Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Basement

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed. ~ The Monster, Eminem featuring Rihanna

I used to be afraid of the basement.

When I was little, we had a beautiful basement. Its paneled walls enclosed a living room, a toy room, game tables and even a grand piano. A sliding glass door opened onto a patio and into a big backyard.

As children during the day we’d happily play for hours down there, but at night it was a different story. I was convinced that Dracula and Frankenstein had set up home under the basement steps and in the back toy room, too. Inevitably, we’d leave something behind, and in the evenings I’d be sent to retrieve whatever it was. I remember many times peering fearfully down the stairs while building up my courage for a frantic dash down and back.

Of course I grew out of these fears. But once I was grown and married with children of my own, somehow they reappeared.

We had a basement that was monstrously large. There was an exercise room, a guest room, a fireplace, two bathrooms and a huge play area. Another sliding door opened onto a patio that led into a big backyard. During the day my children and I would happily play for hours down there; but at night it was the same old story. As when I was young, inevitably, we’d leave something behind from our day of play, and many evenings would find me once again fearfully peering down another set of basement steps, poised to retrieve a Teddy bear, a retainer or a favorite blanket. As an adult I was the same little girl, building up her courage for the same frantic dash down and back.
My childhood fears are easy to figure. They were the typical ones that most children have, like fears of the dark or the boogeyman. But the fears of my later years were never really as clear. Maybe they might have come into focus for me had I gathered more courage to look, but back then I blurred what was too painful to see, and I think that’s how a new boogeyman started haunting me.

Our sight is a precious commodity. It’s one of our five senses, and for many of us it’s an integral part of how we experience our lives. So important is our sight that we spend a lifetime seeking a steady gaze, making annual trips to the eye doctor in order to fine-tune the lenses through which we see the world.

But there’s also something else, other than a trip to the eye doctor, that can allow us to see more clearly, and it’s called our sixth sense, or our intuition. It’s what we sense when our other senses are not in play, and if we don’t pay attention, even our sight can get in the way. If we’re not careful, we can lose our steady gaze and deny the things we see. And, when this happens, the truth disappears, and it can make us feel crazy.

That's how things become scary, and I’m thinking this might be what happened to me.

A steady gaze is no small matter. It’s what keeps us balanced. In yoga, there’s even a name for it. It’s called the drishti, or focal point. When we practice, our energy follows our gaze, and so every yoga pose comes with instructions on where to look. It’s how we secure ourselves, so that we can lift our bodies off the ground and also turn ourselves upside down. In fact, rarely do we close our eyes at yoga, and when we do it’s always to purposefully challenge our balance.

The other night our practice focused almost exclusively on arm balances, and so there were a lot of instructions about the drishti. We were working on some funky variations, and so where we set our sights was all the more important.

“Look ahead!” the instructor said. “Your energy will follow your eyes.”

I pressed my left hand into the mat with both knees perched high on the back of my left arm. Then I pressed my right forearm into the mat, too, and leaned my chest forward. I lifted my feet off the ground and tucked my heart into my back.

“Look ahead!” the instructor repeated. “If you look down, that’s where you’ll go!”

I didn’t want to fall, and so I locked my gaze at the top of my mat and made like a three-legged table. I lifted my right palm to my chin and balanced on my left hand, my right elbow and my gaze. A three-legged table never falls.

On the drive home after class I found my gaze wandering toward the sky. It was a cold winter night, and two bright stars had caught my eye. They were so close together that it looked as if they might touch, and I wondered if my eyes might be deceiving me. I glanced at them again and again, doing numerous double takes all the way home.

I didn’t know it then but later on I would learn that I hadn’t been seeing things at all. That night, the sky had some funky variations among its constellations, the kind that hadn’t appeared for years! The stars I had seen weren’t actually stars; they were Jupiter and Venus, two planets aligned so closely together that to the naked eye they appeared as one. And apparently I wasn’t the only one to have ever seen this sight. I learned that reports of this sighting dated all the way back to biblical times, accounting for what many believe to be the Star of Bethlehem!  

When I got home I stopped outside the front door and turned to look at the sky once more, but I could no longer spot the pair. And so I went inside and put my keys in the bowl on the front chest that sits right above the basement steps. In this house, the basement has a living area, a guest room, a storage room and a bathroom. As in my previous homes, there’s also a sliding door that opens onto a patio and into a backyard.

I looked downstairs. The lights were off and it was dark down there.

But I didn’t feel afraid at all. Things are different here, because I no longer live with fears. They went away on the day I chose to see what had always been right in front of me. That’s when I knew to look for space, and that’s how I came to find this place.

And now my boogeyman is gone. I can’t find him in this home, and so this basement has always been one that I can roam. On any night I can leisurely walk down the steps and retrieve anything I might have left.

And now, these days, when I look around, the view is always sharp and clear. I look up at night to see the stars, and I feel so safe in here. And this is how I want for things to stay, because it was just too hard the other way.

This home is where I made a table of three, with just my son and daughter and me. It’s where I set my gaze ahead, and my energy followed, just as the instructor said.

Anne is the author of  Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blogFacebook and Twitter.


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  2. Thanks for the post Anne! Been getting into Yoga myself lately. Trying to get motivated to do it. Saw some really peaceful yoga mottos as well if you don't mind I share some here with you: Yoga Slogans