We meet every Saturday morning at 9AM on the beach in my hometown. Autonomously, loosely under the auspices of the town rec department, as many as 30 or more of us gather each week to practice yoga in the spirit of giving. One by one, we arrive with bags of non-perishable items for donation to the local food pantry. Some prefer to donate cash. Either way, it all goes to the same place.
It's been argued that there is no such thing as true altruism--that no one does anything for someone else selflessly, because even the good feeling drawn from giving to others can be seen as a selfish motivator. I can honestly say, all of us who meet on Saturday mornings are totally and absolutely selfish in our generosity. We bring a few canned items in exchange for a gorgeous setting in which to do yoga. The trade-off seems rather lopsided, if you ask me. But I'm not arguing with it.
The beach was quiet this morning. The water was still and clear, a departure from last week's tempestuous waves as tropical storm Earl spun away from the East coast. Last week's waves were an unusual sight here on Long Island Sound. But watching the seagulls sit atop the water and calmly ride those waves inspired me as I balanced in tree pose, the sand quickly shifting beneath my weight, testing my reaction and attitude.
More than the water was calm and still this morning. The very pulse of the beach itself has slowed now that we are in the second week of September. Sure, one or two diehard sun worshippers from the neighborhood are still fixtures on their beach chairs. But overall, it's quieter now. The tide was going out, the seagulls were clustered on the rocks and jetties. The sun was a little bit lower in the sky at 9AM than it was a month ago. And most of us arrived wrapped in sweaters or hoodies.
It's the ninth anniversary of 9/11 attacks, so it was no surprise to me when our lovely instructor began the class by having us stand in tadasana (mountain pose) and be grateful for simply being alive. We do this each class, but today it was especially poignant. "You woke up today!" she reminded us. "You didn't have to. But for whatever reason, Creator has given you another day. Be grateful. Count your blessings." She talked a bit about war and about how lucky we all are to fall asleep each night and wake up each morning without a hail of mortar fire in our neighborhoods. Who can disagree?
A few minutes after 9AM, around the time the second tower had been hit nine years ago, we began our practice in earnest to some music. Maureen, our instructor, does not always play music during our practice, since the beach provides its own soundtrack of sorts. But today we started off with Gregorian chants and tolling chimes. Not bells, really. But chimes, like a pretty call to wake up and pay attention to the life we'd been graced with for another day.
While throughout the country people watched the roll call of the fallen at the WTC memorial broadcast, our little group of yogis and yoginis floated together into Warrior III, like a flock in formation. The sun was warm. The breeze was just enough. It brushed against the leaves of the trees, which sounded like the swishing of cheerleader pom-poms. A cormorant popped up from the water and looked around for a moment, before disappearing again for several yards under the surface.
The anniversary of 9/11 is sad and emotional for most Americans. Predictably, my eyes completely welled up as the Gregorian chants ended and Celtic pipes and drums began to play from Maureen's iPod. I thought of the 343 firefighters running up the stairs of the towers while everyone else was trying to get down them. I thought of the sheer tragedy of that day and all the lives lost. But instead of feeling sad, I felt hopeful. I cried not because it's all so depressing--which it is. But instead, my eyes were brimming with tears because as the Celtic drums beat out a rhythm etched deep into this McTalian's DNA, we arched back into Reverse Warrior--a pose of strength, balance and surrender--and I saw the dragonflies.
There had to have been 20 or 30 of them just hovering above us as we revolved into the reverse angle of the pose. Reaching up with with our left hands in a basic chin mudra, they seemed to be as in awe of us as I was in awe of them. I had seen a few here and few there throughout the morning's practice, along with a few butterflies and, of course, seagulls. But to look up and see a whole fleet of them against the sun was just stunning.
Their busy wings glittered gold, and the dragonflies seemed to hold their own with the breeze. Occasionally darting up or down, they appeared to use the wind rather than fight it. For the rest of our class, I couldn't take my eyes off them. I followed their cheerful, bouncy, graceful flight until it was time to go our separate ways.