Something truly miraculous has happened.

I am riding a new wave.

It all began when I took Kofi Busia’s Yoga workshop, July 19-22nd. We practiced in the sanctuary of the Fleisher Art Memorial here in Philadelphia, and what better place to reach a transcendent state than in a house of worship?

The two definitions of what I am experiencing are here below, and while they describe in concrete terms what has happened to me, they can’t come close to communicating the kind of powerful flow of energy that courses through me minute by minute now. They can’t explain that I feel more grounded in myself than I ever have … that I feel like I am somehow no longer of this earth, but instead, flying inside on these currents I have created.  Even those flying dreams I have from time to time, those dreams that make me want to return to slumber so that I can convince myself to take off again can’t come close to making me feel the way I do. And as a buddhist, while I try to practice detachment, and am successful every now and then, I can honestly say that my relationship with attachment is evolving; I feel that I can both savor the moment and let it go at the same time. New. This is new. This is a new place, and this new place features new dimensions of existence, like another planet with new terrain to explore- the possibility to experience bliss and hope, but know well, deep inside that everything is ephemeral and that it is wisest to relish each moment without assigning to it anything more than our most subtle awareness and appreciation for what it is. And in the same breath, to be able to allow myself every hope and wish and know that I have the power to make them all real. The only thing standing between me and what I long for is my doubting mind and the sludgy energy that the doubting mind creates.

Hope and love are the rays of sun that literally burn through the clouds in the mind to reveal what is real and what is possible, and since July 22nd, I am filled with gratitude that overflows its banks- a kind of grateful that stems from an awareness of myself and my power that I have never felt before. Thanks to a magical confluence of elements, and definitive choices I made, taking myself places I knew I needed to go, informed by my deep inner wisdom, I went from being stuck, in a dark, frustrated place, to standing on a summit, breathing clean, crystalline air.

“Transcendence - the state of excelling or surpassing or going beyond usual limits; going beyond, and ’self-transcendence’ means going beyond a prior form or state of oneself.

I have gone beyond the prior state of myself. And oh GOD, how I want to kiss the ground because of it.

Each morning, from the moment the pranayama (the science of breathing) practice began, to the final savasana in the evening session weeks ago now, I traveled miles of my lifetime, scaling walls, diving into depths, reaching into spaces I didn’t think existed, didn’t think could be accessed until they were. Until they were miraculously excavated and opened. Let us establish something: Kofi Busia is a genius.

A genius of how it all works- yes of course, the body-mind-spirit connection, but how we work in the world, and how we don’t … how our minds undo us at every turn when we let them, how our choices are not always the best when made unconsciously, but that with grace and poise and focus, poor choices are no longer an option. Doubting our ability is no longer a possibility, and instead, holding ourselves to task, proving we can go beyond our false, self-imposed restrictions is the only road ahead.

Kofi is a keen observer of humanity and all its foibles. A brilliant eye, a lofty but accessible, all too human, exceptional conduit, a delightfully shameless, indulgent narcissist, a jolly, recalcitrant child on center stage who was put on this earth to guide people into the underworld of their psyches by forcing them through the rigors of  an authentic and relentless asana practice like none other. How can one describe the magic of Kofi Busia? Do justice to the other world he creates with his pure, traditional practice? The rhythm and timbre of his youthful voice, his stalwart cadence, belying his 50-plus years on the planet, his peerlessly witty and brilliant narratives, his elegant, understated British accent and his provocative delivery, as he strides, confidently weaving between his students, avoiding water bottles and props adroitly and effortlessly like a proud leopard on the plains striding between the bushes without getting brushed. What Kofi Busia does, wearing his long sleeved multi-colored wool sweaters and gold-rimmed spectacles on a 98 degree day in July is much more than just teach a yoga class … he creates an alternative universe, a parallel universe that makes this one seem like a shabby second. He opens the door and shines the light on the path out of hell- the hell our mind creates for us when we allow it to run wild, in its unchecked negativity, doubt and fear. He creates the fertile ground, the route to travel if you want to go beyond yourself, if you want to become conscious and live an examined life, asana, by demanding, feel and see-yourself-in-a-way-you-never-have-before asana.

After working through down dog, and full forward bend standing, Warrior I, and Mountain Pose, all held for truly interminable lengths of time- well beyond the standard 5-10 breaths, more like 20-30 breaths, he requested Warrior 3. Brutal even in forethought, because knowing we would have to balance on one leg, parallel to the ground for that same 20 breaths was almost too much to handle. But into Warrior 3 we all went, and into about breath 5, I fell out of the pose, not my favorite thing to do, and managed to get back onto the horse and hang in there for another 3, all the while doing serious battle with the troupe of monkeys in my brain, praying for his words, “Good, thank you,” signaling to come out of the pose- thank GOD, I must say again. And when I describe this, you truly cannot appreciate just how much you look forward to a pose ending even if you understand how endlessly beneficial it is, if you are forced to hold the thing for over 5 breath cycles.

Apparently, I was not the only one who fell out of the pose. What ensued was one of his spectacularly complex allegories, a rich, philosophical journey into choices, how they are made, why they are made and their consequences. And that without focus, on auto-pilot, we can land ourselves in some pretty hot water; slave to the meanderings of our mind, the contentious, deleterious wanderings, we falter, we fall out of the pose, we fall out of step with ourselves in our lives.  Forsaking our inner compass, our instincts, our drive, our tenacity, our self-awareness, giving over to the negative, the lack of focus, we fall prey to the dark side, instead of believing that we actually do have some influence over the outcome.

I always teach that there in no separation between our lives and our bodies, our emotions, our minds, the air we breathe, the food we eat. I lived my own words, I experienced for myself something I had experienced before, but never before had I seen, felt and lived the truth the way I did this fateful week in July.

“Okay, now do the pose with grace and poise, and focus on the choice you are making to command your body to do what you want it to; do not allow yourself to stray and wander away from what you want to achieve.”

And so we all went into Warrior 3 for the second time. This time, I inhaled deeply, I extended into every space my body had and I inhabited myself in a new way, every cell was called into action, and every fiber of every muscle joined the party; no wallflowers this time, no gossiping monkeys, just pure focus, calm and breath. I was like a laser, rooted in my standing leg, which before had started shaking by the second breath cycle, now, like a strong tree, now like an arrow in my upper body, arms extending towards the crucfix in the sanctuary, for a moment imagining what it was like for Jesus up there- the kind of transcendence he needed to find in order to survive his fate. I didn’t falter, I didn’t quake, I didn’t even think about the pose ending. I was in the moment, more in my body, in cooperation with my body than I can remember, and completely, and utterly beyond myself. No longer the self I was 5 minutes before. A bigger self, a self who understood her power and planned to use it for good.

Then, as if Warrior 3 hadn’t sealed the deal, towards the end of the final day of practice, the evening session, when I had (and the only word I can use here to appropriately describe what I had experienced is “survived.”) survived the last few days of poses interminably held, twisting adjustments that had me convinced I’d be paralyzed, and braved the 102 degree temperatures, Kofi strode right up while everyone else was preparing to invert in shoulder stand and placed my body in a stance that was a preparation for a drop-back into full wheel. I think that was the moment I went beyond myself, or rather that I stood beside myself, another self, arms crossed, shaking my head in a way that said, “Wow, you poor thing. Unbelievably, you now have to do what you have watched a few other select poor souls do over the past few days, something you were sure was well out of the realm of possibility for you. But here it is, that unexpected moment in life, staring you in the face. What you gonna do, girl?!”

“Holy shit,”  was my response to my other self.

And with that, Kofi, stepped his foot in between my legs, wrapped his arm around me like the good dance partner he is and motioned for me to start the journey  backwards into what I was convinced was a walk into hell, blind. A drop-back into full wheel! “Holy ____!” this time with a loud exclamation mark shouting in my head. But drop back I did … Can’t remember even feeling my feet on the ground anymore, but I took a deep breath and decided to try. Even though I was sure that my back would break and I would be carried out of the sanctuary on a guerney, I raised my arms over head, and started to drop back. The thoughts in my head went something like this: “You better do this because Kofi Busia is standing there and asking you to, and you don’t even have a choice, and even though it’s going to suck, just do it; you have good insurance, and you rebound pretty quickly from injuries. Yes, but this isn’t going to be a small injury.” And with that, as I was reaching backwards into space, barely feeling Kofi’s hand there for support- on purpose, of course, to see if I trusted myself, I defaulted to fear- I became suddenly acutely aware of the vertebrae in my thoracic spine (my upper middle back) and how unyielding they were, and then found myself gripped by an icy hand on my heart that I wouldn’t make it … I snapped back up to face Kofi, our faces close enough to feel his warm breath on my chin and out I blurted, “I haven’t done this in years, Kofi,” I said almost pleadingly, hoping he would let me off the hook. “In fact, I have never done this!” I realized. And he responded with a big smile and a “Do I look like I care?!” he said with a smile that said “Trust me,” on his face. Incredulous and literally nauseous with fear, I knew I had to do it, and so I decided I would listen to the words unspoken, the “Trust me” that I had read in his eyes and his smile when I admitted to my vulnerability in all my painful honesty. I decided to do it with poise and grace and focus. Good old Warrior 3 popped up just when I needed him.

I inhaled, planted my feet on the ground and started to reach back, this time with real energy and intention behind the action. And although he was still playing with me- testing my every ounce of mettle and commitment, barely being there for support on my back, and I felt the deep, dark grip of terror wrapping around my gut like a jungle boa, I persevered and focused and sent my breath to that area of my spine where my heart was, the same place that was tight on the prior attempt- sending energy there to ease it’s descent. And even though seconds before I felt my hands touch the floor and lift me like pressurized hydrolic press feet on the moon landing apparatus, I refused to believe that I would survive —- I did. I did it! I survived a drop back into full wheel, with my ancient shoulder injury, with my vehement protestations, with that vice grip of insidious fear around my heart, my gut, and I came back up again!

Oh, the triumph! His genius, his knowing. He knew exactly what he was doing, of course, and I was the lucky, lucky recipient.

This was something that left a simple “leap of faith” in the dust. In that moment, the culmination of 3 days of arduous practice that tested me to my core, my resolve, my patience and inner capacity and determination, I went beyond everything I was convinced of before.  I went beyond everything I thought I knew about myself. Truth is, in every pose, in every moment, in each asana I held,  with every breath I took, leading up to what one would call that one “defining moment,”  I found transcendence. As I endured the oppositions that my mind erected, and persevered beyond them, the seemingly impenetrable walls, the immovable obstacles, I inhabited my body in a deeper way than I ever had before, and I flew … I rose above and beyond and found myself flowing and flying on the currents of a new body, mind and soul that now knew their power and that unified, loved and directed, could accomplish anything.

Of course, I could tell you that this event was just the beginning, one small step forward into a new land, new possibility, but I know better. That moment, and all moments that led up to it were anything but small …

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~Mary Oliver

One Response to “Transcendence”

Wow, Jennifer…. I feel your energy! It must be a truly remarkable feeling to go beyond anything you thought was possible. I can only imagine what that must feel like. You must be on such a high…. or, rather, you must have risen to a new level in your life. You are a wonderful writer as I was transcended through your words into your world for a few moments.

August 19th, 2011