By Annie Moyer
Just before my senior year in high school my summertime friends and I carved our initials on the wooden landing by the sea at Cape Cod. We stood there, posed for a photo, and then memorialized our youth at the top of stairs leading down to the beach we’d played on and swam at every year since I was nine. I hadn’t been back to visit until this summer, the one before my daughters’ own senior year, coordinating the trip around their exploratory college visits. We arrived to find not much changed in our friends’ cottage, the warm and welcoming beachfront destination for so many of us across generations, but the big shock was the re-built landing. Our initials were gone!
After the initial disappointment, it seemed silly to give it another thought. Did I really expect that weather-beaten wood on the New England coast would have withstood 30-plus years of beach-bound children, rowdy teens, and happy-hour celebrating adults without ever being repaired? The house not having changed brought comfort, and yet the contrast with the shiny new landing, untouched by our youthful imprint, stung. The Yoga Sutras identify five causes of suffering, the last of which is fear of losing the status quo, or an imagining that things don’t or shouldn’t change. But the ability to identify the causes of suffering isn’t meant to be confused with the ability to erase it from our lives. A life fully-lived is one that encounters the full spectrum of human emotion. To be human is to be hurt. To live is to lose.
Yoga practice provides a framework to sort through the spectrum of life’s experiences and to reconcile the contrasts of presence and loss. In the midst of a pleasurable time, enjoy. If the ending is sad or painful, grieve the loss. In the midst of unpleasantness, bear its presence and rejoice its end. Through it all, examine closely and inquire what circumstances are within our power to alter if we choose to, and which ones are beyond our control. If we can reasonably extend a pleasurable time, why not? If a difficult time can be averted or mitigated, take charge! As our teacher Erich Schiffmann says, practice on the small stuff: mealtime, traffic, yoga postures – thereby building skills for the bigger and biggest stuff: navigating career changes, feeling relationships shift, moving to a new home, honoring the lives of lost loved ones.
Clearly life is a string of changes, comings, and goings. But is something gone simply because it’s no longer tangibly present? The initials may not be visible in wood any longer, but I can read them, clear as day, in my heart.