Today, during pigeon pose in yoga class, my mat split into four different transparent levels, stacked on top of each other. When I swayed slightly, they swayed too. The tiny dots in the pattern of the mat gaped open a little farther, almost seemingly like they were singing. What could have been underneath, if I had probed further – a transcendent state?! Narnia?! The Upside Down??
Well, of course, it was the floor that was underneath. And no, I didn’t take anything this morning but oatmeal. Rather, it was the “magic eye” effect popularized by posters a few years ago, in which your brain is fooled by 2D image layered with a repeating pattern into believing there is depth.
So my yoga mat did not actually split and it was a trick of the eye. Ok. But is there no truth in the experience?
I’m a pretty big skeptic and wary of those who claim to have touched the “beyond” in some way. I certainly take dogmatic religious claims with a healthy heaping of salt. That said, I am likewise skeptic of those who throw the mystical baby out with the spiritual bathwater. If you are truly keeping an open mind, you have to be open to what seems preposterous. After all, believing we are on a spinning ball in a sparkly infinite void must have seemed pretty far-fetched once upon a time. We trust others who are experts on space even as we accept that even they have a very limited scope.
“I do not know everything; still there are many things I understand,” a quote from A Wrinkle in Time, shows our middle place in the universe. It’s ok to know that you know some things but not everything. Really if we are honest with ourselves, we probably aren’t in the middle… we’re probably nearer to the bottom, just not the very bottom.
We must also realize something else said in “A Wrinkle in Time”: “I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.” Of course, it doesn’t mean you ever stop trying, but you have some humility about it.
I think ideally the best any religion can give you is that humility – along with a trend for that humility to lead to perspective that leads to helping others.
One of the best scenes in the book is one that was cut in the movie, where Meg is nursed back to health by the alien Aunt Beast. Her species has no sight and yet paradoxically “sees” more completely than we do. As she explains, “We do not know what things look like. We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing.”A yogi might say that this is seeing with the “third eye,” a center in your forehead for intuition and foresight.
Without the distraction of constant shifting visual stimuli, when you simply focus on one thing, maybe you can “see” a bit more clearly (with your third eye or your first two). Even if the mat separating was a trick of the mind, it doesn’t mean it can’t remind me that “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” as Hamlet says to Horatio.
C.S. Lewis makes this point so well in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” when the boy Eustace hears of a person being a star and retorts, “In our world, a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” He then is wisely told by Ramandu that “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”
Eustace isn’t wrong, but he is limited – he knows something but not everything, and probably not what’s important.
And so in that spirit, I’m going to keep an open mind for woods in the back of wardrobes, for train platforms that appear in a wall at a bit of a run. It might not be those things exactly, or even a mystical yoga mat, but thinking about them might just leave me open to the possibilities I can’t yet imagine.
Who knows where these things could take us? Already we leave our conscious “reality” of what’s around us in sleep and dreams and even day dreams and meditation. At the least, hopefully they will take us to a place where we realize our assumptions and our boundaries are not so rock solid as we like to think. The worlds we have made of self, family, neighborhood, city, country, are good but not complete. After all, our very skin is porous. We breathe in and out our environment. Our DNA is a message from the past and a map for the future.
How can we build fences and walls when all living organisms all in this together, in almost every conceivable way? How can we divide up our world when it naturally multiplies?
To remember all this, I get into Cow Face Pose. It’s as absurd as it sounds. You cross your legs and reach one arm behind your back to hold hands with the other. It’s looks like the face of a cow, “from a certain point of view,” as Ben Kenobi would say, I believe with the legs as mouth and arms as ears?
In any case, when you look that silly you can’t take yourself too seriously – you can’t get too high and mighty when you kind of look like a cow. Then again, who are we to say we’re better than cows? Embody the cow and its own big black third eye, and appreciate the weird and the wild of all that we don’t yet know.