Why get out of bed?
The perils of an embodied life
In a recent yoga class I had just finished a too-legnthy rant about the perils of unskillful back bending, when a visiting student asked “Sooo, if it’s so dangerous, why are doing backbends?” Right. Damn good question. And while we’re on the topic, I want to know, why do we even get out of bed in the morning?
Creation of a meaningful life
During my hippy, alternative grade school years I was taught numerous creation myths. Men and women born of fire and ice, emerging from divine armpits, crawling up from holes in the earth, molded from clay, brought forth on a wave and breathed into being . . .
But my favorite story remains a smashed-up version from the Indian Samkhya and Tantrik traditions. Here, a mysterious imbalance between the forces of nature (the three Gunas) compels the infinite-absolute (Shiva) to know itself more completely. But in this limitlessness and formlessness Shiva is incapable of any kind of self-referencing experience. Thus, out of a desire to know itself more fully, Shiva becomes embodied in the limited form of the world as we know it (Shakti).
According to this version of things, the purpose of creation is to experience the full wonder and power of the universe through embodied life.
We are here to live.
And living is meant to be a fully engaged, sensory experience. At least that’s how I talk myself out of bed every morning. Especially in the middle of December when there’s no wood in the firebox and the sun gets up to slide sideways across the horizon before disappearing again.
Why do I get out of bed in the morning?
I’m writing this to encourage my inner-hibernating-bear to stay awake. To engage with the world, with you, with my hands and my heart. As a moody intellectualist I am prone to bouts of severe depression and I don’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for life to solve my existential crises. Purposefully engaging my hands and moving my feet provides a more potent relief than any drug can. I’ve learned this through trial and error and many many amazing mentors.
Shopcraft as Soulcraft
This is not only the title of a great book, but it is a phrase that (coincidentally) sums up everything that was right about Bill Copperthwaite’s life. No rumination on living through your hands and heart is complete without a tribute to this great man.
I first met Bill 20 years ago. After hiking nearly an hour down a rough, snowy woods trail near Bucks Harbor, Maine I came to a clearing with a yurt in the middle, smoke drifting from the chimney. Bill came out to greet me and I shook his strong hand. After I introduced myself he reminisced about working with my parents 20 years earlier on a windmill somewhere nearby and welcomed me in. Over the next month he showed me how to carve knife handles and birch baskets (he’d recently learned how on a trip to Siberia), we stewed apples and oats on the woodstove, bathed in the cold spring by the shore, and pulled up the unwanted red spruce seedlings that seemed to sprout everywhere on his land. He taught me that handcrafting is far more than a quaint, archaic pass time. It is a deeply satisfying engagement with the world and with each other. Skillful crafting requires a breathless balance between peril and flow and there is nothing more deeply satisfying to the human spirit than to walk the razor’s edge between the absolute and the infinite. I left Bill’s with a blue jay perched on my shoulder, very much wanting to live this kind of useful, happy life.
Several years later I was attempting to make myself a useful woodswoman by studying natural history and land conservation at University of Vermont’s Field Naturalist Program. Our winter ecology professor was Bernd Heinrich who also happens to be a world class ultrarunner. We spent all day literally running through the woods chasing after him while he chased down golden crowned kinglets to see where they roost. As the afternoon sun set, we would jog back to the cabin to find our all-day-stew sitting hot on the woodstove. In the evenings I stretched and drew in my field journal by lantern light, or sat by the campfire watching Orion swing overhead. Running through the woods, watching, waiting, greeting the raven’s quork. This is a useful, happy life.
Now I live in a fully finished log cabin on a dirt road. We have hot running water and a pretty efficient wood stove, it would be easy to hunker down and hibernate, to let my body soften into the couch and watch my hands and feet grow weak. Instead, each morning I wake up to nurture that little spark that willed Shiva into being. The spark of desire to discover something brand new about the world. Sunrise turning the red crest of a pileated woodpecker into a burst of flame, the feeling of my arms and legs swinging in perfect sync as I glide through the woods on my skis, an otter sliding above the stream, the divine softness of my daughter’s cheek as she rubs it against mine. There are so many reasons to get up, there are so many ways to move forward into the world. Find one. We are here to feel the edges of the infinite through the world, not in spite of it.
P.S. Here’s the study about standing up without your hands that I’ve been telling my yoga students about. (They all pass with flying colors).
And here’s a little bit about how exercise can change your mind.