Friday, October 25, 2019

The Big Wheel Keeps On Turning: How We Live With Change

The Sun at His Eastern Gate by William Blake
by Nina Zolotow

“From the world of the senses, Arjuna, comes heat and comes cold, and pleasure and pain. They come and they go: they are transient. Arise above them, strong soul.” —Bhagavad Gita II. 14, translated by Juan Mascaro

Because we were in Cambridge, England and not in the U.S., when our first child was born she was not immediately whisked away from us to be weighed, measured, and cleaned. Instead, the mid-wife simply handed her to me, wrapped in a blanket, saying she would leave the two of us alone with our baby for a bit. She left the labor room briefly and then returned bearing two ceramic cups and saucers. She said, “Here’s some tea for the new mum and dad—with lots of sugar for mum after all she’s been through.” Then she left the room and closed the door. 

So that is how we had some quiet time together to contemplate the huge change we had just gone through—it had happened so suddenly after I had gone into labor in the middle of the night a whole month early—and now there was new human being alive in the world—and to talk about how we had been changed ourselves by our experience. Brad said that when they handed him the baby just after they cut the cord, he had been so overwhelmed with emotion—he realized that he would kill to protect this child—that he almost fainted. I said that when they first put the baby on my bare chest, thrashing and squalling and covered with blood and that white goo, whatever it was called, I, too, felt an intense rush of feeling, a new kind of love that I had never felt before. Then we paused and took a few sips of tea—mine was so sweet it was almost undrinkable—and I turned to look out of the window for the first time since I had come into that labor room in the maternity hospital. It was morning, the sky was a clear robin’s-egg blue, and warm sunlight was streaming in through the glass. 

I said, “It looks like maybe spring is finally here!” 

“Yes,” Brad said. “It’s about time—it’s mid-April after all—this winter seems like it has gone on forever.”

“I’ve been watching for signs of spring, and I did see the forsythias blooming, the same way they always did in Boston, and then some crocuses. Maybe masses of daffodils on Mid-Summer Common will be next….”

In the distance, across a flat, wide field, I saw a train heading south.

“Is that the same train we always take to London?” I asked.

“Yes, I believe it is.”

“How strange,” I mused. “All those times we passed by this very window without having any idea of what goes on in this room.”

“It’s Friday morning,” Brad said. “And everyone out there is just going about their everyday lives. And speaking of that, I have a lot to do today. No one even knows yet that the baby was born—it is still the middle of the night in L.A.—so I have some phone calls to make and then I’ve got some shopping to do for all those baby things we didn’t get yet….”

Then the midwife and nurse came back in the room with a scale and a tub of water, and gently took the baby from me. They weighed the baby and cleaned her up, dressing her in a “nappy” and tiny shirt and then wrapped her up again in a clean blanket. Then the mid-wife gave the baby back to me and showed me how to help her “latch on” for her first feeding. 

This was 35 years ago but I was remembering it lately because I was thinking about change. It seems to me during that special time Brad and I both had a sense not only of change, of how life begins and ends time after time, but also of that which endures. As the earth turns on its axis, morning follows night and the sun rises in the east, and as the earth circles the sun, the seasons will unfold, one after the other.

Yoga teachers—along with Buddhist teachers—tell us that meditating on our breath teaches about change and impermanence. Just like heat and cold, pleasure and pain, a single breath is an ephemeral thing, arising and then falling away. And if we pay attention, we see that every breath—like every snowflake—is different than the one before it. That is one of the main reasons we are taught to meditate on our breath.

But I’ve also found that meditating on the breath can teach us about what remains constant. As we practice, whether we sit or recline, gravity tethers our bodies to our planet, the Earth. With every breath, our world turns on its axis and circles around our sun, and we move forward through time. And after every exhalation, an inhalation will follow, as long as we live. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes the person who is ready for liberation as: 

“Who unperturbed by changing conditions sits apart and watches and says “the powers of nature go round”, and remains firm and shakes not.” —Bhagavad Gita, XIV.23, translated by Juan Mascaro

Nina Zolotow is Editor in Chief of the Accessible Yoga blog. Formerly, the Editor in Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, Nina is a yoga writer as well as a certified yoga teacher and a long-time yoga practitioner. She is the co-author with Baxter Bell of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being and co-author with Rodney Yee of Yoga: The Poetry of the Body (with its companion 50 Card Practice Deck) and Moving Toward Balance. She is also the author of numerous articles on yoga and alternative medicine.

This post was edited by Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of the Accessible Yoga blog.

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  1. Beautifully written NIna. Thank you... Question. I was looking for another translation of the Gita. Would you recommend the one you used in your article, translated by Juan Mascaro? Thank you.. Saprema..

    1. Thank you so much, Michele. As far as translations of the Gita go, it really depends on what you're looking for. The Juan Mascaro version is very poetic and easy for the beginning to understand, however, it is not the most authentic (close to the original meaning). If you want to see a version that has the most literal word by word translation, so you really get the Sanskrit translated into English, I would recommend the translation by Georg Feuerstein. The essays in the front of that book are also very good. I use different translations depending on what I'm doing (or writing).