A few weeks ago, I was out and about on errands, one of which required me to sit and wait near a long checkout line, in full and close eye contact with everyone who moved forward in the line, so I tried to observe without staring and to stay open to engagement without initiation or intrusion. The bench on which I was seated seemed designed for discomfort at every level—its shallow seat, pitch of its backrest, even its placement near the checkout and barely outside the clearance of a door on its other end—and I made the conscious decision to arrange my body into a position that would create as much ease as possible in the situation. I practiced some subtle resonant breathing and further surrendered with patience to the unknown length of the wait ahead. Although I had no intention to be signaling anything about myself, one person after another commented with surprise how relaxed I looked (apparently, a contrast to their own standing experience, to others seated on adjacent benches, to this awkward corner of the store itself).
One woman remained entirely in her own space, looking and talking only to the clerk at the moment of purchase, every step and movement along the line registering in a grimace on her face. Her body was twisted with what seemed (to my entirely inexpert self) a form of arthritis; her bared hands, especially, evidenced a dramatic degree of the swellings and gnarls I understand as characteristic of the condition. Although her style was casual overall—her hair short and practical, no jewelry, no makeup, a logo sweatshirt, loose pants, worn shoes—she had an exquisite and glamorous manicure, each of her ten fingernails perfectly painted a deep, shiny purple. I imagined the manicurist sitting at the table across from her, holding her hands in turn, arranging the angle of her fingers, applying the polish, massaging the lotion into her skin at the end. I wondered at the woman’s resistance to what the arthritis might be seen as dictating, at her persistence in creating beauty, the paint on the canvas, the power of color.
Later, stretched out on the floor at home on my handwoven mat, I experimented with constructing a yin yoga sequence that could perhaps serve in some way to deepen my empathy or understanding; to create a connection between me and others who are also moving themselves through space and time against various constraints, specifically ones of joint and bone, of hands and feet; to allow a conduit within my own body, mind, and spirit for the concern and grief and awe I had felt at witnessing a few moments of her pain and her strength to travel through me, with consciousness and compassion.