein suffering seems too Capital-S to bear. Those moments wherein the polar vortex pummels the hell out of everything we know and love.

And in the meantime, we try desperately to remind ourselves (failing, usually, caught up as we are in the miniscule daily dramas of our lives) not to ever take the stillness, the ease, the clear-blue-sky kind of days for granted.

Because those pass, too.

I mutter this little unofficial made-up prayer as a kind of blessing at the end of every class I teach, a fleeting wish that we might never take this breath, this body, this moment, this life for granted, not only as a final brief reminder to students as to why we do any of this yoga stuff, but also as a reminder for myself.

That the most challenging breaths, the most challenging moments might be just as sacred as any other; that we might never get so bogged down in the Frankenstorms of our lives that we forget how lucky we are to even have this life to begin with; and the fact that at any moment — any moment! — it all might change.

And then, there, we might suddenly find ourselves alone, or burying a partner, or a child, or a parent, and wishing we'd been more aware (present, light, loving, grateful, patient, fill-in-the-blank) while we still could.

Don't take a single breath for granted.

Even the breaths that are hard to catch, the struggling ones that come through a stuffy-sick-with-the-flu nose, or the desperate shallow ones that come at the top of the longest literal or figurative mountain-climb you've ever tackled, or the thin unsatisfying ones we struggle to really get because there's a big ol' baby sitting in the space where your lungs usually expand.

Each one is sacred.

Especially, especially, the most ostensibly mundane.

Because how we will wish for those breaths when they're gone.

So I'm going to settle into these next few quiet weeks of waiting for the wee one to arrive, and enjoy the staying in my pajamas with my beloved working quietly in the next room, and savor the to-do lists and the packing-the-birth-center bag and the gathering-tax-materials and the paying-off-credit-cards and the doing-the-laundry and all of those other unsexy ways we spend our hours.

Because they are real. And they won't last forever.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern....
There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

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Unknown said…
This is incredibly beautiful and incredibly sad, Rachel. Thank you for sharing your personal navigation of such a tragic moment. I send my love to the family and the community. And you.

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