Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

~by Antonio Machado / trans. by, Robert Bly

What do I do with the griefs and disappointments of my life and with the exuberant joys and blessings? Do I simply ignore one for the other, focus on pain over joy or vice versa, pretend pain has not occurred? I understand that joy is simply not the same as happiness, and that one who lives ecstatic with wonder, with a joyful and jubilant heart is one who has experienced and held grief and disappointment with the same tender hand that they’ve held their happiest moments. So what if I could, like the poem suggest, allow all the bees of my life’s experience to return, like nectar brought to the hive of my heart, to be churned–every moment of pain and every moment of ease and excitement, all of it turned into abundant golden honey?

I have been thinking and teaching about the ways that honey is used to symbolize abundance in so much written word. Churning our life into a sense of abundance that resides in the heart, I think, must be the key to living an exuberant life, a life of someone who can be ecstatic because life is just so full. The pose that embodies this is often called “Wild Thing” pose, but I like it better in its Sanskrit, Camatkarasana (pronounced Chamat-car-asana). In its truest form this word is better translated as Ecstatic Heart Opening Pose and is meant to embody the heart of someone with exuberant, abundant wonder for all of life.

In this pose, we begin in Side Plank, a pose that needs us to cultivate and maintain strength through the upper back, shoulders, and sides of the body, as well as through our legs and hips. It is a full body body, requiring mindful attention and strength to keep from collapsing into and injuring the shoulder joint. It is also a pose that provides an expansive and open quality to the chest and upper back, truly a heart opening when done with care. Even more opening in the heart is the Camatkarasana version, in which the top leg comes behind the bottom leg, with the ball of the foot pressing firmly into the mat and the heel lifted. The top hand then comes to the heart, helping to turn the chest and torso upward, like it’s peeling the heart open toward the sky. Finally that same arm extends overhead toward the floor with the palm facing upward. The pose feels like I’m embodying abundance; however, in order to experience the feeling of exuberant abundance in the pose, I must create and maintain strength through my shoulder blades, throughout the upper back, in my side muscles, core, and through my thighs. I can not simply flip over fling my heart open into the pose. Executing this pose while not maintaining the needed strength has meant sinking into the supporting shoulder joint and compressing the small and often overworked muscles around this joint. Opening my heart, it turns out, requires being wide awake, deeply tuned in, and totally embodied.

Last month I wrote about Hrdyaya, the deep inner cave of the heart–this is the deepest essence of us, the part that has never been disconnected from deep, abiding love. Uniting with this abundant inner essence is, I believe, the truest purpose of this practice of yoga. I believe this, but I live in a world that tests this belief again and again. It’s the heart of a warrior, I am discovering, that can sustain and fully embrace coming back to a union with love. In my practices, I’ve been teaching of the return, the reuniting with this space, as the call of an advanced yoga practice. I am feeling the presence of Hrdyaya in myself and in my practice as a shift, though, that has brought me to a quiet inner awareness, as if I am sinking more deeply into the truth of me and reconnecting to that truth through the space of my heart. I say this is a shift because for years I’d hear the call to practice with awareness of the heart center as an opening of the heart that, in my mind, was a call to open the front space of the chest physically and, in doing so, embody an openness of heart outward toward others. Perhaps this is what resting in hrdyaya does, but it’s a different way of arriving in the heart that has felt more authentic and somehow stronger to me.

As I cultivate the kind of strength through the back side of the heart that is required for Camatkarasana, I am sensing that from this strong outer container my heart can rest, like a truffle made of honey and dark chocolate, in the deep cave of my inner being. My attention comes to rest in this space and I feel softer through the front side of my chest, warmer with a vibration around my heart as if I’ve come more alive through the work of the pose and as if my heart can melt here. Then it feels like my open heart comes from a place of inner rejuvenation that allows me to rest in abundance rather than like I’ve had to chip away and peel away layers from the front down. Perhaps this is something that must be felt rather than explained. And so, I invite you to an exuberant heart opening with deep outer strength that can support the heart softening, like honey growing warm and fluid inside a safe container.

Creating this awareness has meant that I do remember when I’m off my mat to drop back into the sensation of warmth and abundance, softness around my heart space, bringing the experiences of my day into my heart, like nectar for a hive. I try to feel my heart vibrating in acknowledgement and sense that every moment can be churned into beautiful white combs and golden honey if bring it all to my heart for assimilation before response. This means that I am feeling particularly abundant and blessed–full with the sweet sensation of true joy, having fallen in love with watching my life unfold. It also means I am feeling particularly vulnerable. But I think that, perhaps, is why I keep practicing this practice. To feel alive and ecstatically in love with life doesn’t mean that there will be chocolate hearts or roses or Valentine’s cards, sweet shows of kindness and passion, all day, everyday. It also doesn’t mean that I collapse into a soft outer shell that leaves me injured and depleted. I feel abundance because I allow myself to be vulnerable. And I can only allow myself this vulnerability when I know I can sustain an open heart, sustain all the experiences that come to me, and hold them safely in a firm container to be turned into joy. Joy–not happiness–because their is so much to wonder at, so much living to do, so much to be ecstatic over if I stay strong and awake. Then I embody the warrior with the wide open, ecstatic heart of wonder, abiding in my own inner landscape of milk and honey.