I am intimate with two worlds. One is in the countryside, wearing worn denims and boots in the high-desert climate of Southeast Idaho, on a working cattle ranch. The other is in the concrete of New York City, sweating in a dance or yoga studio. In New York, people think I’m crazy for looking them in the eye and saying “hi." Conversely, people in Idaho think I’m crazy if I don’t! I come to Idaho for respite, to be around animals and mountains, to take time for study, and to practice teaching yoga in the neighboring city of Idaho Falls. The contrast between my two homes is as wide as a gorge.
In places like my hometown, (high school graduating class of sixty-six students!), community is a necessity. People rely on ongoing relationships for goods and supplies, or already-established friendships with those individuals who provide the services. You must play fair. When dealing with people you don’t recognize, you know that you at least have mutual friends---it’s expected that you acknowledge each other.
My other world…the five boroughs, is a city of strangers. My thoughts are stuck on myself and where I need to go, and what I have to get done. Most likely, New Yorkers have learned from experience to withdraw and keep to one’s self, out of safety, out of fear, out of too much to do--or maybe because that’s just what everyone else does. It is unrealistic to think that we can connect with everyone we pass by. However, if I have the courage to extend myself, there is something special that happens: a feeling of presence.
What vulnerability! What little spark of energy in these moments of knowing youseethe other, and theyseeyou, both coming to the instantaneous understanding that each is the protagonist of his or her own universe, and yet can meet in the middle, here in the window to the grand scheme. These occurrences always warrant a smile in me. We remember that we share the same world, and that we influence that world with our many daily decisions.
Since my family raises beef cattle for their livelihood, they ask, what do cows need in order to be healthy? Grass. Then what does grass need in order to be thick and plentiful? How does the land need to be managed? The water? How is it that to keep my own self fulfilled, I must ask how to keep you fulfilled? The answers that surface are ideologies akin to those of native cultures: everything balances the other; relies on the other; and you must replenish what you take or else arrive at an unsustainable situation. This relationship applies to the Earth Community as well as the Human Community. Extending ourselves and asking what the other is seeking helps us to remember that every single thing is connected to the other’s wellbeing.
ONE WORLD IN PRACTICE:
My yoga practice is an ongoing relationship that helps me gauge my reality. Any chronic and intimate association will do this, but especially one like yoga that is dedicated to cultivating awareness. The closer the relationship, the more quickly your actions will be reflected back. Yoga urges me to ask myself, what am I seeking? What do I need in order to feel fulfilled?
I laughed at myself when I took off my ‘teaching hat’ and grabbed the cowboy hat that I had stashed in a cubby at the yoga co-op where I teach. I was about to drive an hour on a gravel road, into the mountains where the cow herd was for the summer. I shook my head at my strange reality… I whispered a ‘namaste’ to myself: thank goodness I have people to teach. Thank goodness they come and that they require me to extend myself, to learn their names, and to stop thinking about myself.
Relationships are unavoidable. They are constant lessons that force us to reckon with our own self-focus, and discover if that is truly a fulfilling place to be. Eleanor Roosevelt doesn’t sugar coat it when she states in her book, You Learn by Living:
It is easy to slip into self-absorption and it is equally fatal. When one becomes absorbed in himself, in his health, in his personal problems, or in the small details of daily living, he is, at the same time, losing interest in other people; worse, he is losing his ties to life. From that it is an easy step to losing interest in the world and life itself. That is the beginning of death.
The decision to reach out accumulates in myself a feeling of connectedness, of being alive. I am lucky to make partnerships with duties, students, and nature. Regardless if the gesture is returned, the everlasting gift is in the giving, not the receiving.
You know this, but do you act on it? Do you notice the cashier’s name-tag? Do you give a nod to a fellow student you see in class each week, or let someone else go first through the subway doors? Where is your attention? Learn that with meditation. Experiment with looking at something square in the eye, whether it is human, animal, task or organization, and notice how that creates compassion. Note how that small extension makes you feel. These moments are love--of course they take bravery.
Individuals are what make up the Human Community. Names. Faces. Stories. New York City runs on an unnoticed collective of service people, who handle maintenance, trash, and all the food that is shuffled daily into the city’s borders so that millions of people can eat lunch! Everyone plays a part, everyone desires to be seen, and also, to see.
As beings who can use inner will to direct and change our brains, we are giventheresponsibility to create a world that is fulfilling to us: and that world typically demands bliss-producing sacrifices.
Cassie, the Border Collie dog, says “hi” from Idaho. (She helps herd the cows.)