40 Days: Presence

Present: of a person, in a particular place; existing or occurring now

Right now, the streets of Houston are flooded, and the students that actually made it to school are telling me stories of alligator gar breeding in front yards and crazy neighbors coming outside in their swimsuits and breast-stroking down streets past submerged stop signs and almost getting hit by kayakers.    The streets were flooded this morning, and the streets are due to be flooded again in an hour or two.  I am between the floods.

This Saturday, my local yoga studio, YogaOne, will be starting their 40 Days to Personal Revolution Program, like they do every January.   Among other things, it’s a challenge to practice yoga every day for 40 days.  The program came from Baron Baptiste’s book 40 Days to Personal Revolution.  Baptiste adopted the time frame from the Kabbalah, as well as other popular religious belief systems.  Word on the mystical street is that it takes 40 days to reorganize and rewire your neurons effectively enough to create a new habit.

I have attempted the 40 days of yoga before- let’s say four or five times before.  At least.  My best attempts have always dropped off in week three, the week of equanimity.  I have started out multiple Januaries of my life failing this first goal and personal test of commitment.  And, in the face of all these past failures, I’m going to try again this year.

Failure doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.  Teaching has taught me that mistakes and failure are the beginning of all true learning.  As long as the classroom environment is on point, that is, as long as the teacher creates a place where mistakes aren’t punished in some kind of horrifyingly public shaming, every mistake becomes a learning opportunity.   And I now know, if no mistakes are being made and no failure is happening, the classroom itself has failed because no learning is happening.  Learning happens when a person increases her ability to do or understand a thing, and with newness comes failure.

The first week of the 40 days focuses on presence.  Baptiste begins his chapter with an anecdote from the life of Buddha.

Someone once asked the Buddha, “Are you a god?”

“No,” he replied.

“Are you a saint?”

“No.”

“Then what are you?” they asked.

“Awake.”

There are dangers in being awake.  When you are awake, you don’t get to shut out the existence of the person on the other side of your car window begging you for money.  You don’t get to shut off the news when the mangled pictures of Syrian refugee children show up on the screen.  You don’t get to pretend that your t-shirt wasn’t put together by a person.  You don’t get to hide from the horrible existence that a chicken went through before it became a part of your flesh.  And, I’ve read Kate Chopin.  Waking up slowly seems to be the order of the day.

I’m going to start by tasting and eating some radishes.  I’ve known these radishes since they were seeds in a $.33 packet from the Dollar Store.  I planted them in dirt in a terra cotta pot, and they have lived through Houston winter.  The leaves suffered some from the wild swings in the weather, but they are still alive.  And now I will harvest and eat them.

There is a kind of humility that comes with presence, with struggling to realize that you are one person in a vast sea of people alive at one time in a vast universe of time.  And there is a kind of humility that comes with eating radishes.  I will dig up these radishes, and I will clean these radishes, and learn, or remember, that my physical body is sustained by my food, and everything I eat ultimately comes from the dirt and the sun.  And the rain.

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