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Opinion: Notes On Time

Almost 20 years ago, when I told my first yoga teacher, Sharon Gannon (co-creator of Jivamukti), that I intended to do things with my life other than teach yoga, she issued forth what felt like a dark curse from a wicked queen in a Grimm’s Fairytale: “You will always be a yoga teacher,” she commanded.

I first started teaching yoga in my mid 20s, and I thought it was a temporary gig, a job that I enjoyed and that (sort of) paid the bills. Until I started doing what I was really supposed to be doing. Not long after I graduated from Bard College, I returned to the Hudson Valley to be with my boyfriend (now husband) who had another year or so left at Bard. I practiced on my own, at the Bard gym, and a few of my friends expressed curiosity about what I was doing. Remember: This is the mid 90‘s, so yoga was still mysterious and exotic to many people. At that time, practicing yoga was actually a counter-cultural statement. So I invited a few friends to join me and we’d practice together. I’d casually teach them a few asanas, try to convince them to become vegetarians, and preach about Vedanta.

In those days, I was embarrassed by how much yoga moved me. I secretly chanted behind closed doors and I pretended I had job interviews when I was really going to my second yoga class for the day. I had experiences. Once, while chanting with Krishna Das and a few other people, what felt like a tiny piece of gravel in my heart burst apart and sent hot lava rivulets spreading through my chest along with waves of bliss. I kept waiting for this to happen to again but it appears to be a rare occurrence.

What felt like a long passage of time unfolded. During this long period, I lived in the Hudson Valley, opened my own yoga studio there, and kept teaching and living and living and teaching. Sharon’s words, often repeating in my head, grew both progressively grander and darker over these years.

Soon after I had my first child, we moved back to NYC (where I was born and raised), and I found that yoga was known to everyone and was everywhere. There were lots of different kinds of mats to choose from and special yoga clothes and new names for new styles of yoga (some that are already defunct) that people asked me if I had studied. I thanked the potential god for the fact that I had never managed to get that Ganesh tramp stamp I had once wanted so much. Suddenly, yoga culture was mainstream, quickly and seamlessly integrating into the pop-culture marketplace, and not always amenable to the anti-establishment ideas that I associated with the yoga culture I had grown-up with.

I kept teaching, nursing, sleeping, dropping off, picking up.

I aged.

We had another child.

Nursing, eating, cleaning, sleeping, teaching, dropping off, picking up. As I age, I find that the passage of time reveals itself as a Jekyll and Hyde character. Particularly after having kids. Time often seems to insist on appearing linear: adhering to the school calendars, contributing the the progressive growth of the kids, adding consecutive years to my age, obeying seasonal rotations, and allowing us all to celebrate the arrival of each new year over and over again. I suppose this particular face of time is Jekyll—a more benevolent personality, maybe. It seems appealing to be able to rely on the both the apparent linear progression of time and it’s repetitive behavior. And, of course, this description of time gives us a reason to persevere. We are told we only have a certain amount of time to accomplish a certain amount of things. To accomplish these things, we also have to buy stuff. We have to buy stuff to celebrate the markings of the beginning and end of things. Mainstream yoga culture has capitalized greatly on this construct.

Having kids tends to magnify the relentless, repetitive side of time a little more: nurse, eat, clean, love, weep, argue, sleep, love, argue, summer again, winter again.

But, then, when I sit still, the curtains part and the chimera of time reveals itself. This vision of spacetime can stab at my heart and unravel a few granthis. Granthis is the Sanskrit word for knots. This is good, they say. You know how seeing the photo from only ten years ago reveals that your face now is not what you thought it was. Stick with it. Sit still and lean into it. And, oh, the kids, the kids, the kids. How did this happen? Her body is too big too hold? Ten years pass like horizontal lines drawn with pastels, stacked, and then blurred so the colors bleed into each other.

I’m calling this time personality Hyde, but I don’t fear it. I can revel in the dark side of time. Dark matter. It’s everywhere, it doesn’t respond to light, it has no smell, but it has gravitational effects. And also dark energy. Expanding, expanding, this is Sat Chit Ananda: The essential nature of consciousness revealed as the ever present now. The expansion of the ever present now could be called Ananda: Bliss. The cosmologists sometimes call this “eternalism.” In this theory, the world is no longer a three dimensional space following the dogma of the linear passage of time but more of a four dimensional block where all points in time are living simultaneously. So it turns out, with this theory, that the beginning and end of things is a construct. And now we get to see Hyde as the good face of spacetime. The real face of time, the Sat Chit of time.

I tried to keep up with the yoga marketplace, but it forged ahead of me. Hot Yoga, Ariel Yoga, Cold Yoga, Yoga for Dudes, Yoga for Chicks, Acro, Packro, No Sanskrit Here Yoga, Doga....

After another passage of time (long? short?) we left New York. Or did it leave us? I keep teaching because the curse continues to pursue me. And I perform secret exercises. Like when I drive into NYC from Philadelphia (ah, the vision of the NYC skyline from Jersey aches my heart. Knots loosening. It’s good.) I park in my old neighborhood. I had my second child in our apartment on the corner of 11th St. I stand on the sidewalk, watching, breathing. Who is the neighborhood without us? Is there an empty space where we once were? A family-of-four-sized black hole? Is the hole filled with dark matter and dark energy? While I stand there, I will our doppelgangers into existence in the little house. There we are now, as we once were, moving about the space, cooking, eating, nursing, cleaning, weeping, laughing, teaching yoga on the third floor, sleeping, arguing, laughing, teaching, teaching, teaching, dropping off, picking up. “You’ll always be a yoga teacher.”

Of course the city doesn’t care that we are gone. It kicked us out, actually. Here I am now in the future. A future figure, a Philadelphian yoga teacher, standing on the sidewalk, watching our doubles go about their lives. The parallel layers of time expanding feel so good when I do this. This is the cheese part of the universe I’m in, you know? The analogy that Brian Greene uses to describe the multiverse? As a block of swiss cheese? The cheese part is the dark energy, the holes are parallel universes, and in some of the holes are replicas of this universe, the one we think we live in now. Some say there must be replicas of this earth and us and you and me because the amount of matter is finite so eventually this pattern—your pattern—will be repeated. The expanding matter (the cheese) makes it impossible to get into the other holes, though, because you can never reach them. You could never touch your doubles.

Okay, there’s Bleecker Playground, my old office. That’s what I used to call it because I had to spend so much time there with the kids. I used to get some emails done, make some calls. Years upon years on that bench. I remember nothing and everything. The years are like one day. One long day. I try to will my double to the bench by the upper level jungle gym. But my space is already taken by another woman just like me, her toddler squatting in the sand. Now I’m still standing on the sidewalk and I’m whispering to Sharon: “I intend to do other things with my life...”

To read more of Alex Auder's work, click here.

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