Gone, gone, totally gone 


Our baby likes to take all the cards out of our wallets and sort through them, bowing her head, totally absorbed in the task. Things start to get lost: the Oyster card is gone, the credit card is gone. We look under sofas but they are are nowhere to be seen, in the mysterious way that things disappear in the house. She rifles through my wash bag and when I try to put my make up on on the train to work I find there is no mascara, no concealer, no blusher. All gone, I say in the mornings, as she finishes her last spoonful of cereal. GOH, she chants, GOH. Gone gone gone.


Baby sleep problems come and go, exhaustion comes and goes. It’s a blip in our lives which are a blip in human history. It is real and miserable too of course. Something Buddhists teach: life is always painful, but you don’t have to live your life in cycles of suffering (what do we do with pain, do we keep repeating it, feeling it over and over, creating stories about it, or can we feel it and let it go?)

She is more intrepid and sweet and funny than ever. She shouts CAAAA at the cat in Each Peach Pear Plum and the tiny cat on the bottom of a page in Peace At Last and at cats very far off in the distance when we go out for a walk. She picks up tiny specks of dust and inspects them closely. She tries to grab the bubbles I blow for her, that form and then disappear. She crawls like Mowgli, with her bum in the air. We walk up and down the hall, her holding onto both my hands and then in the following weeks, just one of my hands. I try and steer her in a certain direction but she has a very clear idea of where she wants to go. The time when she was tiny and would fit in the nook of my arm is totally gone.

I go on the residential for my yoga teacher training and at some point on the third day, pretty much everyone cries. I lie on the floor at the end of a class and pull my hood over my face and feel embarrassed to fit so neatly into a cliche, to be faced with this emotion in a room full of people. I don’t know if we’d still all be crying if we’d been meditating for days instead of the moving meditation that is yoga. In meditation you have to face yourself. This is a healthy way to live, close to our us-ness. And in the deep release of muscles there seems to be some additional undoing, as if stress and tension become held in our bodies: they are embroideries stitched with everything that has happened to us. We wear all of it, carry all of it, are capable of shedding it if we want to.

I stand in the dark and sing to the baby until she is asleep, until her body has gone all floppy and I can hear the steady rise and fall of her breath. My arms are tired from yoga and holding her. My arms are strong from yoga and holding her.

The week of my training, when I am lying on the floor, I feel completely insignificant and also the sense of an edge of a perception of vastness. There are so many things I cannot name. I contain multitudes: the only Walt Whitman line I know.

In our anatomy class we learn that, under our skin, our body is covered by a web of connective tissue called fascia. Our teacher tells us you can go to a laboratory to dissect it, that it’s dense and fibrous like a body stocking. Everything is joined up: if you massage a part of the back, the big toe will move.

We barely remember we have bodies, even though they are our constant companions. When we are worried they won’t sleep. When we are worried we feel physical pain, we vomit, we shake. When we experience serious stress our hair can fall out, our hearts can malfunction, we are more likely to get cancer. We feel insects crawl over us that we can’t see. Amputees feel limbs that are not there. We gasp and hold our breath and our heart rate increases and the body moves into fight or flight response – literally, neurons synapse and release a chemical which activate a receptor which in turn releases a stress hormone that jiggles and niggles and wiggles inside us. Our digestive system slows, our pupils dilate.

And we run and we feel better. We do yoga or walk or climb and we feel better.

Sometimes when I am sad I drink too much and sometimes I shop too much like Carrie fucking Bradshaw. But generally these days I think I am better at feeling sadness and not distracting myself from it, at standing in the way of it and letting it hit me like a truck.

In Ireland, I swim in the sea for the first time in years, blinking into the blue sea and the white light on the water and the bobbing horizon in front of me. Why have I left it this long to jump in the water? My hands and feet go numb and I feel free and very alive. It makes my life look like an old Super-8 film, a reel of perfection. But really my life can look however I want it to.


In another yoga class we read the  Buddhist scripture, the Heart Sutra: Gone, gone, totally gone, totally completely gone. Something about this idea that not one thing lasts, that nothing has an essence and everything disintegrates, is deeply comforting to me. Not because it makes it easy to accept that things end. Just that it seems easier to live with the truth.

A friend deals with her existential crises by watching documentaries about space. The comforting enormity of galaxies, the resulting shrinking of our internal world. There are 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way (the sun is just one of them) and outside of the Milky Way there are millions upon millions more galaxies with hundreds of thousands of millions of stars in them.

“The eight limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutra are a path to help you reach a state of Yoga, or focused concentration. But this focused concentration is not the end goal … the result of reaching this state of attention is that you experience clearer perception and a greater connection with your true self … Patanjali writes, “As a result, the covering that blocks our own inner light is reduced.”

I don’t know if any of us have a true self, an essence. I don’t know if that is the edge of the perception I am sensing as I lie on the mat. Or maybe what I am sensing is another kind of revelation or truth, if there is such a thing.

 I guess in the end we have to choose to believe in something, to make those things reasons to live. I think of the things I believe in and they swell up my heart, they swim in my head. They are totally here.


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