How’s your week?
I am so lucky, I thought as I watched Vicki kick off her shoes near the coatrack, tossing her how ya doin’ question at me. Every day at the studio I see people walk through the door, happy to be headed for their yoga mats. We exchange greetings and inquire, really ask, how things are. Regulars I see two and three times in a week follow the events in my life as I follow theirs. “How’s your week?” might be followed by a catch-up question about one of my children, the status of my car repair, or a query about last weekend’s guest instructor at the studio. In return I hear details about vacations and irascible bosses and family drama. I ask practice-related questions, too, and so I learn about aches that are healing and check in with mommas-to-be as their bellies swell.
We head up the ramp into the studio and I routinely invite students to leave behind their distractions, their to-do lists, their worries, their lives. For the time on the mat we focus on the lift of the arch in the feet, the extension from fingertip to fingertip, the breath flowing easily in and out. The studio is designed to hold space for the practice with little to fixate upon and a wide-open ceiling. Practice is the time, I say over and over, to let go.
Vairagya, the Sanskrit word for nonattachment, is one half of a pair of essential principles of yoga; the other is Abhyasa, or practice. Taken together, practice leads you in the right direction, while nonattachment keeps you from getting distracted by or stuck to pains and pleasures along the way. Persevere to let go; let go to persevere.
When Vicki asked me about my week, I was closing my laptop, giving up on finishing a message I was working to write before the first few people arrived for class. Maybe I sighed a little, and I said, “just can’t seem to get one thing good and finished this week.”
Vicki looked at me and replied, “They say that not finishing things is one of our biggest stress producers.”
“That explains a lot,” I laughed. Later I found myself thinking about what she said.
Not finishing things—a thought, a letter, an editing job, a household chore, a to-do list of errands—does stress me out. I can be deep in thought or trying to remember everything I need for the day and Eleven or Fourteen will launch into something very important to them and completely unrelated to whatever it is I’m thinking about. I try to be present for them, to bear witness, but sometimes they’re being goofy and utterly random. Friday morning, I was backing the car down the drive in something of a morning rush to drop Fourteen for before-school band practice, Eleven started to detail her Christmas shopping plan. Fourteen was talking about String Theory. I just wanted to know where my telephone was.
Fourteen deposited at school, Eleven and I went to Panera for breakfast. Settled in our usual booth, Eleven with a book and two muffies and me with an egg and cheese on a multi-grain bagel and my laptop open, I looked at Eleven and said, “I can’t put my mind on my phone.”
We joke in my household that I’m more of a teenager than either of my children because my phone is nearly always close to me. Texts, phone calls, social media postings, and email messages are all a part of my yoga studio world. I keep my phone next to my bed so my mother, Eighty-Nine, can phone me upstairs if she needs something. When I’m not home, Eleven or Fourteen can telephone to let me know they’ve reached home safely. And, too, my phone is a social outlet, connecting me to friends far and wide.
By the time we were back in the car and on the way to school, I was feeling alarmed that I had in fact left my phone at home. I don’t like being unreachable to my mother, my children, the Friday morning yoga teacher, the myriad of tiny matters that come up during any given day … Contemplating taking the time to return home for the phone, I found myself saying no thank you to Eleven’s generous offer to use her phone for the morning. “You can still text and make calls,” she assured me.
“Thank you, Sweetie, but it’s not the same. It won’t help if someone is trying to get in touch with me.” It’s not my phone is what I really meant. “I’ll email your grandmother and let her know I don’t have it with me today. I’ll be reconnected with it by twelve-thirty or so.” And when that happens, I thought but didn’t say to Eleven, I’ll be reattached to you by our electronic umbilical cord, a happy byproduct of giving both of my children cellular phones. “So,” I reassured us both, “I’ll be fine until then.”
After she got out of the car, I thought, how silly of me. I should have at least had her try calling my phone with hers to see if it’s in the car. She would have been helping me, and I would know if it was buried somewhere in my workbasket. As I drove along, I continued to try, without success, to remember where I had put the phone after unplugging it from the charger earlier that morning.
And then I remembered that my car would know if my phone was present. I hit the U-connect button on the steering wheel and there was the reassuring voice: “U-Connect Phone, Ready!” The phone was in the car! Happily I commanded the car to call Eleven, but I realized she’d had enough time already to stow her backpack, and with it her phone, deep in her locker. I settled for sending her a mental message to relax—she could reach me if she needed to.
At Starbucks, computer in front of me, phone and note pad to my right, I worked through my to-do list—balance the books for the studio, write a practice for Absolute Asana, an advanced class I teach once a month, make notes for a blog post I would write in the afternoon about nonattachment … how can I encourage nonattachment, I pondered, if I am ridiculously attached to my phone, my rolling phone booth of a car, my computer, my daughter?
Baffled by my own query, I flipped over to Facebook to post a message on the studio page. My attention was arrested by a status update: RIP William Weaver, Bard College. My brain derailed. The William Weaver? Did my mother know? How’d it happen? When? Well, I thought, it had to be, but it took quite a bit of searching on the Internet to confirm that the man who had died earlier in the week at the age of 90 was the man my father served with in the British Field Service in the early 1940s. Twice my family visited him in Italy and over the years we saw him in New York City. Most famously the only translator Umberto Eco would allow to touch his work, William Weaver was a man my brother and I called “Uncle.”
When I regained my equilibrium, I’d forgotten what I was doing. I felt that edge of discomfort—something left unfinished. It was time to go and my progress had been waylaid. I walked my brain back along through my list, posted the status report, finished the blog note I was making, and packed up to leave for a class. On the way to my next gig, I phoned my mother to break the news to her—preferring for her to hear it from me than discover the obituary online.
We passed the news back and forth, inspecting it, testing our memories of the man’s details, saying some of the things we always say about the literary men and women of the twentieth century that were a part of our shared past. By the end of the phone call, we were gently laughing. She asked me where I was and I told her I was passing a sushi restaurant she likes. We said goodbye and my car announced: “Phone call completed.” I smiled at the closure—together we detached from William Weaver even as we warmed to his memory. My electronics allowed us to connect to one another.
And with that it arrives: Attachment is one directional, like a one-way street. Connection moves between and among. I am attached to my phone and my car, sure, but it’s because they are the connective media between me and the stars in my universe. It’s okay to talk about and encourage nonattachment on and off the mat because we don’t have to give up connection. And when we shape time to connect to the beings and the practices we love, life is sweeter and it becomes easier to detach from all that no longer serves.
In memory of William Weaver, and with gratitude for all of you under the full November moon. Thanks for sharing my journey, Rxo