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Lions Roar : January 2013
Gonzáles play “Recuerdos de la Alhambra.” The adventure was also our sweaty confusion as we puzzled over the metro map by the train tracks, and our rescue by a young architecture student named Maria, who listened patiently to our halting Spanish and led us through the maze of the station to the right line. If we couldn’t be present for Maria and the metro, chances were we wouldn’t tune in to the concert completely either. My daily meditations helped me stay centered as we took a cable-car up a jagged mountain to the eighth-century monas- tery Montserrat, which now attracts a million tourists a year. “That sounds like a monk’s worst nightmare,” I said to Teja, but perhaps it wasn’t; outside the bar by the monastery museum we spotted a group of portly, black-robed monks drinking red wine and passing around trays of hors d’oeuvres. Skye took off his sun hat and set it on a wall to pose for a photo with a statue of a saint. Then by the time we had snapped a few shots, the hat had been stolen by one of our fellow pilgrims. I suggested to Skye that per- haps in a few hundred years, the Buddhist retreat center where I teach in California might look like this: a cable car to the hill above the meditation hall, with a café and a bar on top, and a viewing platform where one could watch through binoculars as the Vipassana students did walking meditation in the courtyard. My practice also reminded me to stay relaxed as we celebrated Skye’s eleventh birthday with a few of his new Spanish friends and a chocolate-cream cake with Felicidades written in white icing. En route to a business trip, Skye’s dad flew in for the party with his beautiful new girlfriend. The kids played a Barcelona version of Monopoly and argued about the rules in Spanish, while the grown-ups drank sparkling water and made conversa- tion that was not as awkward as I’d feared. The trip, in its turn, reminded me to be free-spirited in my yoga and meditation practice—to enter it, every time, with the spirit of adventure, open to the surprises that might unfurl in even the most familiar posture, the most ordinary breath. It reminded me to celebrate my body and my life with the unselfconscious exuberance of the women on the crowded Sitges beach, where virtually everyone—grandmother or teenager, slender or with billowing flesh—frolicked in the waves wearing the kind of tiny bikini that back in California you had to be a twenty-something supermodel to flaunt. At the end of my month in Spain, I flew back home to my own collection of yoga mats and meditation cushions, and Shawn flew home to hers. Since then, when I practice on my deck over- looking Mount Tamalpais, I often think of my longtime yoga friend, practicing on her patio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. As I practice, I feel connected to her, despite the miles and years between us. And sometimes, in the space between one breath and the next, I remember the families dancing together in a plaza full of foam. I remember the guitar player at the Palau de la Música: the way he held his guitar like a lover in his arms. The way his fingers released a torrent of song as they traveled over the strings. ♦ But what did I mean by “here”? Shawn’s house was eerily simi- lar to my own: peach-colored walls, a closet full of yoga props, a stack of meditation cushions piled in the corner of the liv- ing room. Deep in the heart of my practice, I could have been anywhere in the world. Folding into a forward bend, I met the same familiar body I greet in California—though admittedly more laden with pan al tomate. Seated in meditation, I met the same familiar mind. Sure, the content of my tumbling thoughts was different: What metro stop would get me to the Joan Miró museum on the peak of Montjuïc? Was it really okay for Skye to eat chocolate croissants instead of oatmeal for breakfast and, if so, could I have a bite? But the basic structure was the same: the flickering slide show of planning and judging, the undertow of anxiety laced with longing. As I hoisted my pelvis onto a foam yoga block for a supported inversion, I reflected on one of the basic teachings of buddhad- harma: the solid self that we cling to so tenaciously is actually composed of a limited number of ever-shuffling components. Wherever we go, our experience is created from the same basic elements: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking. Spain and America, today and twenty years ago—these are just abstract concepts. There’s no coming and no going; we’re always right here, right now. And yet... A pill bug crawled toward my head; when I blew on it, it curled into a ball and tumbled away. A fiesta firecracker banged exuberantly somewhere down the street. My sacrum released with a pop as I dropped my feet to the floor. My prac- tice invited me into a living intimacy with this specific unfolding moment. Again and again, my practice of yoga and meditation helps me navigate this dance between the universal and the personal, the absolute and the relative. It teaches me to honor my own quirky, specific human body and mind and story—while at the same time seeing their ever-changing, impermanent nature, insepa- rable from the interconnected web of pill bugs and chocolate, garbage trucks and stars. It reminds me that I don’t have to do a house exchange in order to have the opportunity to be reborn in each new moment. I ground myself in my daily practice whenever I travel, so that travel itself can become a meditation. My practice reminds me that in travel, as in yoga, the point is not just to get from one peak experience to the next—the poses and destinations are part of an ongoing vinyasa, or flow. As Skye and Teja and I took the metro through Barcelona to a flamenco-guitar concert at the Palau de la Música Catalana, I reminded Skye that our day’s adventure wasn’t just the hour and a half we would sit in the concert hall, a stained-glass ceiling arcing above us, listening to Pedro Javier The guitar player held his guitar like a lover in his arms. His fingers released a torrent of song as they traveled over the strings. SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 32