Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March Madness

"March is the month of expectation, the things we do not know. The persons of Prognostication are coming now." - Emily Dickinson

I have to admit that if I were ranking months of the year, in order of my enjoyment and delight, March would come in last. March, especially in Northern New England, isn't a month "that comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb." Rather, it brings with it freak snow storms, followed by torrential rains, epic amounts of mud and a enormous amount of the unexpected. March is an impossible month to predict. It can be both frustrating and exciting. March seems to bring out the very worst in people, but also glimmers of the very best. Grumpy tempers can flare up, partly due to prolonged cabin fever. Yet, I've also seen people desire to transcend the nastiness and swallow down terse remarks to surprise me with unyielding kindness and compassion. With all these complications, why is March a time of immense growth?

I'm just as guilty, of allowing the sense of hope to drain from my body, as the next person. Even as a yoga instructor and a theology student, this time of year presents the biggest challenge to my body, mind and spirit. I find myself defensive, clumsy, short-tempered and anxious. I work very hard on not sniping at those closest to me, and by not allowing myself to sink into a perpetual state of peevishness. It's not an easy task this time of year. The expression "madder than a March hare" dates back to medieval times when wild rabbits would emerge from their dens to mate, and would be unusually aggressive towards other animals and towards one another. I believe this phrase, co-opted by Lewis Carroll in "Alice in Wonderland", is applicable to humans, as well. As we emerge from our winter slumber, mentally and physically deprived of sunlight, we are beset with petulance and annoyance.

Without all of these obstacles in our paths, however, we would never learn to overcome them, whether in March, under an eternal cloud of bad moods and limited sunshine, or throughout the year. March may be a time of bickering and ill humor, but it also provides us with an invaluable opportunity for overcoming the very worst of our natures. Without the darkness, there is no light to be seen clearly. Without challenges, there is no occasion for personal growth. In the absence of sufficiency, we are urged to go out and become seekers. In other words, if the month wasn't a lousy one, we'd have no reason to get off our tuffets of complacency and work harder to become stronger in body and mind. March gives us that amazing chance: to become dissatisfied with the way things are and to yearn something more for our lives.

During my yoga classes this time of year, I add in extra rounds of Sun Salutations. This series of choreographed movements is designed to unite body and mind, and wake up the senses. Sun salutations are defined as "a series of twelve yoga postures performed in a single graceful flow with each movement coordinated with the breath." Called "surya namaskar" in Sanskrit, Sun Salutations have an exceptional ability to increase flexibility and strength, to focus thoughts onto the present moment and to raise endorphin levels. Combining all of these benefits, this series of asanas are a powerful method of dealing with the erratic feelings of March. Sun Salutations are practiced in many Yoga styles, but all are designed to leave the yogini with a renewed sense of purpose, with inspiration and with a less sluggish body. Sun Salutations aren't a miracle drug that will make the user feel the delights of June weather, while still under March's cloud bank, but they will give the yogini a greater sense of control over her emotional responses.

We are now left with a choice of how to view March. We can see it as Garrison Keilor does, "March is the month that God designed to show those who don't drink what a hangover is like", and feel wretched for 31 days. Or, we can find ourselves admiring Marianne Williamson's philosophy of "March can be a miracle in a shift of perception". I imagine most of us will land somewhere in the middle...muddling through and looking for those exceptional moments of grace, while still working to overcome the feelings of foggy dread. Let's make a goal to take note of the dread, analyze it for what it is (and for what it isn't), and discover our own paths to reemerging in the April light.