For the physical education requirement at The Ohio State University, I took a yoga class in the spring quarter of 1993. It seemed a fitting choice for a Religious Studies student, and besides, I was curious about this tradition that occupied an ambiguous ground between religious practice and fitness craze (well actually, less of a craze back then, still somewhat countercultural).
The class met in a beautiful old gym space upstairs in Pomerene Hall adjacent to the famous Mirror Lake on the Ohio State campus. The instructor, Jill Green, introduced us to basic yoga poses and also related some of the history and philosophy of yoga practice as, according to her syllabus, “a whole body system” that involves “a process of development that guides an individual towards health, self-awareness and self-fulfillment.” We ended every class lying quietly in savasana, the “corpse pose,” with soft flute music carrying us far from our school-day worries.
I am grateful for Jill’s teaching in the last term of her graduate studies at Ohio State before she went off to an illustrious career in North Carolina. It was the perfect introduction to a practice that I continue even now (although with some years of lapse and a couple additional teachers along the way). A regular yoga routine has become for me both religious practice and fitness, a way of balancing breath, body, and awareness as I make my way through life.
For our final assignment in the class, we had the option to “create an artistic statement that expresses your experience with yoga and in this class.” I wrote a poem based on a story Jill had shared about meditating on a raisin. Recently I came across this poem, and I share it here in a slightly reformatted form.
Experiencing the Raisin I have rested in savasana. I saluted the sun, half-twisted my spine, stood on my shoulders, and found perfect balance sipping a half-brewed cup of minted tea, gathering myself into the half-position of a lotus, closing the world from my eyes. I place a seedless, stemless, sun-dried raisin on my lips and enter the crevice of the forty raisin worlds, Forty worlds in cylindrical patterns of a tired raisin, forty worlds passing into the cavities of my meditations. These are the worlds I know, found in each of forty crevices crisscrossed on the surface of a raisin Massaged in the warm wet pulsing of my tongue, These forty worlds. A garden beside a grove of almonds, a garden of flowers in every corner. A frantic nest of robins. The windblown summit of the moonlit mountain. The shoulder of a desert highway, littered with candy wrappers, beer cans, a hub cap, two tumbleweeds caught in a fence. Cattle bellowing a hapless breath in a crowded stockyard heavy with the odors of manure, piss, and death. A restless tidepool shaken by the sea. Gymnasiums where all the kids who never made the team came to play all night without keeping score. Among vineyards in the south of France, a vat of wine in a warehouse on a hill. Sheila, her kids, her mother-in-law, packing lunches, stopping at the sitter's on the way to work, on the way to meetings, coffee in the car, the news, an accident up ahead, more traffic, a few minutes late, finding a place to park, catching her breath as she straightens her skirt in the elevator. The rusted silo beside the white barn beneath a blue sky over a green field of new corn. An ambulance screaming down a crowded street, stopping in front of the donut shop. A waterfall at noon pierced by halos of a rainbow. The rough dark hand that picked this raisin in a field north of Fresno. A litter of brown puppies wrestling in the sideyard of a silver mobile home. The deep slow voice drawling a love song from the stereo of a dirty dented Ford waiting for the light to change. Snowfalls in October that frost the dark green pines on the ridge across the canyon. A fresh baked pretzel dipped in salt and smothered with hot mustard. The gentle press of a first kiss on a hot night, entering each others' worlds, the discovery of someone new inside of you. The rhythm of tides that leave the imprint of their waves on empty beaches. Jonathon, thinking of his children as he doodles in his office waiting for a fax. Herds of wild horses striding through the sage. The ruins of a civilization built beneath the cliffs, left to the care of the sun, to the want of capricious winds incessantly tearing at the past, listening for the voices left between the mortar and the blocks, in the seam between today and then. The steepness of a night that never met the darkness. Circles of butterflies, gold and green and blue and red, carried on a little piece of sky. The bingo hall, the women crowded with their cards laid out before them, eager for the call of letters paired with numbers, the harsh fluorescent lights, the dense smoke, the cool air by the door. Acres of pain in the rubble of civilization. A silver jet cutting a white stream across the steel blue Of an autumn sky, racing toward the other side of somewhere. Clothespins holding up a load of morning laundry. A fruit stand outside St. George with the peach crop on display, plums and apricots and fresh watermelon. Wildflowers bursting from the unmowed interchange in early June, the bumblebees oblivious to the cars and buses streaming by, seeking nectar among the brilliant petals. José Luís returning to Michoacan to kiss his mother before she dies, to maybe marry, to maybe stay this time. A half cup of coffee spilled on a gray pavement, the puddle reflecting half a sky. A twisted pine on a cliff above the ocean north of Ensenada. Grass, fields of green stretching over gentle miles weighted by a dew relenting to the morning. An anxious night spent alone in a foreign city, waiting for a chance to catch a ride home, waiting among the homeless, the lost and the lonely, with only the wind to share a word with. A golf ball sunk halfway in the mud. A steady stream of geese in crooked vees beneath a heavy sky. Brothers, sisters, cousins of the raisin, other raisins, in the same box or elsewhere, in bowls of cereal with sugar and milk, in oatmeal cookies, or eaten plain, the entire race of sun-dried grapes. Warm arms engulfing a gently sobbing child. A piece of straw carried by a sparrow to a nest where new lives will begin. * * * * Slowly, quietly. I emerge from forty worlds of the raisin, my eyes embracing the amber light of afternoon. A soft wet lump of raisin passes the threshold of my throat, Swallowed to the deeper bowels of who I am. For now I am someone new, nourished in contemplations of raisinness. –– submitted June 3, 1993 to Jill Green for Physical Education 195.01 at The Ohio State University