One day recently I was discussing yoga with my son via text message. Despite the obvious dissonance, it was a good conversation, and mostly amounted to my saying I was looking forward to getting home from work so that I could do some. Yoga, that is. He told me about the poses he was doing and asked a simple question: Do you take a little time for yourself when you’re done?
I said yes, without really thinking of the implications of the question. Yoga itself, it seemed to me, was already taking a little time for myself. So of course, I was doing that. What he was asking, I realized as I thought about it later, was if I go straight from that time into some other busy distraction or if I sit in it a while. If that’s what he meant, then the answer was no.
And so I have changed that. Yoga is a relatively new practice for me and one that I am stretching into. (See what I did there?) Since that conversation, I’ve made small changes to the routine. After trying to move my body into the outlandish positions the guy in the beginner yoga video on YouTube is showing me, I read a couple of poems. I make tea. I take my time and take a few more deep breaths, trying to make them sound like the ocean like the guy told me to because it’s apparent that in all of my fifty-some years I’ve never learned to inhale and exhale properly. I mumble namaste to myself.
It’s ritual. The importance of repeating a practice, with intention, made itself known to me a few years ago. I don’t engage in great ceremony, but I do practice small rituals daily, or nearly so. The yoga is too new to carry much history for me. The poems and the tea, on the other hand, go further back. The scent of a particular black tea calls up pleasant memories. The scent of a particular green tea reminds me that what I am doing intends to tie mind and body together in a healthier relationship.
Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants of the ritual and ceremony surrounding this sacred plant, saying “Breathe in its scent and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten.” She recalls the teaching of her people’s elders that “ceremonies are the way we ‘remember to remember.'”
She writes of a friend, Wally “Bear” Meshigaud, who uses sweetgrass as a ceremonial firekeeper. Normally, there are those who provide the sweetgrass to him, but at times he doesn’t have enough. “At powwows and fairs you can see our own people selling sweetgrass for ten bucks a braid. When Wally really needs wiingashk for a ceremony, he may visit one of those booths among the stalls selling frybread or hanks of beads. He introduces himself to the seller, explains his need, just as he would in a meadow, asking permission of the sweetgrass. He cannot pay for it, not because he doesn’t have the money, but because it cannot be bought or sold and still retain its essence for ceremony.”
In the meadow, he asks permission of the sweetgrass to be used in his ceremony. In the way of his traditions, he ascribes (or rather, assents) to the earth its autonomy. Kimmerer writes, “Sweetgrass belongs to Mother Earth. Sweetgrass pickers collect properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of the community. They return a gift to the earth and tend to the well-being of the wiingashk. The braids are given as gifts, to honor, to say thank you, to heal and to strengthen.” In so doing, she notes, “the sweetgrass is kept in motion … passed from hand to hand, growing richer as it is honored in every exchange.”
I go back to my son’s question, and I like the essence of it, but as I read Kimmerer’s stories, I wonder if I couldn’t reframe it somehow, tying it in some way to to something more communal, something more expansive than the relationship of my mind and body and more connected to our relationship with the earth. For the moment, I’m trying to disentangle my limbs from the pigeon pose, reminding myself as I look forward to steeping a cup of cherry lemon green tea that a better relationship between my own mind and body will put me more at ease with the world.
Photo by Lucas Schlagenhauf, Creative Commons License via Flickr. Post by LW Willingham.
We’re reading Braiding Sweetgrass as a community and invite you to join us as we explore the riches of this book, tugging against the strands we’re braiding between us, together. If you don’t yet have the book, enjoy this reprint of the first chapter.