Happy New Year from Richmond Beach Yoga!
The New Year, as we all know, is a time to reflect on our previous efforts and re-set and re-energize our efforts for the coming year. Today, this morning, 8 of us came together to run through 108 sun salutations over 2 hours. We began this period of intensive practice with the following poem.
Archaic Torso of Apollo
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Rilke, the poet, is speaking of coming into a museum and seeing a statue of Apollo – a headless, limbless version of the god that many of us have at least seen in pictures, if not in a museum ourselves. Rilke, rather than seeing something dead, or archaic, or intellectually stimulating, finds here a presence that speaks to him, sees him, communicates. This is a lovely, lovely poem that works on so many different levels but, ultimately, every analysis comes down to those last two haunting lines. Lines that seem startled at their own presence in the poem, they rear up out of the rhythmic pulse, they claw out of the pleasing aesthetic of Rilke’s ruminations on a limbless statue and tear themselves from the page, confronting both poet and the reader. There is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. What a wonderful, terrifying confrontation!
The body has its own wisdom. It can be accessed in meditation. It can be worked with in our Yoga practice. The body can function as an other, something separate that can speak to us like the trees as the rain beats through them or the dawn as purple cracks through the horizon or as all great works of art can speak to us. When we first feel the awakening of Prana in the lower abdomen or rushing up the soles of the feet in Warrior 2, this is the body speaking to us, telling us its own wisdom. But the body is also the vessel which receives these more subtle communications from the outer world. When we ‘hear’ the murmurs of the clouds that race along the Puget Sound or perceive the wisdom of a red chested Robin perched proudly in the middle of a wind storm, it’s not with our intellect or even so much our senses, but with something that abides, quiet and always present in our greater being. It lies, usually dormant, in our very bodies. We must change our lives, not because there’s something wrong with us – this isn’t an accusatory poem or one about sin – but because we all want to come to a life lived with more meaning, more fulfilling relationships, a life in which we can find happiness in our ordinary confrontations with the world, rather than having to seek it in far flung adventures or by sating ourselves in various little habits and addictions. Life speaks to us all the time through the body and this greater being that inhabits it.
Most of us know that feeling of having come out of meditation or an hour of yoga and feel the breeze poignantly on our cheek as if it was for the first time, or see the green of the trees more vividly than before. These are the beginnings of a form of communication that Rilke is speaking to us of, of being receptive to a world that doesn’t just lie dead and dormant outside but actively sees us, calls to us and we feel it and know it from deep within. It’s not ‘seeing’ so much as an ever deepening call and response. A dance. The wonder of all this is that we already have all we need to continue on this journey of mysterious discovery; our bodies, our senses, our practice. To cultivate these, all that is needed, is constantly renewing that little vow; we must change our lives, we must listen to that which is already there. Rilke’s poem is, to borrow from the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, about practice. We cultivate the body, we cultivate better habits in diet and mind and relationship. We do it moment by moment, day by day, and slowly sculpt our own work of art that manifests through the body, the personality and, of course, our deeper selves. Through practice, we perfect ourselves, and perfection is revealed in the simple act of being in true relationship with ourselves and the world.
There is far more that can be said about all this, for example about the fire that mounts in practices like the 108 sun salutations and why that’s important for melting the habituated senses and intellect, but I feel like I’ve been heavy handed enough in this post for at least the next year. J
Happy New Year, everyone. We look forward to continuing to practice with you at RBY.