"Find a balance between effort and relaxation. This is the philosophy of asana.” My teacher spoke as he made us extend further, taller and calmer. “Yoga is an art. And art is ever moving. Reach out, straighten, stretch. Find the spaces inside you. And ever quieten the mind. Life is suffering. Life is stress. And so with your practice. It is all right to feel pain. However, it is your body and your pain and you must set its limits.”
There is a space that I found between the effort and the relaxation. And I have considered this space. It is this space where the chest opens up, aligned. It is the space where breath is gentle and simple, where movement is slow and sadness is graceful. This space isPrana. This space is called life force.
And I am considering this force. I feel its presence all around me. Is it the sunlight that feeds the plants that penetrate the cells in my body? Is it a breeze that swiftly flies, leaving the door ajar and the curtains rustling? Is this force specific, directional, numerical, empirical? Could I account for it in my financial register, every act described in volume and intensity?
I have a somewhat insignificant genetic blood condition called thalassemia. This makes me permanently anaemic, and prone to fatigue and dizziness, although I remained undiagnosed for most of my life and thus never considered myself that way. But looking back, I acknowledge how often I felt simply exhausted by the end of the day. You would roll your eyes every time I would say that. I would say, “Oh my, I am simply exhausted today!” And more often than not I could simply shut my eyes and fall asleep in the wink of an eyelid. And you would shake your head at me as you rolled in bed searching out slumber.
Does the force leave my body sooner than it does yours?
Perhaps this force in here is a storm that tears the house apart as it hurriedly escapes outwards to freer skies. Or perhaps the force here is weaker. Trembling it resides within me and with a murmur it evaporates every night. Or else perhaps its volume was measured to begin with, a scientific account of my blood and its levels of iron giving an accurate description of my loss. I read that the iron in our bodies was brewed in the stars trillions of years ago. Perhaps then, it is the business of some goofy star-matter. Romping across the Milky Way these gases may have drifted astray and been consumed instead by the force field of some unsuspecting meteor, thus resulting in my specific condition.
In any case, the mystery of the missing bytes did illuminate something rather interesting that I never had considered before:
Look around you right now. If you are indoors, observe the peeling paint on the ceiling, gaze at the random patches of form that appear on walls, the little tear on that chair at that particular spot, the plate of freshly cut fruit on the table that await the attention of your palate. The shuffles, the burns, the wear and tear, the odd baits, the pokey places. If you are outdoors notice that particularly strange scratch across that particular branch of that particular tree. Look at the patterns of the movements of the ants. Look at the earth and the gravel. Peel your eyes and absorb everything that you see.
For each observation that you make, it is possible to find a trail. I call it a ‘Trail of Consequence’ but perhaps a slightly less gory title could also be ‘Acts of Prana’. To think that even the smallest of quirks holds a memory, a historicity. It was a winters day when I sat in that chair and you had a habit of nudging me and one day I almost fell over and I shrieked and you laughed; and as I grabbed your hand my pencil came down over the fabric of that chair and a single stitch came away. But neither of us saw it, and two months later with consequences piled atop each other there it was, 4 stitches and a noticeable odd rip in the chair that nobody thought about until you just did.
And if I added every instance to the place where you sit right now and read to you its tales we might find that these threads, these ephemeral strings, these threads connected every thing, every day, every act and every person in a finite, numerical kind of way. And would we call these beads, these glowing strings of action, would we call them the force of life? So could we say then that this place where you sit, this interior room or that beautiful garden is such an act of shared force, the sum of all forces that ever have acted upon this world?
And if that place where we sat and observed, if that was you, instead of that interior room, do you think we could find every act that eroded and built you up too? Wouldn’t that be a complex algorithm! For not only have you been acted upon, weathered, my friend, by multiple external forces simultaneously and all through your life (the breeze on your morning walks, your inspirational school teacher, the classroom bully to whom you gave your pocket money to every month and the girl next doors who grew up to love you but whom you crushed) but also, you would have some element of choice in the matter now, wouldn’t you? They say that we humans learn to live in large metaphorical castles, and we draw the bridges up and down as we let people in, out or keep them at bay. And so do we get to decide what hands unravel our stitches and where the paint will begin to peel? Or else, much like the brick, is it simply a matter of constitution?
Perhaps my yoga teacher was very wise and all of life simply is a matter of balancing our pains with our pleasures, adding here, subtracting there, calculating, experimenting; and all the while trying to maintain an inner sanctum of peace. Perhaps the force of life not only enables us to perform the individual acts of addition and subtraction, but also provides us with that operating table that delivers these actions through.
Ah this elusive word. I see it in action when we make moves and when we make decisions, when we sing from the bottom of our hearts, when we engage and we speak to each other in mellow voices and gentle touches. We play with force, we make it sweet and we make it race too.
They say that there are only four kinds of forces: strong, electromagnetic, weak and gravitational.
I am thinking about this. Perhaps, I laugh to myself, there are only three kinds of forces. Life, death and love.
If I had to give form to the force that I experience inside of me, I would perhaps show you a high-beam laser that requires large amounts of electrical recharges and produces intense, penetrating light. Perhaps you feel that way sometimes? It has been my habit to shine intense light on the slightest of things that I see. Everything engages me until I want it wholly, and I feel one with the object I shine. This depletes me too, and sooner or later I need to switch off completely. Alarm bells go off. The river floods its banks. Some days the fire is just too hot. I call it ‘Experience Overload’.
I love being a traveller. Every inch of me loves being this person, this wonderful, adventurous, exciting person! Every monument I observe seems monumental, every experience seems destined. Yet there is a new kind of light that I gaze at in the distance. The force is the same, but the flame has been dimmed. It is a simmering flame. A slow kind of fire, where food may be cooked and boiled over hours, deepening its flavour. What would it be like, I think, to be that simmering flame?
How I am and how you are and who I am and who you are, what if these differences were mere consequence of turning the same fire higher or slower?
Perhaps this is the miracle of being human. While I am naught but matter and I am built constitutionally, I do have these spaces of quiet inside of me. While I have been focussing on the right kind of balances and the right actions too, what if force was more than direction and acceleration? Concealed beneath a narrow beam is an ice burg that melts slowly, thoughtfully, majestically into all the waters of the world. And that glacier is you and I, and eschewed from identity, we are mere consciousness, and that is the force that makes a wrong a right, a force that alters the future and the past, a force unscarred and untouched, a force that moves the mountains to the ground and the oceans to the skies, a force that makes star dust into stone.