As the light changed from red to green to yellow
And back to red again, I sat there thinking about life.
Was it nothing more than a bunch of screaming and yelling?
Sometimes it seemed that way.
Jack Handey, Deeper Thoughts
Jack Handey described precisely the state of my consciousness on a recent afternoon at the airport. I like to congratulate myself on remaining calm in chaos, but on this day the scene surrounding me was testing my center – like a Jenga stack with its innermost pieces removed. I felt the predictable stress of pre-weekend travel, demonstrated by businesspeople with Bluetooth devices scuttling to their flights, frazzled parents soothing restless children, young people tuned out to the world and into their headphones, and older couples arguing about which terminal they were departing from. Everyone was bored of, bothered by or braced against the communal experience. On top of the cacophony of departure announcements and honking passenger carts, there was not a seat to be had in my terminal. There was literally nowhere to go, no one to commiserate with, and nothing to do but hunker down. So I begrudgingly settled myself on the floor with an ambitiously full pack of books, my journal and a $4 cup of coffee. I gradually made peace with the situation and figured I’d get some reading done. But soon the shuffling footsteps and movement around me stopped, and I found myself smack dab in the middle of a line of people preparing to embark. My little pile of space had become an annoying obstacle between busy people and their airline seats — and their already claimed space in the overhead compartment. Someone kicked my pack accidentally as they shuffled absentmindedly toward the gate and I suddenly felt terrible for every beggar on the street. Like them, I was almost invisible but not quite. Just enough there to take up space and become a mild annoyance to people with better things to do.
I was hurtled back to the moment by the sound of a violin, which seemed an unlikely hallucination at first. But, when I stood up and poked my head around the corner, there was indeed a 70-year oldish gray-haired woman planted in the middle of the bustling terminal, playing her violin with passion and verve. Her music lifted me out of my grumbling perspective and nudged me to scan for reactions to this unanticipated scene of abandon. A few disembarking passengers stopped and took notice and others looked suspicious — as if they would at any moment be imposed upon for money or participation. Most, however, simply stayed buried in their phones or their own heads, unmoved or unshaken out of their imaginary worlds of connection. How is it, I wondered, that our walls have become so solid and our minds so full, that we are unable to take in something simple, beautiful and free without thinking that there must be a catch? When did we learn to suppress the desire of the soul in favor of the oligarchy of our thoughts, a sentiment captured in Duane Michaels’ description?
Inside and outside her head, a billion, trillion stars, beyond count, circled and exploded. A million frogs croaked, trees fell in forests echoing down valleys; children cried. The flux of everything throbbed on and on. Songs were heard in spheres within spheres, electric, crackle, sharp. She heard nothing. How could she, when not once had she even heard the sound of her own breathing?
I guess we learn to need walls at some point, but without examination the same armor that protects us can keep us closed off, aborting the tender process of expanding consciousness before it even gets started. We get to the point where we just cannot take anymore in, even something potentially nourishing and uplifting. Sometimes very busy people tell me how they need to do yoga and secretly I’m thinking you need another project like you need a hole in the head. If anything take on less, not more. Shoving yoga into an already packed life will bring frustration, guilt and frankly saps the potency of the practice before it gets off the ground. Carolyn Myss states something similar:
We are forever looking for the easy meditation, the easy exercise, that will lift us out of the fog, but consciousness doesn’t work that way. Let go of how you thought your life should be, and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness.
The music that day in the airport was trying to work its way into my consciousness and the truth is I barely made space for it. But when I let the resistance and emotional self-indulgence subside, I found my spirit lifted. I desire more of this, of not closing to the subtle things that might get drowned out by the louder parts of life. Our most profound blessings can remain buried under the obnoxious shoulds of the mind . . . like flipping someone off in the yoga studio parking lot because they took your spot! Ultimately, whether we maintain, erect or raise our walls, acknowledging them puts us in a position to choose, and creates space inside to perceive what might otherwise be missed.