A sneak-attack moment of clarity
I woke up the Sunday morning after not one but two Thanksgiving celebrations feeling stiff, sore, and sapped. I limped downstairs on feet tired from standing for hours at the stovetop to prepare one final meal – breakfast for 14.
I was moving slowly enough that it seemed like there was time on each step for a memory –
- the huge laugh I’d shared with my daughters as we squeezed past each other in the hall
- bending over a laptop with my nephew as he explained the items on his Christmas list
- the sweet snuggle with my sister just before we served the feast
- standing shoulder to shoulder with my mom as I washed and she dried
- listening to the rumble of my husband’s and brother-in-law’s voices from the kitchen as they tended the turkey
- the cheerful drive to my brother- and sister-in-law’s house with my husband’s mom
- catching up on my niece’s happily busy life
- the quiet time one on one time I’d had with my dad in the living room
- listening to 12 people I love share the blessings of their past year
There are many more precious moments I could add to this list. I am deeply grateful that my somewhat painful walk down the stairs was slow enough to allow me the unexpected gift of flipping through these individual memories like photos in an album.
This odd, almost out-of-body experience of remembering discrete, individual moments was a tremendous gift. Had it not happened, these tiny treasures could easily have been lost in the sweep of busy-ness and resulting exhaustion of a very full holiday weekend.
My moment of clarity clarifies a challenging aspect of yoga philosophy
Deep within The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of yoga’s seminal texts, lies a brief, mind-blowing exposition on the nature of time. I will confess that, until my slow-motion walk down the stairs on Sunday, the ideas proposed in these brief verses have remained tantalizingly just beyond my grasp.
In sutra 4.12, Patanjali states in a deceptively simple manner, that “the past and the future both exist in the present moment. How past and future are perceived depends on the condition of the moment.” (Translation by Alan Finger in Tantra of the Yoga Sutras.)
In his commentary on the sutras, Chip Hartranft offers as an explanation a cartoon flipbook. Perhaps you, like me, used to make these by penciling little figures in the bottom corners of your high school textbooks so that when you rifled the pages it looked like a movie?
Life, according to Patanjali is a succession of moments of pure experience. These moments are represented by each little pencil drawing on the corner of each page in your textbook. Each is complete and can be appreciated in and of itself.
Something about the way we humans are hardwired, however, makes us string these moments together into one long, cohesive “movie.” This movie is represented by the “moving” picture that results when you flip the pages of your book rather than looking at each individual sketch.
The moving picture is an illusion according to Patanjali. In fact, he says that linear time itself is a human construct, which modern science supports (but we won’t get into that debate now). The cohesiveness of time is, without a doubt, a helpful illusion as we navigate our lives. But, nonetheless, it would behoove us to remember that it, in fact, can (and will) distract us from what is real, from what gives our lives infinite value and meaning – the endless possibility of the present moment.
There is nothing like personal experience to bring a teaching to life
For years I have eagerly nodded along as I read and reread this sutra (and countless commentaries) much as I do when reading about quantum physics. But it was not until Sunday morning that I can say that I understand it. And, like all true understanding, my grasp of this concept comes from experiencing it myself.
As I walked down the stairs on Sunday, it was as if I was slowly absorbing and appreciating a long series of small pencil sketches in the corners of the pages of the last four, full-to-the-brim days of my life. As I am a regular human, I had been distracted from the beauty and loving detail of these individual sketches by the whirlwind of busyness and subsequent tiredness of the “moving picture” my mind had created of the holiday weekend.
When I, not by my own doing, but by grace alone, refocused on the discrete moments of my weekend, I was almost overcome by a wave of gratitude and love. Life, when taken in moment-sized bites, is so sweet and so beautiful that it takes your breath away.
This, I thought, is why the ancient yogis practiced. This is why we modern yogis and contemplative spiritual folks practice. This is the gift of the NOW. Having tasted it, I hope and pray that I will continue to have flashes of this clarity. I hope and pray that my little story helps you to have flashes of your own.
All that you and I need for a rich and meaningful life is to pay attention to this precise moment. In fact, I will be so brazen as to echo Patanjali and say that all of life exists right here and NOW.
If you’re interested in learning more about yoga philosophy, check out my recorded class “Demystifying the Yoga Sutras” and stay tuned for a live class in 2022.