Who Knows?

2 Apr

Breathe in.

My arms stretch upward, reaching for the sky, while I am trying to open a chest that feels as if it has never taken a deep breath.

And sweep down, my yoga instructor says as I hinge at hip, ignoring the pinch and pop.

Anything, I think, anything to help get rid of this heavy ache under the left side of my chest wall. Breathing, I stretch up again and know the more my lungs fill with the rhythm and sweep of wind, the better the day will be. Yoga has now made its way into my life. My left side sends the message that something more than sweating or muscle building is needed. Every posture reveals tiny knotted bundles of unreleased emotions. Anger, sadness, resistance, a multitude of memories stored in each angular curve. For a fairly fit person, I’m strung tighter than a banjo in need of tune.

My right leg extends upward and to the side, bending to the left into a star like pose. While I’m balanced, opening my hips and chest, I become aware of a song drifting from my instructor’s small sound system.

Hey lady, you got the love I need
Maybe more than enough. . .

My body feels the slow instrumental notes like the cold rain that now spots the wide glass of the studio windows filled with grey- white morning fog. In this moment, I look for a lesson, despite the painful pressure rising in my left chest wall.

–Breathe, I think. Allow. This isn’t cruelty. It’s a sign to open more.

I bend.

I breathe.

Hips rise.

Tears fall.

Rain on the glass in spatters. The singing ring of a Tibetan bowl. Namaste.

After class, self care includes warm French croissant and coffee at the Community Market. I sit at a tiny picnic table inside and watch the room filled with pods of people eating. . .talking. I wonder what else the rain will bring.

The hours pass. Its twilight now, or at least I think so in the deluge that is pouring from the sky. The road winds down through dense fog and sheets of cold rain in the diffuse evening light. And I am still allowing puddles left from the emotional shower during my morning practice to evaporate. Perhaps tonight’s Satsang service at Yogaville in Buckingham, VA will give me insight.

I enter a warm, close room in the yoga academy at the beginning of the service and pick my way through the crowd of chairs and cross-legged yogis on the carpet. On an plain dais in the front, sits a man playing drum, and two women, one a violinist, the other playing a free standing accordion. A lotus blossom opens on the wall behind them with a single crystal light on a small shelf. The accordion player sings a line which the crowd offers back in response, over and over. Several audience members jingle tiny tambourines in time with the beat. The effect is hypnotic, but merry. And suddenly, I feel my overcast spirit starting to lift. An overwhelming surge of feeling safe, simply by being in this room washes over me. Am I feeling the energy of joy? At the end of our singing, a bell intones, and the room breathes into a cascading exhalation. . .


The last notes drag out my breath into inner stillness.

The lights dim and a cross legged figure dressed in mango colored robes appears on screen. His voice, like a bemused grandfather begins to unlock my chest.

Always ask, he says, Who am I?”
Ko Hum. . . Ko Hum. . .Ko Hum
Who is asking the question?
Am I the body?
Am I the mind?
Who is happy? Who is unhappy?
Who is unhappy and who knows who is happy or unhappy?
…What is it they say? Know the Knower.
Be nosey about you.

As Sri Swami Satchidananda continues, I know I am meant to hear this wisdom. For he begins to discuss change and resistance to it.

I am sad. I am hungry. I am happy. I am unhappy. I… I… I, he says.
Keep an eye on that I.
The Seeker looks for the never changing one in the midst of the ever changing one.

In essence, he is gently reminding me to always look for and dwell in my higher self, to trust She will be there through constant changing conditions. She is the image of the Divine in me. Every so often in his quiet lecture, he creates an analogy that brings forth the crowd’s laughter. He reminds us of other faiths, how at times they seem too serious to be spiritual. This encourages us to enjoy our changing. And it encourages me to simply lighten up.

Changes are there for you to enjoy. You don’t want the same food every day, or wear the same clothes.
You change your hair, your clothes. That is the show. You come home and take it all off.
Changes are there for your enjoyment.
So accept them. Enjoy them.
Know that you are one who is changing while also unchanging.

And in being this Knower, this watcher connected to the greater “I”, the higher Self, I am a witness. Awareness of my actions and my response to the world is heightened. I am conscious, but also able to laugh at life’s simplicity, my own simplicity as well. As Swami Satchidananda says,

Be the eternal witness to your own life.

I scribble this down quickly. Suddenly, I see the writing of this journey in a new way. Maybe I have been looking at the “alone” thing in the wrong way. How many people get the opportunity for enormous self reflection, for self analysis? To watch their own lives rather than be continually embroiled in it. One of my friends going through intermittent empty nest plaintively tells me, “Oh what I wouldn’t do to be completely alone!” This coming to really love myself doesn’t have to be excruciating. I’ve been bracing for a tsunami and the guru tells me I just need to learn to surf.

Learn the board. Take care of it.
Learn to balance and then surf well on the sea of the world.
When you know how to surf well, you look for big waves, because you know how to enjoy them.

I never thought to look at what challenges me in life as waves to be conquered by not becoming involved. It was always head down, like a ram, tough through it and then recover from the deluge. I let conditions suck me in and affect me rather than using them to perfect my surfing. Maybe this will help to lighten me, for if I am not always battle expectant on the road of trials, I can lose some of the bracing seriousness that tends to keep me armored against allies as well as dragons.


A new understanding about my body comes while driving home, thinking about my physical practice. The guru said, Make yourself strong to lift others. I have worked so much anger and pain into my muscles, building them as a protection and a testament to my strength. But now I’m inflexible. In building so much of an emotional wall in my recent relationship, my left side slowly locked up in response. It’s as if my body responded to the condition. . . it separated from the greatest part of the“I”. Learning to open emotionally and physically and let it all go, means to allow conditions to roll as waves. It doesn’t mean disallowing my emotions; while I am feeling them I always keep an “eye on the I”. That is my security…that never changes. My quest is to keep asking who am I…who is the Knower? The guru tells me this can actually be enjoyed. Finding the courage to love my essence could be a great relief. And isn’t love supposed to feel good?

I’m lifting.

I’m learning.

I’ve come to the first stepping stone. I’m not perfect and so I will hurt others by mistake. Not because I AM the mistake, but because I have the courage to get out on the board and be willing to fall off into the deep end. I’m worth loving. I’m worth knowing. I will keep giving myself that next chance even if I make a mess of things. In all my imperfections, I’m still pretty awesome at simply being human.



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