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In the centre of summer, in the middle of Toronto, it is so quiet that I am sure I can hear my hot pink geraniums shimmering on the balcony.  Wholly saturated in colour, they vibrate softly.  Around us,  the streets are as empty as the gardens are full.

Amidst this horticultural ecstasy, a new motivation to do my Yoga is growing.  Although Yoga heals my body and mind,  I am practicing just for the sake of practicing.  It’s hard to describe the shift.   My breath and body is turning into a prayer, not a formal declaration or a supplication but a movement that penetrates the world none the less.  The prayer has no purpose.  The prayer is simply alive.  This takes me by surprise.

While I was schooled in a convent until I was almost twelve, I decided then that the lives the nuns lived made no sense and that I wanted out.  I transferred to a public school and when the rest of my family went to church, I stayed home.  My prayer stopped.

The sexual politics of the Catholic Church baffled and outraged me yet something of my time with those devoted women has clearly remained.  We prayed to Mary, the Mother of God.  While it wasn’t acknowledged, we were praying to the Source.  Now my prayer isn’t made of words but moves with all of me.  In harmony with what I am, I too vibrate softly.

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Anger. Women’s anger directed at other women. The emotion was so tangible, so raw, I can taste it still.  Memories of my own experiences of female aggression were triggered when I surfed through some of the popular childbirth websites online this past week.  Common to the comment threads was an antagonism directed towards women whose birth experiences were diametrically opposed to their own. There seem to be thick walls between the 25-30% of women who have given birth through caesarean sections, the 80-95% of women in urban areas who have given birth within the parameters of epidural anaesthesia and women who have birthed with full sensation and little or no intervention. Why do we feel so threatened? Why do we lash out at each other? 

I think we are individually and collectively expressing the fragmentation of the Feminine. It is painful.  In the denial of the Feminine that is the structure of all contemporary societies, medical knowledge is divorced from wisdom. In this separation, both aspects are weakened and neither can receive or support the other. The current situation for women in India is an example of this. I happened on a website based around the work of Janet Chawla who founded the NGO, Matrika. Its mission is “the linking of indigenous skills, attitudes, diagnostics and therapeutics with modern allopathic medecine.” Most births in India are still in the hands of dais, traditional midwives who are often illiterate but who “read the fertile female body.” Matrika now has “ample data demonstrating a radically different understanding of the world and of bodily processes than that underlying modern medecine and public health.” This understanding is common to the Feminine the world over. In listening to the video interviews of dais on the website, I was moved by the universality of  their experience. Moved too by the heart breaking position they are in of not having the medical skills, the resources or the respect essential to provide complete care. It is a tragedy that these two aspects of knowledge are separated by caste, class, money, institutional education and government policy.  The polarized situation in India is highlighted by the fact that the “best hospitals” there have a caesarean rate of 80%!  Both the wealthy and the poor are suffering.

Both the east and the west are suffering. Midwifery in Ontario has the medical aspect firmly in hand but  the connection to the sacred understanding of birth that individual midwives may have is not tethered in a collective spiritual tradition or in a practical training in the technologies of breath and sound that are the pathways of the Feminine. Initiation into the “radically different understanding of the world” is not a given.

The radical realization is that we are already whole. There is nothing to fight for. I just learned from Matrika’s website that the Sanskrit word Yoni, referring to a woman’s vagina and womb, shares the same root as the word Yoga. Yuj means ‘union’. A woman is Yoga. In her, everything unites. Her yoni is the place where male and female merge. Where life is renewed and therefore where death is born. Where the past, our genetic history, and the substance of our cells, form the vehicle for the future. Where the unmanifest becomes manifest. Where the hidden is revealed. Where the power and the mystery of life are sourced. Connecting to our bodies brings integration, wisdom. It is only in this state of wisdom that our intelligence can function, that we can make decisions and take action based on the clear discernment of love rather than the haze of fear. 

In the Sri Yantra, the ancient visual expression of the totality of existence, four upward pointing triangles, the male principle, merge with five downward pointing triangles, the female principle. The Sri Yantra tells us that the female principle is a slightly stronger force that the male principle surrenders to. The yantra is not a political statement in the war of the sexes but an illustration of how Life/Love comes into being.  The work of Matrika is to honour the Feminine by listening to what the dais know and understand before giving them additional medical skills, skills that can be integrated into their work rather than be the means of its destruction.  What is our path here in the west?  What will be the bridge between the masculine medical model and the feminine wisdom that is buried more deeply underground here?  What will heal womankind?  To know we are union and the peace inherent in it is a sweet taste on the tongue.

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

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