Several months ago, I rode a train late at night from Manhattan to Long Island. A few young men ahead of me in the same car were chatting with each other when one started to pick a fight with another. Although I stayed where I was, an internal alarm sounded and I became filled with sudden anxiety.
The man picking the fight was furious. His face was red and veins popped out of his neck, his voice shaking as he shouted at the other guy who he perceived as a threat. I was in awe of his anger. I don’t think of myself as an angry person, mostly because my anger transmutes itself into anxiety and fear. This is my go-to emotion, the one I am most comfortable with. Yet his fury felt so similar to my fear in that moment.
And that’s when I had a moment of enlightenment— one of those all too rare insights of genius when you see outside of yourself and directly through someone else. Looking at that guy’s face and feeling so in touch with my own fear, I realized he wasn’t any less terrified than I was.
Instead of “you don’t want to fucking mess with me, I’ll tear you up, I’ll fuck you up,” I could hear him screaming, “I’m fucking afraid, I’m fucking terrified of losing control and you winning and beating me and looking weak and foolish.” In that moment, our feelings were not so different; he wanted to fight his fear and I wanted to run from mine. He wanted to punch this other guy, but really he wanted to punch himself; he wanted out, he wanted to stop his suffering. He was fighting so hard, like a small frightened animal raging against a cage.
I tell this story because how I write and how I practice yoga is not so different, and this goes beyond seeing life as art (which I like to think it is). Both are about looking at life through a prism of oneness. In writing, we draw inward as we expand outward; we reach inside for oneness and then create specific characters from that place.
In yoga class, we come together from a very lonely place, from the seclusion of our own stories, and eventually realize we are telling ourselves a lie. This is not something we have to believe or think about, but can directly experience. We see other people falling out of poses, we hear other people talking about their fears. Of course this happens everywhere if we look for it, but people are more obvious about hopes and dreams in the studio, of wanting to feel good, of wanting not to suffer any more. We go to yoga looking for something, not even sure what that something is; many people call it “peace,” but what does peace even mean?
I think peace is realizing we’re not alone after all. So many times people come to class with the same questions or complaints. They are always ashamed, believing they are the only ones. They are usually surprised to learn that others have the same issues.
We tell ourselves we are alone, that the person in front of us is not like us one bit, that we can never understand him. We tell this story to keep from facing uncomfortable truths, to keep from realizing that, “holy shit, I am just as angry as that dude on the train.” We think we don’t want to know the truth, but if that’s what peace is, I think I’ll take it.
Recent Poem from an “Ars Poetica” workshop:
Spinning through that vastness,
weak but strong,
deep into the tunnel of
at the crux
in the belly
at the heart of
all things and every thing.
this is why I write
this is why I feel
not to sit quiet,
but to hold up a mirror,
to wear the mirror
on my face,
to scream through the crowds,
galloping, raving mad
“Look at me!
I am you!
I am you!
I am you!”