What it is to be in between

When I become aware of something, I often experience a synchronicity around it. Years ago, when I purchased a Toyota Prius I started noticing this make and model of car everywhere. It was this way when I first began to notice the world of birds, trees, plants. The same phenomenon has happened time and again, and the year 2020 proves to be the rule rather than the exception.

In July, I joined a weekly yoga philosophy course, studying the Tantra text known as the “Recognition Sutras.” Every Sunday evening, I tuned in for a two hour session to learn about each of these 20 sutras. In synchronous fashion, I began noticing the teachings showing up in my daily life. Just as in the asana practice of yoga it is possible to bring awareness to parts of the body through the breath and intention, as I began to place my awareness into these teachings the universe seemed to respond in kind.

Most recently, this past Sunday evening I tuned into the Zoom group and learned about Sutras 18 and 19. The concept that resonated most deeply and poignantly for me was the notion of the “pause.” This is a kind of between state, as in how we experience the shift from sleeping to waking. There is a moment before we are fully awake and when we are no longer asleep. In yoga, there is the centering at the start of the practice where we focus on the breath. There is also the pause when we finish one asana and prepare to shift to another. Savasana is a kind of pause between the physical practice of yoga on the mat and the final centering and movement to our yoga off the mat.

The metaphors that arose for me were the time of dusk, in French “la crepuscule,” that magical, ephemeral space of time between the activity of day and the quiet of night. The poem “Come in” by Robert Frost came to mind while I was discussing the concept of the pause with other course participants in a Zoom breakout room session. One student shared her reticence to leave the brief meditation exercise we had just been guided through. She wanted to stay in that peaceful state, just as Robert Frost wishes to stay out in the darkening evening rather than going back inside.

During the class, I kept coming to the idea that the space between is not necessarily one that is peaceful, at least not for me. As a nomad, I live in a constant state of being between. It can inspire and sometimes even force personal growth and allow experiences that I would likely miss out on had I stayed rooted in one place for the past 20 plus years. However, it is not static and is often uncomfortable and agitating to the soul.

In the past, I have written about my strong attachment to my stuff as perhaps originating from the groundlessness. This afternoon, I imagined myself as a kind of snail, carrying my belongings with me from place to place. It is those objects, collected with care over several decades, which for me create a sense of home. I might be sitting in a house that is not yet a home, but I can feel that I am home as I look around at familiar, beloved objects. Just this morning, I looked at a porcelain swan that I found as an “a donner” give away item on a windowsill earlier this past summer. I hadn’t taken it the first time I passed by, but when I saw it still sitting there the next day I had felt that it was calling out to me to give it a home. Perhaps, it is also my familiarity with being frequently between that drives me to provide a home and new life to so many found objects (and animals). I know so well the feeling of being between and wanting so much to belong to somewhere and someone.

In addition to studying yoga, I also am a musician. I write songs with people from their stories, and over the four years I lived in Brussels, Belgium I wrote songs with refugees and asylum seekers in the city. My co-volunteer and friend, who is also a poet, shared a book of poetry with me by students in Britain who were refugees. The book is called “England poems from a school,” and there is one poem in particular which inspired a song we wrote with a man from Syria and which also speaks to this idea of the pause that gives rise to a feeling of being between. In the writing of the song, we began with this poem and engaged in quite an interesting dialogue, replete with gesticulations and physically lining three people up in a row, to explain the idea of being “between,” which the resident told us was not a concept he was familiar with in Arabic.

The Path

I know the people on this path:

I know who were vagabond

but now are returning home; I know

who are losing their home; who

walk in front of me

with only one place to go.

I know who are like me:

I know they want to stay

in between the rain and the sun

on the path that begins

with the moon but ends with the sun.

I know what it’s like

to only half-understand

the words people say, to half-

belong in a room. I know

what it is to be in between.

Sophie Dunsby (17)

It is the words in the final stanza that speak to me most profoundly. As a being who is constantly on the move, even in my home country of United States I am more often than not in a new community where I do not ever feel like I am completely at home because I know that one day, sooner or later, I will be leaving. Living in countries where English is not the predominant language spoken, I struggle to understand what is happening around me; the meaning of signs and cultural idioms; explanations from medical practitioners; announcements over the loudspeaker on public transport; and the list goes on.

Moving from one place to another echoes this idea of the pause between one state of being and the next. The place you have left is no longer home, but the place where you have arrived does not yet feel familiar. I am noticing this with each new day I spend in my new “home” in northern France. I know from experience that soon I will create a rhythm that will bring familiarity to my life once more. Environs will seem less like photos from a travel magazine and more like my neighborhood. But in the in between time, I am like an outsider, a witness to life in this foreign land. I am here, watching, but I am almost not here. No one knows who I am. They might think I am here on holiday and just walking my dog around these narrow, winding roads for a few passing moments. They would not notice if I were suddenly gone.

The more I have reflected on this concept, I have begun to realize that I actively seek out the experience of a “pause” as a way to create balance and grounding in my ever-in-motion existence and as a means to cultivate quiet in my mind, body, and soul to counter the often frenetic pace of daily life. In my life in Brussels I spent hours each day, walking the many trails in the Forêt de Soignes (Sonian Wood). I often prolonged my walk, moving deeper into the forest rather than toward my home. Like Robert Frost and my yoga philosophy compatriot, I was not ready to return from the space between.

Today, the seasons shift from summer to fall, a tangible reminder of the shift between long days and perpetual growth to the quiet contemplation and rest of winter. There is a pause as between the exhalation and contented sigh of summer before the inhalation of crisp air of autumn. There is evidence of activity in the hauntingly beautiful spiderwebs I see as I walk in the cool morning. There is a fog that sits as a blanket just above the earth.

I feel my own blanket of fog settled above my shoulders. I see the world as if looking through a kaleidoscope.

I breathe in rhythm with the changing of the season. I, too, know what it is to be in between.

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