I was thinking of that yesterday when the teacher told us (as usual) that our collective breaths should sound "like a million bees buzzing." It was a packed, steamy Labor Day class, and there was so much energy in the room that despite the heat I was humming with it. Well... for the first part of class, anyway. I spent the rest of it feeling sorry for myself and then trying to talk myself out of it: "Oh, I'm just a bee. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Don't get distracted, Self. You're a drone without a thought. But it's hot in here. I don't have mat space today. The guy behind me is loud. Blah!"
Lately, I've been distracted by how being distracted seems to be my default state of being. Papers are pouring in, and grading requires so much concentration and time management that I'm conscious of how monkey-minded I typically am. I think if you could see into my head, I'd be less like a bee in a tightly-constructed honeycomb and more like a lazy bumblebee flying drunkenly about.
This realization has been reinforced by a recent American Scholar essay by Christian Wiman I'm currently obsessed about, "Hive of Nerves." The title itself makes me think of yoga (what doesn't?). The essay is so rich--if you're at all interested in philosophy, meditation, religion, literature, or just about why stress is part of the human experience, check it out. It's dense, but each paragraph contains is a treasure box. Or a rich, sweet honeycomb, if we're gonna continue with the bee theme ;-)
In one passage, Wiman explores the nature of anxiety. Or, if you prefer, call it stress. Distraction. A deep questioning about the nature of life. Whatever we want to call it, we've all experienced it.
He beautifully describes our perpetual state of restlessness: "It is as if each of us were always hearing some strange, complicated music in the background of our lives, music which, so long as it remains in the background, is not simply distracting but manifestly unpleasant, because it demands the attention we are giving to other things. It is not hard to hear this music, but it is very difficult indeed to learn to hear it as music."
Let's unpack that a little. Don't we all know what it's like to hear some weird music in the back of our heads? Maybe it's literally a song stuck in our heads. Maybe it's our anger at the driver that braked too quickly in front of us. Maybe, if you're like me, it's the slow and steady hum of our inner critic tapping us on the shoulder to point out, yet again, what we've done wrong.
Whatever it is, it distracts us from the moment.
I think that concept is familiar enough to us! We wouldn't be practicing yoga regularly if we didn't have a commitment to bettering our bodies, minds, and hearts, and when we do that, all of the music that typically distracts us is heard clearly.
What struck me about the Wiman quote, however, was the line about learning to recognize that sound as music. Rather than trying to put earplugs in and shut out the sound, the point is rather to really listen to it, to pay attention to what's playing in the background. Otherwise, we'll only be half-hearing life itself--trying to ignore the background noise, rarely being fully engaged in what's happening. And who knows? Maybe when we actually pay attention to what's going on back there, it won't be half as distracting (or scary!) as it is now.
Is this all too theoretical and pretentious? Well, thanks for reading anyway :-) All I know is that practicing yoga on a regular basis can help us get to the root of what's making that pesky sound. And check out the article if that quote resonated at all--it's just loaded.
Buzz on, you lovely hive of yogis, you!