“Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel 'Who am I?'” (Sri Bramananda Saraswati’s translation for Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.)
From Uji, by Dogen
An ancient buddha said:
For the time being stand on top of the highest peak. For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean. For the time being three heads and eight arms. For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body. For the time being a staff or whisk. For the time being a pillar or lantern. For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li. For the time being the earth and sky.
Walking in Brooklyn, in warmer weather when the cold air doesn’t push your gaze down and in, you can look ahead and see both the earth and the sky. It’s harder to do in Manhattan, the horizon is obscured, and that meeting-place is rarely seen. The head has to move, has to choose; it’s the earth or the sky.
I imagine that when this poem was written, everyone could always see the earth and the sky. And usually they wouldn’t go too long without seeing them meet at the horizon.
In asana practice, it’s easy to flip back and forth: sky/head (breath, intention, gaze) and earth/limbs (standing, balancing, aligning). Skipping around the body is an easy habit to fall into. Earth or sky, sky then earth, earth, earth, sky, sky, sky. Imagine practicing as this line in the poem: Earth AND sky. In touch and filled all the way through.
B.K.S. Iyengar’s description of satya includes “…as long as one cell of our body holds back and disagrees with the others, our success is not assured.” Could you set your intention to bring all the cells, from sky to earth, on board with your practice? To feel the soles of your feet contacting the earth and all the way through to the crown of your head, sensitive to the air above you? To feel the breath move throughout the body. To integrate every cell—those being flooded with breath, those devoted to focusing with your intention, those sensing your body in space.
Just as we draw lines between earth and sky in the body that don’t really exist—so too with the world. Earth elements are held in particulate to the sky, and vice versa. The body, the world, is more like the inhale and the exhale—you can be solidly in one part, but pulling out one from the other isn’t actually possible.
This is true of you and your family, lover, dog, apartment, city, and beyond. We are not one-hundred percent dependent or independent. You and I are a collection of everyone we’ve ever known, every being we’ve been in contact with today, and vice versa. And also, you are uniquely, brilliantly, hopefully more and more so, you. The next time you’re at the store, in the subway, at a party, leaving home, bring this in and notice what shifts.
When you are walking outside this week—can you walk taking in the earth AND sky. What shifts?
When you are in the middle of your day, can you feel the breath go down to the soles of the feet and meet the earth and travel all the way up through the horizon of your body to the sky? What shifts?
And when you have a moment of reflection—where in your life is there an OR when AND is more appropriate?
“i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes…” —e.e. cummings (Xaipe)