The boy sitting right next to me was smaller than all the rest of the kids, by a lot. He looked a few years younger too. He may just have been really little for his age. He had a big, bright face, a crooked, mischievous grin, and a head full of long, beautiful braids. It had been a challenge for him to focus and follow along as we moved slowly and mindfully through the yoga poses. He was full of so much energy.
Now, we were sitting in a circle on the floor. We were going to play a game with the tingsha bells. I explained the exercise to them.
‘I’m going to ring the bells.’ I said ‘and you are going to count on your fingers. Lifting another finger each time you hear the bells ring. But you can’t look at the bells. So close your eyes. Or, if you’re not comfortable closing your eyes, then just look down instead, so you can’t see me ringing the bells.’
The little boy next to me whispered ‘When I close my eyes I see darkness.’
‘Yes, we all see darkness when we close our eyes. It’s dark.’ I replied.
‘No, I don’t mean I see the dark… I mean, I feel a darkness. Inside of me.’ He placed his hands on his stomach and slid them up to his chest, as if showing me exactly where he felt it. ‘Like something bad is gonna happen. Like somebody’s gonna come snatch me up or something. That kind of darkness.’
‘Ahh. I understand.’ I replied ‘Sometimes people feel that way. That’s why you don’t have to close your eyes if you don’t want to. You can just look down at your legs.’
He nodded. And looked at me intently, then glanced down at the floor. ‘I’m gonna try to close my eyes.’ He whispered, as he nodded his head. ‘I’ll try.’
‘Ok. But you don’t have to.’
‘I’m gonna try.’
And then this brave little man closed his eyes. He kept his eyes closed for two full minutes while I rang the bells. He didn’t open them once, not even to take a peek.
I watched in amazement as he faced the darkness. What a privilege and an honor to witness this amazing feat of strength! I was in awe of him.
On the outside he looked calm, serene. But on the inside, behind his closed eyes, he was moving. He was walking through his fear. One step at a time. One breath at a time. One ringing of the bells at a time.
I could feel his determination. I have been this child. Afraid to close my eyes. Afraid of the darkness I would find there. At the same time afraid to open my eyes again. Afraid of what I might see there in front of me. Afraid of what was on the other side of the fear. I have been that child, many times throughout my life. Afraid of trying new things. Afraid of losing old things. Afraid of moving forward on my own. Afraid of growing away from a past I hold on to. Afraid of loss. Afraid of change. Afraid of the darkness inside of me.
For a brief moment today I was that child again. For a moment I was that too-small boy, doing battle with a dark demon that was bigger than anything I could have ever imagined; my own darkness.
I watched as this brave child chose to move through his fear rather than avoid it. He chose to work through it, rather than work around it. He closed his eyes, made two fists, and faced it. Head on. And he made it through.
When the game was over and he opened his eyes I wanted to give him a great big hug. I wanted to tell him I was so proud of him. I wanted him to know that he was so very very very brave. But I didn’t want to draw any attention to him. So I just looked down at him and whispered ‘Good job’ as he looked up at me and gave me a tentative, but proud smile.
We then moved on to the next activity as if nothing had happened. As if it were just a regular old yoga class. As if we hadn’t just slain a little sliver of the darkness. As if we hadn’t just stepped off of a battlefield, victors, ready to advance on to the next skirmish.
He is my new hero. I will invoke his spirit the next time I go in to battle.