When I am on the mat I struggle, I love, and I try. I try hard; I let go as well. Overall, I give it my sweat through and through. There are moments when I find myself lost in a posture, either because she is brand new, or I haven’t “hung out” with that particular posture in a while and it feels strange, yet familiar. The other day, I had one of those “lost moments” on the mat. And I remembered Tokyo.
I was lost on East Broadway close to the Bowery, somewhere in Chinatown. Now where was that pet store? This was before smart phones and Google–or Google/Apple maps, for that matter. I tried to remember my friend’s directions.
After about 40 minutes of walking up and down unfamiliar streets, I found the pet store. There it was, in English letters next to Chinese. I knew exactly what I wanted–the color, the shape, even the shape of the glass bowl, similar to the next posture. You think you know exactly what she looks like. What she has to be like.
Although Finding Nemo had just come out and clownfish were very popular, I still wanted a goldfish. It’s sort of like when the teacher tells you that the pose will get easier with time: use a block first, or a strap, but you just want to go straight to the posture. That’s how I walked into that pet store. It smelled like fish in the store–not that it smells like anything else in Chinatown. I walked straight up to the third tank I saw and pointed to the goldfish I wanted. His name was Tokyo. Although I was never sure of his actual gender, I think he was male. For the lack of science, let’s refer to Tokyo as s/he. The guy in the store kept trying to sell me on a clownfish.
I was in and out of that store. It was fast business. Sometimes it kind of feels like that when you do your jump throughs in and out, back and forth. There, and not there. Somewhere else.
I took the goldfish home in a plastic bag filled with water, glass bowl in my other hand, sitting on a semi-crowded subway. No one wanted to mess with me. Most likely though, people simply didn’t care.
There were moments when Tokyo and I looked at each other for seconds at a time. Small moments. Tiny bits of ‘Oh, hello.’ And then it was over. S/he forgot about me within seconds. We had a lot of silence together. He used to go about his swim every day, up and down, left and right, bottom to top.
Those little lost moments on the mat–I like them. Moving into all possible directions. The movements are full of lightness, carrying a sense of security with them, like that moment when you first find balance in a posture, a tiny second. So fast that you cannot comprehend it until it’s over. You think you know exactly where you’re going and then it feels completely new and different. Because every practice is.
Tokyo died. S/he did. All of a sudden. After hanging out next to my kitchen window, above the sink, looking out into the garden. The best view of the studio. One morning s/he was hanging out, belly up. And I knew it was over. Kind of like when you move on to your next posture. Once you’ve finally achieved that “perfect for you” posture and you want the next one. Or you are trying the posture again and it has disappeared on you. It just won’t work again. That moment.
I gave Tokyo a proper burial. I walked over to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and said my goodbyes before letting what remained of Tokyo go into the East River. I figured it’s a good place to say goodbye, as I’m sure many have done so in the East River. It’s NYC’s underwater graveyard and is sure cheaper than a spot at Greenwood. Not that I couldn’t have just flushed Tokyo down the toilet. S/he would have gotten to the water eventually. Same as with your postures–technically you could just move on to another one, yet another one. You will get to the end eventually. Yet, as simple as the posture might feel, give it an extra breath and remember when it was very far away.
I did not get another goldfish after Tokyo. I have, however, moved on to other postures since then.
Every once in a while I think about Tokyo. I do that with my postures too. I think about them. When I go back to the one, the one that I’ve worked so hard to get to. Sometimes years. And now that asana comes so easily to my body. That one. I savor it and give it an extra breath. Because maybe, maybe the next time I encounter that asana on my mat, it won’t be that familiar anymore; it won’t be that comfortable. It will be like a new posture. Like a goldfish’s mind, a blank slate. A beginner.
This writing has been inspired by my late pet fish Tokyo, my recent trip back home to Brooklyn and by my relationship with Ashtanga Yoga. Sometimes not knowing is tortuous. Instead of projecting and agonizing about what is coming next, we might be better off staying curious at the magic we can create in the moment with a beginner’s mind. Always.
Watch out for In Memorandum of a Posture Part 2 and Death coming soon.
What lies ahead we can only imagine… Looking out at the Pacific in Del Mar, San Diego – CA.