By Nasim Nourian
(Nasiim is a long-time regular practitioner of Yoga at IVY and in her daily life -JM)
There used to be two big beautiful healthy trees outside my windows. In nice days, I would keep the front door open and bask in the pleasant shade these two trees provided for me. I liked listening to the gentle breeze rustling through the leaves and the birds singing and jumping from branch to branch. These trees were not mine nor were they on my property. In fact, they were on the other side of a short 4 ft wall on someone else’s property. But I got to enjoy their presence as they gave me shade and piece of nature in the middle of the Arizona desert.
This week, the trees were chopped down. Both of them chopped into pieces. One branch falling after another, and then with a huge thump the trunk was sawed off and pushed to the ground. I could hear the workers sweating and panting while sawing off the trees into little pieces and I felt sick to my stomach. My throat tightening with each buzz of the chainsaw and my stomach turning with sound of each branch hitting the ground. I felt as if my own arms and legs were being cut off for no apparent good reasons.
As I sat there holding my head in my hand, I tried to sit there in stillness and allow the storm to whirl around my head. I imagined myself to be a mountain in the midst of a hurricane – dust rising, trees falling, chaos twirling around a majestic solid mountain. I allowed my mind to twirl with the wind, swaying back and forth, thinking, analyzing, wanting to do something. Talk to the workers, beg them to stop! Stand in front of them and protest! Call the property owner and ask him to call if off! But instead I let my mind free to do what it does best – to think about how to get the body out of a fearful situation. And whereas I normally would have pushed my feelings aside, this time I stuck with them. I felt the tightness in my throat and the pain in my stomach. And I breathed through it – as if I was standing in a warrior III position, strong, resolute yet graceful and soft.
It was then that I experienced vairagya or non-reaction. Patanjali says that “Both practice (abhyasa) and nonreaction (vairagya) are required to still the patterning of consciousness” the interdependent polarities of the stilling process as Chip Hartranft explains. He writes, “Abhyasa is the will to repeatedly align and realign attention to the present moment, the only place where the singular process of yoking consciousness into profound stillness can be enacted. Sustained effort is required because the forces of distraction are strong and unrelenting.”
Patanjali may have said this in regard to asana, but I felt that it also applied to my situation at that moment. I was not holding a posture of a long time, nor was I sitting in mediation for hours. But I felt as if this practice of stillness allowed me to experience vairagya. Although I mourned the death of these two beautiful tall trees, I also realized how I had the opportunity to observe this experience without reaction or judgment of liking or disliking or especially in my case controlling. Again Hartranft says, “one can allow any feature of consciousness – a thought, feeling, or sensation – to play itself out in front of awareness without adding to its motion in any way. This subtracts more and more of the confusion from our experience, leading to profound stillness and clarity.” He says, “Vairagya reveals the newness and originality of the unfolding moment.”
As I let go of my conditioned response to situations where it appears I have lost control, I entered into a new possibility of a new existence free from aversion or wanting. Although I appreciated those trees so much and loved the fact that they brought me a piece of nature in the middle a city, I also saw that this experience gave me a glimpse of what Hartranft means when he says “All of this stuff, including what feels like ‘me,’ is in flux and subject to cause and effect.” The changing properties of ‘me’ is no different from anything else in the universe including those trees and that the fluctuation of my state of being can come and go just as all things in nature rise and fall.
Had it not been for my daily yoga practice and study, I would have reacted in my conditioned ways and created more chaos. My husband and I decided that in the place of those two fallen trees, we’ll plant four on our side of the wall where we can love and nourish them and allow them to grow and provide shade for the next person who will live here after us. In the meantime, I realized how much more of the open blue sky I can now see.