The Potential of Things
A few mornings ago, I woke up at least a half hour after my alarm. I hadn’t overslept; I usually set alarms an hour earlier than I need to. That strategy was originally going to give me extra time in the morning for things like watering the plants and making a cheese sandwich and starting my day without piling impending work into my brain. But the early alarm served no purpose lately, creating a habitual problem instead. Waking up turned into an hour-long victory-less, routine game between me and the clock. The alarm is set to the tune of The Carnival of Animals, a ringtone I bought to use as a way to wake up graciously. When it goes off, I either snooze, or stop, or cancel it. Sometimes, I just press any button on the sides of my phone, prompting that beautiful noise to stop playing. But on that morning, where I only pushed waking up for another half hour, I finally fulfilled my very simple wish to wake up and do yoga for a few minutes.
I have been thinking about stretching my limbs for one year. My hips are tightening, my core disengaging, and my mind runs in circles. On any given day, but especially on the last day of the weekend, when life feels like it is almost starting again, I would sit at the table or on the couch mid-day and think about how I would benefit from reintroducing the practice of yoga into my life. I sit and ponder when I would do it. Would I do it first thing in the morning, or after my work day ends? Would I do it at night, before I go to sleep? Would I get into special clothes, or would I simply go to the mat in whatever combination of comfortable clothing I was already wearing? I think about the feeling I will get after, and I usually wonder if I would do a yoga practice that was focused on strength or one that helped me with my mobility. For many weekends, and on many days, I thought about how my body has the potential to feel the way my mind does when I listen to the solfeggio frequencies, or the way everything suddenly felt when I was lying down on the floor of my friend Natalie’s living room as her husband led us through a sound meditation. Present, much larger than just my body, yet made possible because of its specific configuration in space and time. I became really good at thinking about doing things, and what doing them might lead me to.
Commitment is a concept. As in, the advice that I get about committing to something is conceptual. Actual advice sounds more like “We should both probably just do it,” which my friend said to me over Instagram when I told her that I think about writing all the time.
In college, I took a writing class called Seeing the Unseen. For one project, our professor, a poet named Steve Dickinson, assigned the work of meditation. He called it ‘How Time Happens,’ and asked us to sit somewhere, anywhere, and observe. Through sound and sight, our task was to use language to record the things we were paying attention to. I decided to describe the life happening outside of my apartment window. I thought there was very little of it, since it was mid-morning in the middle of the week, and I lived a few blocks away from commercial activity. It was quiet, and I wrote about what I could see in that.
There was a delivery person wearing shorts, people walking their dogs, people exiting the bay bridge in their cars. I wrote about the apartment complex in front of me, which I ended up moving to less than a year later. I sat in front of the window for a few minutes on several days, recording the differences and the monotony of this one corner in San Francisco. The movement was slow, and one would be quick to classify it as uneventful. I was. Yet the assignment, unexciting in its premise, rendered the boring, trivial activities happening outside my window as a rather spiritually robust exercise in presence. I think Steve meditated, and wanted us to do the same so that our writing practice would not be plagued by the problem of thinking about what to write. It was always all around us.
If I look out the window now, where I am, I see white houses with windows and black frames. I see the top of an electrical substation housed in a chipped concrete structure. I see the small plumeria tree on our balcony, its leaves starting to spot with signs of my neglect. I can’t tell if I am overwatering it, or if I am waiting too long to water the tree. There is a glass pane on the balcony, and it faintly reflects a street where cars go by a little faster than I wish they did, especially when I am running outside. There is a slight breeze, and I can tell by the plumeria, or if I look further out onto the flag waving on top of an embassy near us. The street is framed with a couple of lamps, which is one of those overlooked infrastructural items that compel me to imagine the urban landscape as if it were a giant living room. I also see two pigeons flying. That’s when I start to notice more birds. Three more. Life multiplies in the face of rigorous observation.
There are other times when I look out the window and only think about looking out the window. I don’t measure how time happens, or register the details of what I am seeing. I simply let it happen. Thinking is a precious activity. But without giving it form, like putting a pen to paper or laying down on the mat to do yoga, it is like sand slipping into a shapeless expanse. A thought still exists, in the way that Fiona Apple said a sound is still a sound around no one, but I don’t get to experience it over and over again if I don’t do anything about it.