It’s the night of the 31st of the month that started on Shivaratri and did not let up. Thirty one days of liminal space, chaos, destruction, resolution and beauty moving fast. I do wonder how deeply I was able to let it seep in.
Today it is 55 degrees and half the yard is still covered in crusty snow. I’ve got a migraine on a moon day, a heart filled like a dirty wet bar towel with the pain humans go through, and not more than 60 minutes to put a bead on the string of this writing practice before sleep. I remember being 16 and having a rare bit of social life for a summer – a series of cornfield keg parties that took me out of the evening routine of reading Harvard classics and filling journals with sharp witted stories of my own. I journaled that more action = less meaning, and that I would have to choose between this active life and being someone who understood things. A sophomoric thought, but just for today there is part of me who has fallen back on re-thinking it.
On Shivaratri you stay awake through the four quarters of the night, keeping some awareness as consciousness descends through the physical realm into the energetic, the mental, the superconcious and finally the causal. It’s funny that they call it the causal body when all that’s there is nothing, a source code that must stay unwritten, unmanifest, a vacuum. Shiva territory. That’s where we go at night, sometimes. Through some layers of space garbage into the superconscious, then to the tohu vabohu, and back.
March started with me barefoot in a crowded Indian street, crossing the threshold into a temple quaking in cymbals and bass drums, pressed through the chambers of the building by bodies on all sides, like in peristalsis. Each of us whispered an ask in the ear of a huge, granite Nandi, and at the inner sanctum the churn paused just in time for my eyes to gaze a few seconds on Parvati before the music stopped and a curtain quaffed her out of existence. Then back into the street for oxygen and juice squeezed from a sugar cane. My New Balance “eco” sneakers (recycled materials only) were still there in a pile with everyone else’s plastic + car tire footwear, which are made to order by Mysore’s corner cobblers. I got in a car, onto a plane, and from there ran straight into a snowdrift.
Action leaves traces; and feeling gross after flying is information from Earth about the violence of air travel. Good information. Still, if you have to teach Mysore in America one long day after leaving India, then you really do have to stay awake during the four quarters of the night. Do not eat, or sleep, or drink the plane water. Make a bubble around your body and breathe shallow for 20 hours. The gross body does best that way, and your hormonal cycles get least scrambled.
Michigan the first week of March was clean lines, clean air, crisp in every way. The air tasted perfect; and I have never seen interiors, or the Earth, so clean. It was spring break at the University, but the Editor is on a book deadline and has no business traveling. So, catching up after a months apart, we stayed in town, but in an experience-altering space. A week in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Palmer House was a gift from some people who knew the house’s history. Mary Palmer, its owner until her passing 3 years ago, was not only one of the few clients to get design concessions out of Wright (she drove cross country to Talesin West in the 50s one summer, to make the 80-year-old FLW sign off on a fireplace). She was also the person who first brought BKS Iyengar to America (to the Ann Arbor YMCA, oddly), after a canny courtship similar to the one she conducted with FLW. She practiced Iyengar yoga daily in FLW’s complicated, isosceles master bathroom, all the way in to her 90s.
The Editor and I sat by Mary Palmer’s fireplace that week and listened to Moondog and La Monte Young, letting FLW tell us his jokes in the patterns the light leaves on the walls and the tricks you have to learn to open the cupboards. The interior is all sharp angles (nothing at 90 degrees except doors and windows). Running into them at 4 in the morning on my way out to the shala, I’d be hit by high Modernism, and 50s feminism, and of course by BKS. Turns out Mr. Iyengar stayed in the house twice, on a tiny trapezoidal bed in the study. FLW slept in the same one.
The house condenses some of my town’s strongest past influences. All week it sliced up my consciousness, marked me, and raised my ideals for the light and the shape of inhabited space. Consciousness is always – to some degree – a product if its spacetime, but FLW’s and BKS’s containers made that obvious by being a little confrontational. Maybe that’s how all the high Moderns operated – they prized crisp beauty above all, but approached it by first destroying your comfort zone.
Which is not the only way. The third phase of March was in Mexico, at a place so beautiful I can’t fully perceive it. So spare and wondrous it’s a direct line on dream-time. Observing those who enter, time and again it proves almost impossible for a human to remain in a state of ordinary mental consciousness< – everyday distracted mind – while in this small, isolated space. Having been there last year too, I’d forgotten or failed to perceive its perfection, in part because the place is barely there. Just some huts on the edge of the Pacific, where the air is the temperature of your skin, you cannot separate yourself from nature, the sea roar drowns discursive thought, and there is nothing to do.
Paradise is a palimpsest. With safety, and silence, some of the recent arrivals in my subconscious mind showed up clearly. Given this downtime, I saw that turning my eyes around on the practice room in Mysore this past winter was a quite painful experience. Why shouldn’t it be? I suppose transformative practice can be especially hard for humans at times. But sometimes with a lot of space people see things, and I suspect that for my efforts to trivialize paradise, I will be back to this one because of its particular ability to alter consciousness.
It took more than a week here at home to fall into a regular rhythm of contact with emptiness, both in sleep cycles and sitting practice. That’s also how long the cats waited before they took me back. I don’t think they recognized me when the oils in my skin were mostly Indian coconut, but by now I’m more of a ghee-based being. This morning Moonpie sang to me in the bathtub, in her little pathos-meeps that are more like the chirps of a squeeze toy. A suddenly very fluffy, pudgy squeeze toy. The moon starts waxing today, and March goes out the way it is supposed to.
At the beginning of the Yoga Makaranda, Krishnamacharya goes on at some length, and quite randomly, about the meaning and importance of sleep. I don’t know why. I’ve been carrying the 2013 translation of that book around all March, from Mysore, to Mary Palmer’s, to Mexico, and finally home to Spring Street, not so much thinking about it as absorbing it. It’s been one relatively conscious, constant stream of experience this month. I’ll sleep with it under my pillow for one more night, and then file it on the shelf.