Carol H’s Review: Ever been smacked upside the head by, stumbled flailingly across, or slipped with unintentional grace sweetly into….the WOO? If so, then this homage to the essence of Woo may bring a knowing smile. And if Woo is new to you, read on. Sometimes, one just needs a thing to have a name to realize it was right there, all along.
One winter morning in Houston, the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. I was up at a time when it was still dark and everything was quiet. As I muddled around the kitchen making my breakfast, I opened the under-sink cabinet to find a trash container overflowing with the detritus of our daily living. Our crumpled cheese packages, tomato sauce-stained paper towels, glistening egg shells, unruly chip bags and moldy pizza crusts sparked a streak of annoyance in me despite this gentle morning. Feeling a self-righteous, moral indignation at the family that created this tumbling, overflowing mess, I grabbed the edges of the bag and lifted, causing much of the precariously balanced structure to spew forth into the cabinet and onto the floor at my feet. My energy shifted into overdrive as I assessed the situation with a roiling intensity.
I began shoveling the loose bits of trash into the bag and shoving them down with a vengeance. How dare they leave this for me to find? My temperature rose and my heart pounded like a war drum. My peaceful morning had been sabotaged! Once I completed the task of getting the garbage corralled and vigorously stowed in the bag, I tied the ends and hoisted myself along with the bag and headed toward the back door with the vision of satisfyingly slamming my load forcefully into the trash container outside the back gate.
I opened the door and was immediately assaulted by the frigid temperature. In my inflamed state, I had not thought to don a sweater or jacket. As I stepped out the door, I looked up into the clear, black sky. There hung, amid the bare tree branches, a luminous moon, shining like a spot light on a stunned and unprepared soliloquist. Instinctively, I took a deep breath. I couldn’t think of any other reaction in this circumstance. I closed the back door behind me and stood, cradling the bulging trash bag, empty of every thought and emotion except my gratitude for this amazing sight. The world is beautiful, I thought as I unlatched the back gate and lifted the lid to the bin. I gently placed my burden into its proper place and closed the lid.
Every ounce of irritation I harbored evaporated under that light. I stood a few more minutes enjoying the sight and the shift in feelings. What the hell just happened? How can seeing the moon (which I had seen many times before) bring me feelings of gratitude and peace at this precise moment?
I simply accepted this experience for what it was, a moment in time when I became immersed in a state of clarifying awareness. No great revelations came of it. No power shift, no change of life circumstances, no grand opening of chakras, no newly-minted religious convictions. Call it grace, awe or spontaneous contentment. It was a moment in time when, inexplicably, I felt content and right with the world. I still had to make breakfast and go to work.
I have been a student of yoga for nearly 30 years. The concept of awareness is deeply ingrained into my psyche. Yet I often forget its presence and power whenever I am not on the mat. I go off the deep end from time to time and express my emotions vehemently. I own my human nature. Those occasions when I am graced with an awareness of the present moment and acknowledge the sacredness and joy associated with them are little gifties from the universe, which I like to call The Woo. According to my friends at Merriam-Webster, hunt, search, seek, provoke, tempt are words related to woo, a verb, a word of action, which I have appropriated for my own personal use as a noun—a place that provides solace, comfort and deep awareness. In some instances, it is also that which serendipitously finds me even when I am not actively seeking it.
The active search for these moments of calm and clarity is the name of the game for most yogis and meditators. I’ve been fumbling with it for years. In challenging situations, we are trained to go within, to find that elusive part of ourselves that is solid and unchanging. This takes practice. Lots of practice. Endless instances of thinking “Why am I sitting here doing this?” or “This hurts my knees!” and “I wonder how much it will cost to fix the car.” Eventually it comes to a certain fruition. The payoff.
For example, I hate to fly. I have rituals I perform which calm my nerves, assist in tolerating the close proximity of humanity in over-occupied spaces and keep the plane from plummeting from the sky. Traveling is not my thing, even at this time of life when most retired individuals take off for exotic ports of call. Getting from point A to point B creates havoc on my body, mind and soul. The pressing difficulty is that I do not respond well to being hurtled through space at unthinkable velocities. A lumbering city bus is about the only mechanized vehicle I can tolerate without much assistance.
You may be asking how I get anywhere. On a flight from Philadelphia to Houston, I sat next to a flight attendant who was “deadheading,” going to another city in order to work a flight from there. We flew through an omnium-gatherum of thunder storms, taking the path of least resistance (according to the pilot) when the plane dropped about 3 feet below where I had been previously been sitting. My seat mate, noticing the greenish tint to my face, assumed I was frightened and explained that it was just turbulence. No, I said, make it stop! I immediately sought a calming, mindfulness meditation whereby you hold each finger, one at a time until you can detect a pulse. I had nothing else to do to ease my distress at being dropped in space, a distinct feeling some people enjoy – think rollercoasters. I sat with each bump and drop for the rest of our travel through the storms taking in the sensations of flight along with my own grounding pulse.
My seat mate must have thought I’d sunk into a catatonic state. I reached my destination with a sigh of relief. It was then that I started using the term “tapping the ruby slippers” as a metaphor for finding my way home, doing that simple work to find the inner peace and making my way through the storms to safe haven.
As the official container for the internal circus, I am challenged to be vigilant in keeping the wild rumpus at bay as I quiet my mind. If I merely close my eyes and sit, I begin to construct a paragraph, a scenario, a premise. I usually allow a few wacky plot lines to leak through before securing the gate and getting down to present moment awareness. It is never easy.
Sometimes I am forced into being in the present moment by the effects of anxiety or high drama and other times the present moment springs forth without any effort on my part in an enlightening burst of consciousness. One does not have to wait for a traumatic event to enjoy the present moment. We tend to ignore the cacophony of sensations which bombard us every day, so letting it in and letting it go may feel daunting. As an officially fidgety person, I find that I am able to practice sitting mindfulness meditation for up to 30 minutes given the right circumstances (quiet room, comfortable chair). Mostly, I find pockets of my day to close my eyes and notice what else is going on right here and now. It might be for ten minutes, maybe just for ten breaths. At the computer, the bus stop, the dinner table, walking (I keep my eyes open for that!) and often just when and where I need to have a moment uniquely, woo-fully mine.
Here are some words, mind-fully crafted by Thomas Mann, I present to you for your own use:
Hold every moment sacred. Give each clarity and meaning, each the weight of thine awareness, each its true and due fulfilment.
This passage seems so serious. It encompasses the serious, but also includes the good, the goofy and the turbulent. It reminds me that throughout all the wackiness of this human life, I can find something to anchor my awareness, calm my nerves and tackle all circumstances. Sometimes a freezing cold, garbage-filled morning is the gateway to bliss, whether I am looking for it or not.
May you and the Woo find one another,
Guest Editor Carol H has some deep knowledge of esoteric things. Thorough editing may be one of the best. She has helped me enormously with the flow of consciousness that is supposed to be my writing.