By Amy Ratto Parks
Well, it’s a new year and with a new year comes a new calendar. This morning as I began the ritual of entering birthdays and major events into the new, beautifully blank pages, I started to reel as I entered dates for December of 2012. A year from now, I thought, what a mystery. This led me to wonder what I had been doing on this day a year ago and since I am still not a digital calendar kind of gal, I just opened my old calendar to investigate.
And what did I find for a year ago today? This: “organize the abyss.” That’s all it said. I seem to have some vague memory of what I literally meant, though honestly I can think of a variety of places in our house that have abyss-like qualities (basement, play room, garage, office desk, kids’ bedrooms, etc.). But I was more humored by the metaphor implied in the vague phrasing: there is an abyss and I should organize it or things are chaotic and I should control them. Does Bed, Bath, and Beyond sell color-coded bins for abyss organization? Can I find a coupon online for buying the abyss-organization bins? I think we would all like an easy way to tidy up all of the confusing, messy parts of our lives, (and actually, those bins are pretty helpful) but we also know that we can alphabetize book shelves and spice racks until the cows come home and it won’t solve any of our actual problems.
The word abyss means an immeasurably deep chasm, great space, or void, but in our colloquial understanding, we also know that it implies chaos and confusion. We don’t want to feel “lost in an abyss” of anything. Instead, we prefer to feel the security of structure in our lives. Our relationships, jobs, hobbies, phones, computers, calendars, etc. keep us from feeling that sense of openness that becomes so open that it feels, well, bad. It’s human nature to create structure in this way, but it is also human nature to notice that there is still something else out there that can’t be scheduled or budgeted for and we can ignore it completely or we can begin to let ourselves look at it little by little.
Thomas Merton, priest, poet and mystic wrote, “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery.” Isn’t it true that when we decide to take control of our lives by doing things like organizing the spice rack what we’re really doing is clearing the clutter so that something more important (like making cookies) can happen? Isn’t that also why we come to yoga? Yoga can be about heat or calories or mirrors, but for many, it is as much about meditation and Merton’s voyage of discovery as it is anything else.
We organize our books, spices, and schedules because they are tangible things and frankly, it makes other things in life easier. But what happens when the clutter in the way is the chatter of the mind? In his book, Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury writes, “All you need is the yoga.” That’s a big reason we show up, isn’t it? Sometimes we practice in order to organize the spice rack of our minds but sometimes we can take a moment to look into the abyss of the self and see that actually one cannot organize such a thing. It doesn’t need us to put it into categories for easy browsing, it just is, and if we can befriend it we might just be able to breathe more easily.