“He that can have patience can have what he will.” ― Benjamin Franklin
There is something I have been longing for, and I want it to happen more than anything else in the world. It has nothing to do with fame or money. It is something that only the whispers of the universe will bring my way. Every wise adage seems to stare back from the page, telegraphing its message aloud: “Let go. Surrender, and you will have a much better shot at having what you long for.
But I ask you: Isn’t it so incredibly difficult to stop striving and trying and controlling when there is something in front of you, so out of reach, an ever-presence shrouded in mystery, elusive and precious?
Even as “body people,” we can work ourselves into such a frenzy, that we temporarily forsake our bodies, the very vessels that require our kindness, softness and relaxed thinking in order to make what we wish for, happen.
My thinking mind wants to address every aspect, every detail and make sure that I have covered all bases, crossed every “T” and dotted every “i.” My thinking mind thinks that if it works hard enough, it will succeed in having control over what cannot be controlled. My thinking mind believes that it will be able to alter the course of destiny, all on its own. And my thinking mind is barking up the wrong tree.
Enter the breath … enter the voice of wisdom from the body that says gently, ”go sit and place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart and just listen; listen to your soul.” Enter stillness … and then … enter a tidal wave of tears. And finally a feeling of incredible lightness and rootedness at the same time. The feeling that I have cast off a weight of more than 1,000 pounds– the feeling that I am home again, at one with the moment, so spent, so clear, so free, that I can think of little else.
“Of course!” my mind says to my body. How could I have imagined that it was wise to operate independently, ignoring you so thoughtlessly, on auto-pilot, convinced that I could control the wild horses of the ethers, running at light speed in any direction they are driven to fly? The mind is only as powerful as it thinks it is if it not only acknowledges, but connects reverently and deeply with the body. It is then, and only then that the spirit comes out of hiding and tells you its secrets, revealing the code that will indeed bring you closer to what it is you long for.
Once I found this place of peace and greater surrender from my release, I couldn’t help but recall a special moment in time when a portal to this evanescent and beautiful world of total union of mind, body and spirit opened miraculously for me, and it had very little to do with my intractably isolationist “thinking mind.” It was the first time I performed a Teaser.
The Pilates Teaser is an exercise that challenges every aspect of the mind, and body, enlivening the spirit, and leaving the practitioner with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. And like this thing that I long for, it can be extremely elusive, is a phenomenal teacher and cannot be achieved with the mind alone. Those of us who have practiced Pilates for many years know that it is a landmark exercise, and to be able to execute a beautifully controlled, elevated “teaser” is quite an achievement. Ironically, one of the secrets I felt I learned years ago in Pilates was the concept of effortless effort, and the same I so badly needed when my monkey mind was busy leaping from branch to branch, beating on the ‘big drum’ inside my brain not so long ago. The challenge is to apply this “effortless effort” to every aspect of your life. It has to start somewhere, though, and for me, some of the most pivotal moments in my personal evolution, those that have been truly transformational in my life, have started on the mat.
Years ago, when I was at Drago’s Gym in NYC and I was a young apprentice and professional ballet dancer, I used to watch the more seasoned apprentices attempting the Teaser in Mat classes given by Romana. It is an exercise that comes at the end of the class, after your powerhouse is already on fire, and it requires remarkable focus, breath and control to be able to execute it at this crucial juncture- at a time when you feel that you are only running on ethers- and I’m not sure that is true for just anyone’s Mat class, but it sure was the case with Romana’s.
As I used to watch various students attempt the movement, I remarked to myself that those who were the most successful at peeling their bodies off the mat so seamlessly were the very same who clearly embraced this concept of effortless effort. They made it look easy. They weren’t stressed when they were doing it. They clearly connected to their breath, made the decision to apply their strength, but in a metered, economical way, the way Joe wanted movements to be performed- with “economy,” one of his mantras. And the other thing I realized, especially when it was my turn to attempt it, was that without contrast, without some kind of tension, oppositional force, of literally being able to reach energetically in the opposite direction, one did not have a hope in hell of achieving this seamlessness, this utter effortlessness in the journey up to the summit. Without challenge, without exploring this overhead space to reach away from the feet, and this space beyond the feet to lengthen, without this opportunity to find peace and breath in the face of chaos, the invisible space to “push off of” one could not climb the mountain. And so I discovered that there was a magic and beauty to this perfect synthesis of opposites, and a resultant symmetry, the invisible laws of physics at work, dancing with tension, learning to harness it instead of being at its mercy!
And I can remember it all as if it were yesterday. I was in my first ever mat class with Romana. I was incredibly intimidated and nervous. I wanted to do everything perfectly. And my thinking mind was on overdrive. My stomach was in knots. Thank god for the endorphins that were flowing from the prior 30 some-odd exercises that had preceded this defining moment to dilute my nerves.
