Today at my family’s Labor Day picnic, my niece, an avid gardener, showed me a tomato-devouring hornworm. Bright green, about three inches long, and fat from having feasted on my brother-in-laws tomato plant. He was big enough to see even the detail of his mouth and the aphids that had taken up residence as parasites. I loved seeing him in all his brilliant green detail even while hoping my tomatoes would escape his attentions.
Last May I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. What struck me most in Dillard’s memoir was her attention to observing. Noticing. Seeing. She loved paying attention to the small things – observing insects, frogs, tadpoles, minnows. She loved the detail as it required being present, fully, to even notice this glut of life.
Sometimes this idea of seeing comes up for me in ways I don’t expect. In the spring I take my bonzais to a workshop at Nature’s Way. I admit to being a fearful pruner, a hesitant shaper, always afraid I will make a mess of my trees. This spring my patient bonsai teacher placed my oldest juniper on a counter about eight feet from where we stood and instructed – look at the tree. Where is the front? Where are the blocks of growth? What is the deeper shape of the tree to be revealed? That is what guides the scissors. Seeing.
In the spring I was struggling with the details of proper pronunciation of Sanskrit and the rhythm of Vedic chants I am studying. I called one of the teachers to ask for help. She went over three chants with me and told me to work only on those. As I followed her instruction, I saw more deeply into the letters and their pronunciation, recognized syllables and how they built the lines with their rhythm. The more I explored the same chants, the more I discovered, not just about them, but about chanting, and about myself, as I noticed my reactions. Focusing on less, more was revealed. And I saw it.
Often, though, I am not really seeing because I am taken up with speculating, or worrying. I imagine how a new class might turn out or anguish over whether a granddaughter will like a birthday present. When I am so caught up with these thoughts, I am not present. I am not seeing, let alone seeing deeply. The beauty of yoga practice is the awareness it brings so I recognize where my mind is loitering and choose to let go of the fruitless wanderings.
You may not be interested in the details of insect anatomy or bonsais or Vedic chant, but I think all of us seek to live fully, which requires being present to see the world in which we live. As we learn to be present in our yoga practice, we become aware when our mind wanders, as well. Then we can bring ourselves back to the moment. Present, we have the chance to see, to notice, to observe the hornworm and our heartbeat, the tree shape and our suffering, the rhythm of the chant and the ones we love trying to garner our attention for just a minute. Yoga practice gives us the foundation and practices to live fully.