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by Hedgebrook Guest

Last night, I was talking to my mother, who I hadn’t seen in a while, since before I left for Hedgebrook. She asked me how it was, and towards the end of an unbroken monologue (the figs! the llamas! the beveled glass in the cottage windows!) I told her that it was there I was able to start a daily yoga practice again: every morning, I woke, dozed and read in bed for a little while, then clambered down the stairs and did some postures—nothing fancy or extensive, just enough to remind my body of itself. My parents came to yoga a little after I was born: I have been around it my whole life. As a child, I woke some weekend mornings to the living room full of seated shawled adults, silent and still and closed-eyed, the room filled only with the sound of their calm breath.* And I’ve been trying to keep a daily practice my whole life, though I have very rarely succeeded for more than a month at a time. So far, I’m off to a promising start—but something feels different about my practice this time around. I’ve become conscious of my body in a new way, the internal experience of it—as I fold at the waist to reach for the arches of my feet, I feel along my arms and legs a sensation that is not pain, it is a limit—the limit of my body to bend—and if I reach a little deeper it is still not pain, it is the feeling, exhilarating, at times, peaceful at others, of reaching a little past my limit. Instead of looking at my body from the outside and trying to match it exactly to the ideal pose—and getting frustrated as a result—I’m feeling inside the pose to the sweet, humble body at the core—not anyone else’s, my very own. I invent each pose as I do it, because no one has ever done them with my body. The hands grasp the arches or they don’t, the face touches the knees or it doesn’t. The point is, the body reaches. There is much joy in the reaching.

When I described this to my mother, she said, “yes, you’re stretching without pride.”

There are times when writing is so very difficult, when the mind is utterly unruly, where I feel desperate and angry with myself at my own limitations, where I berate myself for my failures in discipline, or technical ability, or focus. This is a small kind of violence I do to myself in hopes that it will reverse the behavior I’m butting up against: it is a forceful and angry response to my own limitations. It is a weird kind of pride, that I am—should be— “better” than the work I’m doing. There are days, also, that are good, that I can make good, by doing just the opposite in the face of my limitations. Self kindness, is counter intuitive: at least, it is for me. It is something I am learning. I am learning to talk gently to myself in those moments, to try to forgive myself my failures, to read a passage of a book I love and remember the love that drives me, for words, and story and people. To steady myself against that love. To take a deep breath, to drink some coffee, or eat an apricot, to return to where I left off. To welcome the calmness that comes, then curiosity, then focus, determination. To feel the limitations of my self as a writer, which is not pain. To reach, gently, gently past. Which is not pain. There is much joy in the reaching.

 

*I remember thinking about how baffling this was, that while for me sitting still for minutes at a time felt physically unbearable, each of these adults not only subjected themselves to this torture every morning, they were always complaining they didn’t have enough time to do it more. I filed this in the adult mysteries section of my brain where I kept my fear of one day having to do my own taxes.

 

shruti_bioShruti Swamy lives and writes in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Her work has been published in Black Warrior Review, New American Writing, PANK, and elsewhere. In 2012, she was named Vassar College’s 50th W.K. Rose Fellow in the Creative Arts. You can find her online at shrutiswamy.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members. 

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