I extended my arms overhead, reaching farther than I ever had, and I simultaneously reached my legs as far away from my center as I could. I then anchored my back into the mat, deepening my abdominals, and I took the all-important preparatory breath. As I lifted my upper body off of the mat, I felt the immense power in my legs reaching up and out into the space beyond, and I continued to stay connected to my breath and the electricity vibrating in my every cell. I rode the wave instead of questioning it, or fighting it, and I climbed that mountain. I rose right up and saw that I had reached the top. I couldn’t believe it! It was so much easier than I thought it could be. Don’t get me wrong, it was still damn hard, but I had created an incredible bubble of calm and simplicity inside this intricate latticework of tension. I rode that wild horse and tamed it.
Inwardly, I smiled in a way I never had before, and I used that fire, that powerful satisfaction inside to roll down through my spine with as much awareness and control as I had managed to manifest on the way up. And then just as I was resting on my laurels, I heard Romana’s voice pierce through my reverie of accomplishment, and challenge my calm and fortitude with its distinctively devilish tone as she called out her next commands, “And now, ‘Arms-to-Ears!” … Incredulous, I pulled off three more repetitions of this next variation, and she just kept coming–no rest for the weary, “Now, the “Leg-Drop” in her sing-song, ‘do you think you can actually survive this?!‘ and finally, just when I thought that I could not do one more repetition of any exercise, let alone another teaser, “the fold-up!” Came at me hard like a close-out. And there I was, mere seconds to make 100 decisions, to sound the bell and reach every command center within my own being. Peering over the edge of that internal precipice, I knew in my heart that I could not and would not allow myself to shrink from this challenge. I would not allow myself to fail. I had come so far. I needed to jump. I needed to believe that I could fly.
And so, connecting to my breath, reaching beyond where I had reached when I embarked on that first set of Teasers, 5 minutes before, my legs now shaking from the determination that urged them to grow beyond their 33 inches, my body came up with three more. After I squeezed out that last drop of magic elixir that flowed through my veins, pulsing like the only truth I had ever known, I felt like soft rubber, lying there on the mat, grateful to have survived it … and even more grateful to my body and myself that I had done it all without faltering. I had gone somewhere entirely new, and I was so exhilarated! My body shaking from such incredible output, you would think that I would have felt exhausted, but not all– I felt so alive! I realized that as I was moving through each challenge, as Romana continued to raise the stakes, I was no longer “thinking,” I had gone beyond thought into a place of complete union of mind, body and spirit. I was recruiting every aspect of my being, but not with my thinking mind; only with the greatest laser-like focus on that very moment, and then that moment, and the moment after that, with the greatest breath and ease, the most expansive reach I had ever employed. I had gone beyond and merged with the space around me, into the great unnameable beyond–I was “in the flow.”
My esteemed qigong teacher, Roger Jahnke says that “by cultivating the radical capacity for self-observation and by engaging the awe of extraordinary focus on just the present — a portal to timelessness opens. It is a gateway to supreme peace and eternal wellness. Sounds unusual, nearly indescribable. That is the beauty of it. Primordial Qigong, also known as Wuji Qigong, is a method to go beyond. That is — beyond stress, concern, thought.”
And from my earliest memories, even before I knew what qigong was, or the jewels of deep wisdom it would bring into my life, my first introduction to the body-mind-spirit arts was Pilates. And I knew intuitively that by going the way of energy instead of fighting it or trying to control it, by being in the moment, I could go beyond thought. Recently, I rediscovered this infinitely powerful secret in a new way. It was such an incredible reminder that the best choice we can make is to invite everyone to the party, body, mind and spirit. Just as man cannot survive by bread alone, he cannot survive by mind alone.
Yes, instead of cursing the mountain for being there, so in my way, I decided to surrender to it. I made the simple choice to silence my thinking mind that wanted to detonate the mountain and blast a pass through it. I decided to go beyond, to the place where I could befriend the mountain and climb it- deftly choosing which rock to give my weight to, breathing my way, expanding upward, economically, sentiently, consciously, calmly, lovingly.
And perhaps one day soon, I will be able to reach powerfully, but effortlessly into the space where the elusive and precious will come to me, with open hands and heart, instead of my trying in vain to force it, to make it come … perhaps one day soon, by practicing peace and profound trust and faith in the midst of doubt and fear, I will go beyond, to that place where my capable and wise energy body carries me to its next destination, the same way it did on that very first Teaser … and who knows? I might even float to the summit –the sacred intersection where spirit and destiny meet, the place where miracles happen …