Manhattan is for shamans. The city is unexpectedly populated with new age mystical sages. Flexible gurus who drop pearls of wisdom too deep to be understood in one sitting. Register their words now. Only later, perhaps after months of research and life experience, will these things make sense.
“You have a lot of fear in your shoulders,” my Tai Chi instructor tells me. “Yoga merely suggests, never demands,” explains my yoga teacher obliquely. “Climb your leg with your hands and then move it in slow circles as if it were covered in honey,” instructs my Pilates zen master. Why honey and not taffy, syrup or jello? He doesn’t explain. Perhaps that’s the next lesson. The city provides exercise classes for free, so I attend them through much of the summer. Soaking in all the mystic stretches, poses and instructions I can.
“Push through the wall,” suggests my yoga instructor as we are stretched against a very real wall. How? And also: What? Again, no explanation. “This is called picking up a penny from the bottom of the ocean,” my Tai Chi instructor says of one pose as we labor with our efforts exposed to all on a broad esplanade on the Hudson River. This is called Looking ridiculous in front of tourists, I think to myself as we bend down to pick up the imaginary penny.
Do. Or do not, young Skywalker. There is no try.
Sometimes it’s hard for a shaman’s words to be understood. My Pilates instructor is looking at someone in our class who is struggling to keep up. “Raise your right leg off the floor. No, your other right leg. The one actually on the right. Thank you.” I stifle a giggle. My Tai Chi instructor points to his core region. “This is the Field of Immortality,” he explains. “It’s the key to everything.” I think I get what he’s saying. My abs need a lot of work, or I’m going to die soon.
It’s like my son’s history teacher explained to me about Avery’s low grades in his class in a recent parent-teacher conference.The man had lively deep blue eyes, a well kept goatee and a sort of unstudied hipness about him that suggested he probably played bongo once in a garage band. He spoke these words in a mysterious manner that suggested they meant more than I could absorb now, but that I might get it one day when my mind opened sufficiently. “It’s a process,” he said, making a gesture with his hands as if the world was opening itself up to us if only we could appreciate it.
I wish I had the power to tell someone to “Be like water,” as Bruce Lee did. The rest of the day they might think about how they could be more like water. Trying to flow gracefully. Thinking consciously about not spilling. Imagining every way they could possibly be like water. I don’t have that power. Every move my Tai Chi instructor makes flows like water. Nothing he does looks labored. It’s as if the universe ordained each step he takes. “Move without moving,” he says. Does he mean move without thinking? Or move in such a contained fashion that it takes the least amount of energy? I don’t know.
All I can tell you is that it is fun to try new exotic exercises for free. Fun to bend, stretch and hold your body in impossible positions. It benefits your soul whether anything makes any sense or not at the time or even much later.
Bruce Lee spoke obscurely about being like water. I’m not sure I get it. But he spoke clearly about bridging the gap between understanding and action, taking a leap of faith. “Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Willing is not enough. We must do.”
Somewhere in the tall grass of the Field of Immortality lies wisdom and purpose. I grope for meaning. Try to understand. Give up. Pick up my penny from the bottom of the ocean.