Dedicated to my all my Teachers, Family and Friends…most especially Jean L., Val S. and Stephanie C.
Earlier this month, while sitting at a desk, overlooking a frigid Columbus Circle in New York City, I couldn’t help but think about the life thresholds I’ve recently crossed. Years ago, I had a faint dream that I could teach yoga, a practice I admired, respected and loved with all my heart. I dreamt of a deeper connection to the spiritual practice and the daily practice of each of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. I suppose I dreamt of this because I saw so little of the practice actually taking place in daily life around me. Sure, I attended yoga classes and while most students scrambled to show off their best backbend or impress with the strongest and straightest handstand, my deepest wish was to know how to actually practice yoga in every move and breath taken in my daily living. I had often hoped to learn more but throughout my almost 17 years of practice, no class satisfied my appetite enough to appease my curiosity. At one point, I thought the best way to learn would be to actually learn to teach yoga – perhaps all those teachers out there teaching extraneous poses knew the deep secrets and the only way to learn them was to actually go through the trainings. I remember asking a teacher of mine once, her opinion on whether this would be wise, and her words were less than encouraging. So I gave up on the notion, and therefore never crossed that threshold.
As I sat observing, I realized, within the grip of winter, it is almost impossible to imagine the spring. The gray perished landscape is shorn of color. Only bleakness meets the eye; everything seems severe and edged. Winter is the oldest season; it has some quality of the absolute. Yet beneath the surface of winter, the miracle of spring is already in preparation; the cold is relenting; seeds are wakening up. Colors are beginning to imagine how they will return. Then, imperceptibly, somewhere one bud opens and the symphony of renewal is no longer reversible. From the black heart of winter a miraculous, breathing plenitude of color emerges.
The beauty of nature insists on taking its time. Everything is prepared. Nothing is rushed. The rhythm of emergence is a gradual slow beat always inching its way forward; change remains faithful to itself until the new unfolds in the full confidence of true arrival. Because nothing is abrupt, the beginning of spring nearly always catches us unaware. It is there before we see it; and then we can look nowhere without seeing it.
Change arrives in nature when time has ripened. There are no jagged transitions or crude discontinuities. This accounts for the sureness with which one season succeeds another. It is as though they were moving forward in a rhythm set from within a continuum.
To change is one of the great dreams of every heart….it was a dream for me….to change the limitations, the sameness, the banality, or the pain. So often we look back on patterns of behavior, the kind of decisions we make repeatedly and that have failed to serve us well, and we aim for a new and more successful path or way of living. But change is difficult for us. So often we opt to continue the old pattern, rather than risking the danger of difference. (Or in my case, I opted to listen to the words of someone who did not have my best interest at heart.) We are also often surprised by change that seems to arrive out of nowhere. We find ourselves crossing some new threshold we had never anticipated. Like spring secretly at work within the heart of winter, below the surface of our lives huge changes are in fermentation. We never suspect a thing. Then when the grip of some long-enduring winter mentality beings to loosen, we find ourselves vulnerable to a flourish of possibility and we are suddenly negotiating the challenge of a threshold.
At any time you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it?
A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. At this threshold a great complexity of emotions comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one of the reasons such vital crossing were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.
To acknowledge and cross a new threshold is always a challenge. It demands courage and also a sense of trust in whatever is emerging. This becomes essential when a threshold opens suddenly in front of you, one for which you had no preparation. This could be illness, suffering or loss. Because we are so engaged with the world, we usually forget how fragile life can be and how vulnerable we always are. It takes only a couple of seconds for a life to change irreversibly. Suddenly you stand on completely strange ground and a new course of life has to be embraced. Especially at such times we desperately need blessing and protection. You look back at the life you have lived up to a few hours before, and it suddenly seems so far away. Think for a moment how, across the world, someone’s life has just changed….irrevocably, permanently, and not necessarily for the better….and everything that was once so steady, so reliable, must now find a new way of unfolding.
Though we know one another’s names and recognize one another’s faces, we never know what destiny shapes each life. The script of individual destiny is secret; it is hidden behind and beneath the sequence of happenings that is continually unfolding for us. Each life is a mystery that is never finally available to the mind’s light or questions. That we are here is a huge affirmation; somehow life needed us and wanted us to be. To sense and trust this primeval acceptance can open a vast spring of trust within the heart. It can free us into a natural courage that casts out fear and opens up our lives to become voyages of discovery, creativity, and compassion.
So, what threshold had I crossed? I went and took a yoga teacher training. Then I took another. I traveled and taught. I put myself out there, but always carrying those negative words with me. So I continued to teach, and teach, and teach. And then I went to yet another teacher training, which would be my last (for now)….and I learned that I had indeed crossed a threshold….one that has changed my life dramatically because I have finally let go of the unnecessary noise in my life….those words from so long ago. The noise from the people who chose to not practice any part of what they teach and who choose to live ingenuous lives.  And then, as the snow began to slowly fall over Columbus Circle, I realized, no threshold need be a threat, but rather an invitation and a promise. Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust.