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When it was Monica Voss’ turn to speak during the opening remarks of the Yoga Festival of Toronto’s Roundtable on ‘Yoga and Death’ last night, she said she knew nothing. She hadn’t died yet. None of us who were there had either, she noted. Her response stayed with me. Teachers and practitioners who would never normally find themselves together did. Out of this interaction, I see myself and the work I do more clearly.

My experience of Yoga brings me into the mystery of my life and leaves me there. It is a place of complete unknowing. I can’t talk about my experience and I can’t teach it and in moments of doubt I wonder if I should be able to. When I was eight years old, my mother gave me my first Nancy Drew book. By the time I was twelve, I was devouring Agatha Christie mysteries all summer long.  Life and Death were tidily illuminated by the end of a few hundred pages. A few weeks ago I dreamed of Miss Marple. I’m smart like her and we both knit so there shouldn’t be anything I can’t explain. But there is.

What if I’m not responsible for knowing? What if life is not a problem? Yoga is not a route to solving the mystery of my life; it is a way to live intimately in the mystery, to be the mystery in all its fullness. Mark Whitwell says the solutions doctrine propose assume there is a problem in the first place. Practices that have you striving to reach spirit assume we are separate from spirit. We are not. We are Life in all its power and intelligence. One woman last night said she had a simple thought to share. Her Yoga brought her into connection with the ground and she knew that this is where she would return when she died. To feel the earth beneath your feet, to surrender to the downward force of gravity, to know where you stand, is to be connected to the Feminine, our source. To be securely linked to Life is to be free in life. It is only in the belief that separation is possible that we cling.

“Truth is, no teaching, no teacher, no taught.” These words strike a chord in me. They are from the Avadhoot Gita, a non-dual text.¹ The people who have been my teachers have not taught me anything. Rather than give me a structure, they have nurtured my strength to move into a place that is wide open, without boundaries, a place where I know nothing. Birth is such a place and I imagine Death is too. Yoga gives me a way to move into the unknown by giving me the ability to receive my experience rather than close off from it. To be given nothing is something. It is complete trust. It is pure love.

And it is in relationship that this love moves. I know this in the marrow of my bones. Gitta Bechsgaard began the evening by reading a poem by Rumi. I will end with another.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense. ² 

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¹ Mark Whitwell, Yoga of Heart (New York: Lantern Books, 2004) p.15

² Open Secret, Versions of Rumi, trans. John Moyle and Coleman Barks (Vermont: Threshold Books,1984) p.8

In the early hours of yesterday morning I got home from a birth, peeled off my clothes as soon as I shut the front door, listened for the sound of my sleeping daughter’s breath (almost eighteen years after I had heard her first exhale and then the unexpected quiet of her peacefulness), shut her bedroom door, showered away the blood and amniotic fluid of a new life, ate a bowl of rice with peanut sauce, drank a cup of chamomile tea and slid into the clean sheets of my bed. I had done my Yoga.

Today my mind is still in the open and alert place it goes to in the wake of a birth. Carrying groceries home, the shadows of bare branches stripe the sidewalk. A small, black bird with slashes of red and white on its wings stands in my path and sings. Its presence is as bold and wonderous as that of the little boy who entered the world yesterday and spontaneously latched himself to his mother’s breast. The sun shines down on me. I am content. This is the gift of this work.

To really be with someone is to be with life. To be with a birthing woman, undistracted, to breathe every breath with her, to merge my sound with hers, to have my hands on her skin and my mind in her mind, is to link to the unqualified force and intelligence of life that pours through her with extraordinary power. It pours through me too. It belongs to both of us and neither of us. Yoga calls this power Shakti. She is the source and the movement of life. She is Reality. She is the woman giving birth. She is me.

Patanjali wrote that Yoga is a merging with the chosen direction or experience (1.2). “A person of extraordinary clarity” is someone who has stopped searching, someone “who is free from the desire to know the perceiver.” [S]he has felt h[er] own nature. (4.25)¹ There is no better way to feel what you are than by giving birth!  No rules apply. Life itself provides the structure. To surrender to life, Isvarapranidhana, is to let life move you. Your body moves in the way it needs to. Your breath moves in the way it needs to. Sound and silence come and go. This is the Natural State, sahaj samadhi. This is freedom, vairagya. Mark says Krishnamacharya defined vairagya as “freedom relative to all experience”. It doesn’t mean to remove yourself from experience. To be free with experience, merge with experience.

I spent nine hours at the hospital with my client and her family. In our intimacy love and peace unfolded and a new life was born. “The sun shines. All is evident…”(4.31)² 

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¹Mark Whitwell, Yoga of Heart (New York: Lantern Books, 2004) p.140

²T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga (Rochester:Inner Traditions International, 1999) p.213

 

Ina May Gaskin and Isabel Perez

Ina May Gaskin and Isabel Perez

 

Isabel Perez has been my friend over the last fifteen years. Her life encompasses the ancient and modern, the rural and urban, South and North America. Birth has always been at the centre of Isabel’s life. She lives within an effortless recognition that the seen is evidence of the unseen, that heaven and earth are one condition.

Isabel was born in Guatemala to Mayan parents. Her great-grandmother was a nodrisa, a traditional midwife. Her father was a shaman. After the devastating earthquake in 1976, Isabel, her husband and children were brought to the U.S. by Ina May Gaskin, a pioneering midwife, now world renowned. Isabel trained and worked with Ina May for four years on The Farm in Tennessee. She contributed to a community whose way of handling birth resulted in a caesarean rate of only 1.4% amongst 2,028 women from 1970 to 2000. Home was the environment for 95.1% of the births. Isabel then moved to Toronto where she practiced midwifery until it was integrated into the Ontario health care system in 1993. Subsequently, Isabel has worked as a doula.

What follows is some of the conversation we had in her kitchen this past May. The sounds of living accompanied our talk: splashing water running from the kitchen sink, rice being washed, boiled and stirred; tea being poured; spoons touching bowls; our swallows. Isabel cooked and shared a breakfast of rice pudding while she carried the thread of her narrative. These sounds place her story in the current of daily life. Hear them as you read!

Crescence Krueger What is the most powerful thing that you bring to a birth?

Isabel Perez Confidence. Peace. Love. And trust. Those are the words my clients use, eh? So I’m just repeating them. I have a very simple personality. And that works for me almost everywhere. It’s very simple, the way that I work. Very simple. You have seen.

CK  That’s what I love.  Read the rest of this entry »