to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to
let it go,
to let it go
– Mary Oliver
I could end there. I don’t really have any right to attempt expanding on the brilliance of Mary Oliver. But. Well. Bear with me as I struggle to put an existential struggle into some semblance of Lauren-ese.
When my son was born, my mom brought me the baby book that my grandmother had put together for my dad. Along with information about scheduling feedings (with formula, every two hours), and when she first gave him orange juice (at 3 weeks), the book made note of his first smile, the noises he’d make, the sleep he was (and she wasn’t), getting. 62 years later, I was experiencing the same firsts she and my father had experienced. 2 years before, they had both passed away within weeks of one another. As I read the book, Iron and Wine playing in the background, postpartum hormones surging through my body, you can imagine the waterworks that were prompted. Goodness, motherhood is poignant. And those first few weeks. Whew. The swiftness of life slapped me in the face.
And still. Every time someone approaches me in the grocery store (with my youngest shrieking intermittently and my oldest asking how dandelions die and whether buffalo or hippos are more dangerous) and tells me how quickly they’ll grow up I want to scream, “I KNOW. IT’S HAPPENING NOW. DON’T YOU SEE? THEY WERE BORN LAST WEEK. SOON I’LL BE NINETY AND POSSIBLY VERY ALONE.” The slapping (or at least small, unexpected pinching) continues.
But, back to Mary Oliver. Time does go by. Everything changes. Always. For nine (ten) months, an actual human being forms inside of another human being. Change = huge, but time seems slow. There is a great deal of waiting during pregnancy. And then, as soon as a child is born they are, in a sense, “on the clock.” For every tiny being, time begins to pass and things begin to shift. I loved both of my own little beings with everything that I had. And still do. I’m particularly affected by the “blink of an eye” commentary because it is hard, so hard, to let go of those baby noises, dimpled knuckles, constant warm weight on my chest. Laine, at 2, is still nursing, but that time is coming to a close (last night, with tears in her eyes, she squeezed my chest and asked for “moi (more) milk.”) There isn’t much left. And so, even at her young age, she has to let go of something that she’s not quite ready to give up. Life, from the very beginning, is a constant lesson in letting go. And to let go of something cherished, something sometimes so enmeshed in the fabric of our being, like nursing or being the parent of a toddler, doesn’t just speak to the difficulty of releasing something outside of ourselves, but something that is an integral aspect of who we are, or at least how we identify.
Not to mention the whole getting closer to death thing.
As human beings we have cognition of our own mortality, of the mortality of everyone around us. We release that awareness sometimes, for the ease of living in the world, but its presence remains. Children, and the growth of these children, serve as a very tactile reminder of the human condition and of our awareness surrounding it. To be at peace with that is the ultimate letting go and it is what we strive toward at the very core of yoga. I say this with the full knowledge of how hard it was for me to embrace even small changes, like ending our summer vacation last week, or finishing a pint of my favorite ice cream, let alone seeing my son off on his last day of preschool yesterday. But what a practice it is – acceptance of the past and future, a wholehearted embrace of the present, and the ability to let it pass.
Each yoga practice serves as a sort of microcosm of existence (bear with me). We begin, still, quiet, aware of our breath. Then, we move and shift, becoming aware of our bodies and the fluctuations in our minds. We work with wherever we are, physically and mentally. Our bodies, capable of so much, also experience sensations they don’t like, and some places they wish they could remain forever. Sometimes we sweat, sometimes we’re tired, and sometimes we just don’t feel like it. Toward the end, we get quiet again, and slower. We end, aptly, in corpse pose, both absorbing and letting go of what we’ve done.
To take that practice off of our mats is a much greater challenge. To live in this world, experiencing it fully, watching our bellies and, then, our children grow, and to simultaneously savor and release moments both small and monumental is no easy task. “It goes by so fast.” That comment, often a trigger for me, is one with which I am trying to come to terms. Life is short AND that’s okay.
Hold on tight and let go.