Recently, here in Northern California, fires tore through cities and burned thousands of homes and businesses to the ground. Lives were lost, and many of us were left stunned, breathing in people’s and animals’ lost lives and dreams, and hearing stories of those who lost everything. These fires came on the heels of hurricanes that have ripped apart cities and paralyzed entire islands, while hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes awaiting the eruption of a massive volcano in Bali…and so on and so forth.
Fires are burning everywhere, literally and figuratively. Lives as we have been living them, assuming they will be the same the next day, are turned upside down, flipped around, and in some cases decimated.
Depending on the life you’ve lived up until this point, you may have been through “the fire,” or near it, or possibly till now you’ve lived a life that has tracked along without much singeing at the edges. However, if you live long enough, it’s likely that sooner or later you will be touched by the burning of what you were certain was permanent. All the seemingly solid things in life will become ash, in a sense.
This is why so many of the practices of yoga have us honoring agni- fire. The teachers’ teachers understood our desire to hold a fixed idea of what we are, have, own, get, on this life journey. This tendency toward clinging, they have taught us, is what causes dukkha- suffering.
The more we attempt to hold to an idea of fixed things, relationships, body, money, the more we experience the jarring reality that this whole thing is a pulsing, shifting, living, breathing, fiery, watery organism, and our desire to hold onto things, including the thing we call “myself,” is not only futile—it’s the very thing that makes us suffer.
So, what beauty can we possibly find in the midst of destruction, of ash? This is the study of the yogis, how to find equanimity and santosha (contentment) even in the midst of moving earth, raging fires, torrential downpours, howling winds. From sitting in a meditation posture watching the lunging and grasping of the thoughts, to nourishing the body with movement, and witnessing the breath in its eternal coming and going, we entrain ourselves to one simple reality: things change.
The practices of yoga support us in holding lightly to all that we think we get to have, grip, hold, call “mine.” We accustom ourselves to and even sometimes celebrate impermanence as a way of staying attentive to the moment. In doing so, we come to understand that there are no guarantees that what we have today will be ours tomorrow.
This impermanence may seem theoretical and abstract, until the rug is pulled out from under our certainties and we stand there naked, raw, and asking for help.
This is my daily relationship to practice. I can step onto my mat or cushion and “burn” my stories and certainties. I loosen my grip on all that I imagine is mine; and I sit there, completely revealed in my dynamic, impermanent body and simply feel, feel the absolute glory of one breath cycle, notice the temperature of the air against my skin and melt into the absolute gift of this wild life. Each moment becomes more sacred, potent, alive; knowing that it’s all passing, shifting, burning, washing away…
This connects me to the moment and connects me to the vulnerability and gratitude right at the surface of this breath.
Om Namah Shivaya
Bowing to the endless transmutation that is unfolding through each breath.
Headshot: Ali Kaukas. Blog Image: Nina Konjini.