Ashtanga yoga, Bipolar disease, Enlightenment, faith, hope, love, madness, Mental Hospitals, motherhood, Peace, personal essay, photos of Iyengar, photos of Pattabhi Jois, PTSD, Richard Freeman, Sanskrit, yoga
she said, briefly ~
In each person there exists a point of stillness. I have had the most direct experience of this often inaccessible terrain while being guided in practice by Richard Freeman. In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, if one slows down enough, there are moments that can stretch to an infinite vista, vast as the Universe: it is the brief abandonment of the ego’s poison-grip.
Before lifting the body, which at this stage of practice often feels weightless, into Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulderstand supported with hands), it is recommended to lie flat on the Earth, palms down, limbs delightfully stiffened just to the point of muscular sensation, not beyond.
This pose, which might look like a tense corpse, is called Tadaka Mudra. Tadaka, from the Sanskrit, means a pond, or a pool. Mudra, loosely, is a seal, or a gathering in by the body, the hands, the head, to increase or decrease a certain energy or spiritual intention.
As the body rests-does-not-rest in Tadaka Mudra, occasionally a hollowing takes place. The hollowing is at the deepest root of the lower abdomen: it is as if the limbs, the ribs, the pelvic bones become the land, perhaps the land of our common, every day life, and in the center that land gives way to a sacred, secret and primordial, indeed impersonal, depth.
I have touched this depth in guided practice, in Zen practice, and, very occasionally, in my own exploration. This is the great stillness I believe we all seek, which is ironic: in the seeking we create suffering, grasping, and so the illusive, shimmering Tadaka floats further away. Water, after all, cannot be gripped.
We know this point through spiritual practice, through poems (Eliot’s Four Quartets: “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;/ there the dance is,/ but neither arrest nor movement…”), through philosophy (Kant’s theory of noumenon vs. the world apprehended by the senses and intellect), and, of course, through personal revelation.
What does it mean when the access to stillness abandons the mind, or is stolen by that Thief in the Night, overwhelming circumstance?
The place of silence, which might be Peace – consider the Greek Eirene, so like Mother Mary – or Infinite Love – seeing Vishnu in one’s heart: this place is the perfect Jewel of the Soul. Or, if one is uncomfortable with spiritual image, this is where relaxation, genuine letting go, occurs. We build around this Jewel temples of protection, ambition, structure and illusion. It is the place within us that holds the most contradiction, as we will do anything to guard it and then exert equal effort to never visit it for more than a moment. If there is a center to Being, this faceted, blinding Jewel is the representation.
And here we enter a world necessarily beyond language, a world in which language itself is a poor symbol, an extended hand of mere gesture, a simplistic outline of meaning.
And yet, and yet.
For me it is more and more concrete, the Presence and then the Absence of soul, of peace, of love. Recently I spent a week in a madhouse. I went, simply, because the circumstances of my life, what I have done to myself, allowed others to do to me, has caused me to slip, fall, and the falling did not stop.
In the madhouse everyone was falling. And because humans have a need to love, to seek peace, we tried to catch one another. If one imagines the slapstick of Laurel and Hardy blended with Euripides’ brutal interpretation of murder and madness in Herakles, this is a fairly accurate portrayal of the comedic hopelessness of Bipolar-Major Depression-PTSD-Extremely Anxious humans attempting to connect.
Now I know.
Madness is the sacking of the Jewel.
Who does the sacking, and whether the Jewel can be replaced or if its absence is only an illusion is all a matter of interpretation, and, as one is in the middle of the mess, utterly irrelevant. What replaces the Soul when it’s gone is pain. A pain that is physical, existential, mental, in the body and out of body all at once and all the time. People who judge the suicidal have no sense of the pain that encompasses the Soul-less beings who are, quite simply, seeking relief from something so far gone it is indescribable.
Madness is absence, the incapacity to describe the absence, and the solitary confinement that is the natural result of that incapacity. In this way, just as Love can be an infinite loop of openness and joy, so can its departure: pain begets pain, the trip becomes a fall, the fall becomes an endless vertigo of isolation.
Aside: if you ever wonder what it’s like to be around crazy people when you, also, are crazy: it is, in a word, comforting. We are all in this (secret, shamed) war together. And, to be as simple as possible, there is nothing left to protect, defend, or to dress up and pretend. My roommate showed me the open wounds on her wrists as casually as one reveals a grey hair. I was around impoverished addicts and perpetual liars and lawyers and mothers and beautiful teenage girls and an 80 year old retired executive and we were all leveled to an equality that I imagine only combat and sickness can create.
I have always been a child, then a girl, then a woman, of extremes.
I know what it is to touch Infinite peace under the guidance of Richard Freeman’s patrician, elegant hand.
I know what it is to live, if one can call it that, with moment by moment suicidal impulse.
This is either a gift or a death sentence. (What in life is not a death sentence? I cannot help but allow my mind to linger on the comfortingly obvious…).
But here I am, my daughters asleep by my side, and I am writing these words.