How many miles are on this car?
Now that he sits in the front seat, Fourteen can see the odometer for himself. But until the year I finally relented and let him scramble up front, in spite of the fact that he wasn’t yet five feet tall or one hundred pounds, he would inquire nearly every time we pulled out of the garage. His interest in mileage hasn’t waned and it matches my own. My children celebrate with me every time I call out interesting mileage numbers from the Dart—which has inexplicably earned the nickname Baby: Look, it’s Baby’s next milestone, I’ll say as the car turns 8000 miles or, Look, Baby’s next palindrome is 6 miles away.
I missed photographing a couple of palindromes, and I felt bad. I’d look down and see them just one or two miles after the magic 8008 or 8118. Then the other morning it was 38 degrees and the mileage was 8338. The photo is blurry, though, and by the time I got a clear one, the temp had dropped a degree to 37; thus the picture isn’t nearly as satisfying.
But it got me to pondering … numbers. I really like numbers, always have. In high school I thought maybe I’d be a math major. I had no real purpose in mind, though, except I really liked playing with numbers. But then I barely survived one semester of Calculus in college and the idea went out the window. My favorite number is 141, the number of “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band on the Happy Joe’s jukebox when I was in eighth grade. But there are other numbers I like a lot, too: 6, 8, 23, 108 … Eight and twenty-three are favorites because they’re my birthday month and date. I like six because the digits of 141 add up to six and that means 141, although it looks like it could be prime, is in fact divisible by 3. I like the way numbers fold into each other, small ones making larger ones in different combinations.
When a number is divisible by the precise sum of its digits, yogis call it a “Harshad” number. Harshad translates from Sanskrit as “great joy.” One hundred eight is a Harshad number and the number of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) we traditionally practice when the seasons change. One hundred eight mirrors the number of major sacred or energy sites in the body and in India. There are fifty-four letters in Sanskrit, each with a masculine and feminine, and thus 108. One hundred eight defines the relationship between the sun and the earth: The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. The distance from the sun to the earth is 108 times the diameter of the sun. So too, the average distance of the moon from the earth is 108 times the diameter of the moon.
The practice repeats just nine basic poses 108 times. There are variations and modifications, but practicing a traditional sun salutation means starting in Mountain Pose, Tadasana, extending the arms up and folding forward, Uttanasa, lifting to a flat back, fingers on the earth, Ardha Uttansana, jumping or stepping back to Chataranga Dandasana, Four-pointed Staff Pose, sometimes called a yoga push-up, lifting into a backbend, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Upward Facing Dog, dropping forward and lifting the hips in an upside down V, Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog, jumping or stepping forward again, and lifting back to standing. Nine moves, 108 times. It’s exhausting and exhilarating and humbling and tears away all of the cobwebs and useless attachments in your energy leaving you shiny and new and very much in the moment.
Just now, when I idly googled 108 Traditions, the top hit was a house in North Carolina on 108 Traditions Drive. The date it sold? My birthday in 2012. Coincidence? Well, certainly, but a bit startling, in the best of ways and a perfect example of what I like about numbers.
I zoomed through a palindrome the other day, 8448, driving 67 miles, never going more than twenty minutes from my house. A sixty-seven mile day is something you can tell people—it’s meaningful. My peeps, my mother—they get why I’m tired at the end of that day. Maybe it’s stating the obvious to say that we quantify with numbers, but they’re meaningless without context. If I were a taxi driver, for example, a sixty-seven mile day would probably mean I hadn’t had many fares. But for my day it meant a lot. And as I drove along my circuitous route, I thought about my fascination with the numbers on the odometer. I will always remember putting the very first tenth of a mile on my mother’s Saab when she let me drive it out of the factory in Sweden. I remember, too, my Volkswagens, first the Bug and then the Golf, when they turned 100,000. Those were odometers that flipped their numbers, not like my digital odometer today. And thinking of this bouquet of significant numbers, I think this: noticing the numbers is not unlike smelling the roses. If I pay attention, the numbers, fleeting though they may be, help me to notice the moment I’m in.
The full cold moon shines over the frozen December filled with twinkling lights and festive events. Baby has since crossed another milestone—9000 happy miles in not quite 8 months. The Solstice arrives this weekend and we’ll be celebrating at Radiant Om Yoga with 108 Sun Salutations. Thank you, as ever, for journeying with me. See you in 2014—happy New Year! love, Rxo