Train as a Warrior

Pema Chodron has written that, “a warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next…This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It’s also what makes us afraid.” This warrior is picking up her sword with shaky hands these days. How do you stand tall and firm and open to new things when the ground is shifting underneath your feet?

Twenty five years ago (and can we just pause for a moment to ponder how the hell I arrived at the point when anything in my adult life happened a quarter of a century ago?) my body crumpled as it slammed into the windshield of a fast-moving car. As I flew over the top of it I remember thinking, this isn’t right, this isn’t how riding a bike is supposed to feel. And as I regained consciousness on the pavement, unable to breath or move, I remember thinking, this is very bad. After the ambulances, and the doctors, and the ICU, and the machines, and the pills, and the home health care aides, and trying to walk, the doctor suggested I try yoga. And I was hooked. A gentle practice, surrounded by generous piles of props and guided into poses by a soft-voiced instructor, I slowly returned to my body. To survive, my brain built a moat to keep my pain at bay. Gliding from one pose to the next, together they built a bridge.

So that practice—not, perhaps, done consistently enough over the years, but done often enough, surely—was there when it was not my body, but my heart that shattered. After the emergency rooms, and the doctors, and the ICU, and the machines, and the pills, and the hospice care, and the casket, mindful movement saved me again. When the corset around my lungs tightened until I couldn’t breathe, I laced my fingers behind me and peeled open my chest. When I fought the centrifugal forces of grief that left me feeling felt as if might simply spin apart into a million scattered pieces, I wove my hands-elbows-arms-one-leg-over-the-other into a spiral until I could knit myself back together again. And when I wanted to scream with loneliness, I went to where familiar people settled onto brightly colored mats on all sides of me, and slowly moved in unison holding me in their unity. I cried a lot in yoga those days, but I went. Sometimes I went to that studio every day. At least a few times, I went twice a day. I sat on the solid blonde wood floor. I took solace in the sparsely furnished room. I soaked in the the light that deflected off the windows across the street and across my bare feet. I went. And I went. And I went again. And I got through.

Now that studio is closing. Now the only studio in our little town is closing. And it’s like I’m grieving all over again. Where will I go when I am crawling up the walls of my Little Yellow House? When things get rough, and they do always get rough, how do I find a shaft of sunlight to warm my feet? Where is my haven when we spin on our axis ever more quickly, until I fear there is no tether strong enough to keep me from simply being flung into outer space? Who are the people who will allow me to cry in their midst, yet keep moving all around me to keep me safe?

Every real warrior knows that being afraid is not failure, nor cowardice. Being afraid is what saves your life, because being afraid is what snaps you to attention and reminds you of what you are supposed to do. And so I unroll my mat. The floor is grey, and covered in dog’s hair. If I stretch my legs too far, I run the risk of knocking books off their shelves. Unread magazines and unopened bills and endless to-do lists litter every surface. But I breathe in, and I raise my hands to the heavens, I breathe out, and I fold toward the floor. I lace my fingers behind my back and I open my heart to whatever awaits it. I weave my hands-elbows-arms-leg-one-over-the-other. And I lunge forward into the pose of the Warrior. Every day. Sometimes twice a day.

Pema urges us to remember, “wherever we are, we can train as a warrior.” And wherever we train, if we really concentrate, we can feel a shaft of sunlight dancing over our feet.

Thank you, CM, for what you built for us, for me. Thank you for bringing me back to the practice that just seems to keep on saving my life. And as a wise woman always says, “Namaste, everybody.”