"Relax your arm. Relax your arm. Relax your arm."
Each time the nurse becomes more adamant. My gaze stays down as she holds the first needle inches away from my apparently tense arm. I think I've relaxed it as much as I can, but there's always more room to let go.
I hear her words again against loud Bollywood-style on-hold music, as I wait on the phone with the visa office and then a third-party. Relax. But I can't. Or I make the choice not to.
On Monday I taught my last yoga class. When I come back in 6-or-so months that might seem like no big deal, but in the moment it felt like everything. And all day I couldn't relax. I held so tightly onto wanting everything to be perfect.
Several weeks ago one of my friends told me he had a gift for me. He explained that he had made it at one of those pottery-painting places, and I could see the excitement in his eyes over its beauty.
Last week when I saw him, his expression had changed. He told me it had come out looking a little differently than he had planned. As he handed me a bag with tissue paper carefully wrapped around the ceramic piece, he said that before it was fired in the kiln everyone had remarked on how perfectly it was going to turn out.
With a little trepidation and a nervous smile, he said, "But..."
As I pulled this Buddha out of the bag, I burst into laughter. The laughter was contagious, and soon others were admiring this piece of art. Tears rolled down my face as we all tried to come up with what to call this very special Buddha.
I thanked my friend and told him I wouldn't want this piece to look any other way.
Over this past week I have cried many desperate, stress-filled tears over the ordeal of STILL waiting for my visa. And when I've needed a laugh? I glance across the room and see this Buddha.
Because RELAX YOUR ARM. Let go.
That shot is going right into the muscle whether you tense up or not. The third-party visa servicer is giving me the same news regardless of how many times I have to repeat myself between sobs. My friend could have spent more time painting, and the heat of the kiln might still have transformed his work in an unexpected way.
In Sanskrit the word for heat is tapas, but it is also defined as discipline and the use of heat or fire or fierceness in your practice to yield transformation. Some days you show up on your mat and are transformed into holding a handstand, and some days you are transformed into crying in child's pose. Typically the level of change goes much deeper than what the pose looks like from the outside. And the challenge is to learn from the transformation, rather than dictating how you wanted it to turn out. Can you learn just as much from falling on your face as you do from staying in the pose?
Pending the arrival of my visa in the next 72 hours, in December I'll be practicing yoga at an institute established by the late Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, which is now run by his daughter and grandson. He created Ashtanga Yoga, which is the yoga system that most modern athletic/power forms of yoga are based on. He was well known for saying:
"Practice, and all is coming."
For now this Buddha is going into storage, but it will live (amongst other Buddha's, mala beads, and crystals) next to my mat when I have a home yoga space again because this is the practice. Show up, do your work, and care deeply. But let go.