Friday, May 22, 2009

Dandelion Yoga

A beautiful spring day here in St. Paul, MN. Partly cloudy, a slight breeze, temperatures in the low seventies. I took myself to a local park to do some outdoor yoga. No mat, no props, no book of poses. Nothing but what would arise while I was there.

As I rode into the park, I was greeted by a field of dandelions. Ghost dandelions. Thousands of little, white heads waving in the wind together as if to say: we're not quite dead yet, we're not quite dead yet.

I parked the bike near a bench, and stepped right into the middle, kicking up a dust of seeds and dried silk attached to them. I looked down and saw that my brown shoes were now nearly white. And the thought came to me that I wasn't sure I wanted to do this.

I did a standing forward bend and then came up and surveyed the land. There it was right in front of me: a large tree stump. My escape from the dead.

I nearly lept on it, starting to conjure poses I might do now that I was free from the clutches of the ghosts. I spun my arms around and around, working to open my shoulders. I did half moon pose, to stretch my sides. And then I got up on one leg for Warrior III pose, first the left side and then the right: the opposite of what usually happens when I'm in class, a quirk I blame being left handed on.

And then, on the way up from the second side of Warrior, I saw the stump. Not that I hadn't seen the stump before, but now I truly saw it, the wavy lines that marked the years, the knobs around the edges, the places where it was already beginning to crumble, even though it couldn't have been more than a few years since the tree had been cut. Another marker of impermanence. Another image of death.

It was then that I realized that there was nothing much else I could do on the stump. Sure, I could have done tree pose, but really, how cliche is that. So, I stepped off the edge, the hundred foot pole as we say in zen (ok, maybe not, but maybe so), and into the dandelions again.

Putting my hands on the ground, right into the mess of the dead, I worked my legs into down dog. The sun warmed my back as I heard a bird singing overhead. My eyes landed on the tussle of stems and jagged, green leaves - old friends I was re-aquainting myself with. After a minute or so of just noticing what was there, I saw them: a pair of yellow heads sticking out of the dead, white ocean I had stepped into. The cycle of life, all in one field - why is it so surprising? Even after hearing Buddha's teachings on interconnectedness and impermanence a thousand times over, still this moment of awareness was a little startling.

I patted down a body space worth of the dead, stood up, and threw my arms to the sky. The perfect place for a few rounds of sun salutations, I thought to myself. A few minutes later, arching into up dog, I saw a middle aged man walking on the sidewalk, about to pass. I think our eyes met briefly, although I can't be sure of that. And as he turned away - confused, embarrassed, distracted by the bird in the tree - I smiled, and slid back into down dog, my eyes filled with ghosts, and the leaves that support them still, even in death.

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