When we were kids, we used to play a game called Hot Lava. We would toss pillows and couch cushions all over the room and proceed to jump from one to the next. The object of the game was to stay on a pillow, or a cushion, or a piece of furniture. We were not supposed to step on the floor at all because the floor was made of hot lava! If we stepped into the lava, we would die. End of game.
Sometimes the floor was made of quick sand. One step off of a pillow and we would get sucked into it immediately. Banished to the other room. Sometimes it was pure acid and our bodies would disintegrate if even one toe dipped in. We would tempt fate by balancing on one foot on a pillow while putting our other toes as close to the floor as possible. Look at me! My toes are right above the hot lava!
Often the floor was water, infested with man-eating sharks, or alligators, or piranhas. One of us would be a shark in the water, ready to grab onto anyone who was momentarily unattached, grab them while they were in mid-air leaping from sofa arm to pillow. When they were caught they too became a man-eating-acid-proof-lava-proof shark, ready to attack, until no man was left standing.
Recently at a 6am yoga class on a very chilly morning, a friend of mine was tiptoeing from mat to mat to avoid the cold hardwood floor. It reminded me immediately of this game. I had an image of the studio floor turning into hot lava, ready to pull him in if he stepped onto the wood. Each black mat was a lifeboat, or a little island, a safe place to land.
And so it is with my yoga mat. It is an island in a sea of hot lava. I make a conscious choice each time I step onto it, to step onto my island. Standing there, breathing slowly and deeply, moving in and out of poses, I am safe from all of the hot lava in the room. Nothing can touch me on my mat. To-do lists, stress, obligations, the past, the future, ego, attachment, none of these things can touch me, here on this island. All of that bullshit lives in the lava.
Sometimes the tide might come in and spill onto the mat just a little. Thoughts creep into my head. And sometimes there is a storm surge, or even a tsunami. My mind wanders, and I want to give up. But I can always breathe a little deeper, and move a little easier, and find refuge somewhere near the center, on higher ground. The acid-water always recedes.
Once in a while a shark or a piranha comes ashore disguised as fear, self doubt, judgment. But they can’t survive there long. They need the sea of hot lava to survive. They feed on the bullshit. They can’t breathe here on my island if I don’t let them. So they return to the water, leaving me all alone, with my monkey sleeping quietly in a coconut tree.
People talk about what yoga is, and what it’s supposed to be. For some it’s just exercise. For others it’s a religion. It is an ancient tradition of movement and meditation. It might be a way to become one with the universe. It could be a path to the Divine.
For me, it is a break from the hot lava of life. A safe place to go. A place to get away from the negative chatter that comes from the external world and from deep inside my head. It is my lifeboat, my lava-proof-acid-proof-shark-proof life boat.
It doesn’t matter what happens while I’m in this lifeboat. Just that I made it here. And there is no room in the boat for any of the bullshit. I can’t bring expectations with me. There is no space in here for judgment. No preconceived ideas of what my body can do today. No ego and no attachment. Nothing.
All I have to do is be here. Alive. Out of the lava. Just be here. Just breathe. Just move. And be safe, if only temporarily. I am content just to be in the boat right now. I’m not going down with that ill-fated cruise liner right now. I’m not sinking in acidic shark infested hot lava, right now.
I’m here. In the lifeboat. Up above it, right now. For an hour or so.
Who knows? Maybe someday, I will be rescued. Taken far away from the world of hot lava. But this is good enough, right now.