Teacher Training Weekend 2
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
I first encountered TS Eliot as a teacher of poetry. My high school students were reading his Four Quartets. a series of poems that discuss time, perspective, humanity, and salvation. These famous lines are from the last poem called “Little Gidding.” I recall feeling startled by the profundity of such simple words. I was 25, maybe 26, and my students were sophomores in high school. I felt, we felt, I think, that despite how long ago the words had been written (1942), we had discovered something. A hidden gem tucked into a poem for readers who were paying attention. And we were. 18 years later, they have been showing up everywhere . Most recently an episode of the OA. This idea of re-seeing has certainly always been with us, but it seems as though it has entered the zeitgeist, the collective consciousness. And I begin with this memory, these words, because Yoga Teacher Training is leaving me no other choice than to surrender to all I thought I knew but am in fact seeing for the first time. It feels both mystifying and maddening really.
I am deeply in love with words. I hear them in striations of technicolor meaning when spoken. I pay attention to them, their usage, their nuance, their impact, their etymology. So when I am knocked sideways by a very simple word, it is reason for occasion.
Here is what dawned on me yesterday while Pam was honing in on the organs (the very center of which, embryologically, we first said” yes” to life).
Organ, Organic, Organized.
I have used these words ad infitum (again and again in the same way forever) without ever considering their relationship to each other or to me.
Let’s start with organ:
a part of an organism that is typically self-contained and has a specific vital function, such as the heart or liver in humans
Even looking at that definition I have to confess that I never gave even the “self-contained” part any thought. And as far as my organs go- I feel both utterly ignorant and utterly preoccupied by them. I think of them as silent harbors of disease or malfunction. I worry about them. I assign any and all symptoms to their mysterious workings. I don’t really understand the spleen or the gallbladder or whether or not my liver is overtaxed by merely living in this modern world. I confused my stomach with my intestines for decades. I thought little of kidneys at all until my son had a stone at age 5 and it turned our world upside down with his pain and then surgery.
In fact, I pay attention only to my organs when someone tells me that it is why I am feeling the kind of bad I am feeling. Here are the messages I have been given: My ileocecal valve doesn’t operate properly. I have SIBO in my small intestine. I need enzymes because my stomach doesn’t produce them. My liver needs a break from wine and chemicals and the news. My heart chakra is closed. My lungs are compromised by my hiatal hernia and I will never breathe properly unless I do this and this and this.
My organs are, historically, problematic. And they are hidden so I can’t approach them like I might more visible things. I have to get quiet and listen to them. I don’t want to do that. But organs carry on anyway doing their jobs as best they can, because they are “self-contained.” They are working, it seems, on my behalf. But they are also me. In fact, they are and were most immediately the very first parts of me, of any of us. Our heart develops first, and by 3-8 weeks our organs have “ correctly positioned themselves.” Pam mentions our “embryological beginnings” as ( if I am following correctly) being both evidence of our “design” and also a root to the how and why of the rest of our unfolding. Interesting that we end most classes by assuming a fetal position before we sit back up to leave our mats and begin again in the world.
So then when the word “organic” was used, shortly after discussing organs, I had the first aha! moment.
Organic: well, that one is all over labels these days. We take it to mean, I think, close to the earth. As undisturbed by mankind as possible. Natural. In order with how things are intended to be. Which again, lines right back up with organs. Almost as if our organs are the closest thing we have to innate wisdom. They operate involuntarily and they wreak havoc if we treat them poorly, which we do- with things that are not, well, organic. So organic is an adjective (-ic, suffix for those who want to go down the grammar spiral with me usually denotes something related to something else- think athletic, artistic, etc). But we don’t usually think about Organic meaning related to the liver or the pancreas. But then I looked more deeply and found it means all the things that Pam was getting at when asking us to look at our bodies, our practice, as a living thing with innate wisdom, supported by informed relationship:
- relating to or derived from living matter. check!
- living, animate, natural. check!
- then, what it is free from: pesticides, additives, chemicals. Yes. not natural,check.
- then- physiology: relating to bodily organs. That seems obvious but I never use it that way. I have “organic” illness? I never talk that way.
- But here! As if written by Embodyoga philosophy was this definition:
denoting a relation between elements of something such that they fit together harmoniously as necessary parts of a whole.
synonyms: structured, organized, coherent, integrated, coordinated, ordered, systematic, systematized, methodical, orderly, consistent, harmonious, methodized. also, characterized by continuous or natural development.
What I hear here is that all of us is necessary and all of us (within and without) are part of a divine and natural order. And that we (see synonyms) have a natural harmony, a regulated system, a coherence, that can, by way of the world, become disharmonious ( insert yoga), incoherent (insert yoga), disordered, out of order, dysregulated, etc. (insert yoga). And we can dive deeply, ever more deeply, into practices that get us back to the very deep core of our experience. The part, the moment, where and when, as Pam says, “ We said ‘Yes’ to life.” Or where, as I have written about my own gut, “ I must have unhinged from God.”
So, yoga is, or can be, the way back (in) to what is already working, already natural, already organized.
And in my 20 years of yoga, I am only just now, for the first time learning about how the organs are my teachers. And that my limbs are not, by a long shot, the only players.
We also chanted. We also looked at the psoas muscles. And the pelvic floor. And lay a long long while in savasana, taking it all in. And more in.