(The Sorcerers’ Crossing by Taisha Abelar)
One afternoon just before dark, Clara and I were taking the long scenic route to the house from the cave when she suggested that we sit and rest in the shade of some trees.
We were watching the shadows that the trees cast on the ground, when suddenly a gust of wind made the leaves quiver.
The leaves began to shimmer in a flurry of light and dark, causing ripples in the patterns on the ground.
When the wind passed, the leaves once again became still and so did the shadows.
“The mind is like these shadows,” Clara said softly. “When our breathing is even, our minds are still. If our breathing is erratic, the mind quivers like stirred leaves.”
I tried to notice if my breathing was even or disturbed, but I honestly couldn’t tell.
“If your breath is agitated, your mind becomes restless,” Clara continued: “To quiet the mind, it’s best to begin by quieting your breathing.”
She told me to keep my back erect and to concentrate on my breathing until it was soft and rhythmic, like that of an infant.
I pointed out that if a person is physically active as we had just been, hiking over hills, one’s breathing couldn’t possibly be as soft as an infant’s who just lies around and does nothing.
“Besides,” I said, “I don’t know how infants breathe. I haven’t been around many of them, and when I was, I didn’t pay attention to their breathing.”
Clara moved closer and put one hand on my back and the other on my chest.
To my dismay, she pressed until I was so constricted that I felt I was going to suffocate. I tried to move away but she held me down with an iron grip.
To compensate, my stomach began moving in and out rhythmically as air again entered my body.
“This is how infants breathe,” she said. “Remember the sensation of your stomach popping out so you can reproduce it regardless of whether you are walking, exercising or lying around doing nothing.
“You probably won’t believe this, but we are so civilized that we have to relearn how to breathe properly.”
She removed her hands from my chest and back. “Now let the breath rise to fill your chest cavity,” she instructed. “But don’t let it flood your head.”
“There is no way for the air to get into my head,” I laughed.
“Don’t take me so literally,” she scolded. “When I say air, I’m really talking about energy derived from the breath, which enters the abdomen, the chest and then the head.”
I had to laugh at her seriousness. I braced myself for another barrage of Chinese metaphors.
She smiled and winked. “My seriousness is a corollary of my size,” she said with a chuckle. “We big people are always more serious than petite jovial ones. Isn’t that right, Taisha?”
I didn’t know why she was including me when she talked of big people. I was at least two inches shorter than her and a good thirty-five pounds lighter.
I thoroughly resented being called big, and even more so her intimation that I was overly serious, but I didn’t voice this because I knew she would make an issue out of it, and tell me to do a deep recapitulation on the subject of my size.
Clara looked at me as if to gauge my reaction to her statement. I smiled and pretended it hadn’t fazed me in the least.
Upon seeing my attentiveness, she became serious again and continued to explain that our emotional well-being is directly linked to the rhythmic flow of our breathing.
“The breathing of a person who is upset,” she said, leaning closer, “is rapid and shallow and is localized in the chest or head.
“The breathing of a relaxed person sinks to the abdomen.”
I tried to lower my breathing to my stomach so that Clara wouldn’t suspect that I had been upset.
She smiled knowingly and added, “It’s harder for big people to breath from the abdomen because their center of gravity is just a bit higher. It’s therefore even more important that we remain calm and unperturbed.”
She went on to explain that the body is divided into three main chambers of energy: the abdomen, chest and head. She touched my stomach just below my navel, then my solar plexus and then the center of my forehead.
She explained that these three points are the key centers of the three chambers. The more relaxed the mind and body are, the more air a person can take into each of the three body divisions.
“Infants take in a vast amount of air for their size,” Clara said. “However, as we grow older we become constricted, especially around the lungs, and we take in less air.”
Clara took a deep breath before continuing. “Since emotions are directly linked to the breath,” she said, “a good way to calm ourselves is by regulating our breathing.
“For example, we can train ourselves to absorb more energy by deliberately elongating each breath we take.”
She stood up and asked me to observe her shadow carefully. I noticed that it was perfectly still.
Then she told me to stand and look at my own shadow.
I couldn’t help detecting a slight quiver, like the shadow of the trees when the leaves were touched by a breeze.
“Why is my shadow shaking?” I asked. “I thought I was standing perfectly still.”
“Your shadow quivers because the winds of emotion are blowing through you,” Clara replied. “You’re more quiet than when you first began to recapitulate, but. there is still a great deal of agitation left inside you.”
She told me to stand on my left leg with my right leg raised and bent at the knee. I wobbled as I tried to keep my balance.
I marveled that she stood on one leg as easily as she had stood on two, and her shadow was absolutely motionless.
“You seem to have a hard time keeping your balance,” Clara noted, setting down her leg and raising the other one:
“That means that your thoughts and feelings are not at ease, and neither is your breathing.” I raised my other leg to try the exercise again.
This time my balance was better, but when I saw how still Clara’s shadow was, I experienced a sudden pang of envy and I had to lower my leg to keep from falling.
“Whenever we have a thought,” Clara explained, setting down her leg again, “our energy moves in the direction of that thought.
“Thoughts are like scouts; they cause the body to move along a certain path.
“Now, look at my shadow again,” she ordered. “But try not to regard it as merely my shadow. Try to see into the essence of Clara as shown in her shadow-picture.”
Immediately I tensed. I was on trial and my performance was going to be evaluated. My childhood competitive feelings of having to outdo my brothers surfaced.
“Don’t tense up,” Clara said sternly. “This is not a contest. This is merely a delight. Do you understand? A delight!”
I had been thoroughly conditioned to react to words. The word ‘delight’ threw me into total confusion, and finally into panic.
She’s not using the word correctly, was all I could think. She must mean something else. But Clara repeated the word over and over, as if she wanted it to sink in.
I kept my eyes on her shadow.
I had the impression that it was beautiful, serene, full of power.
It wasn’t merely a dark area, it seemed to have depth, intelligence and vitality.
Then suddenly I thought I saw Clara’s shadow move independent of any movement of Clara’s body. The movement was so incredibly fast that it almost went unnoticed.
I waited, holding my breath, peering at it, pouring on it all my attention. Then it happened again, and this time I was certainly prepared for it.
It quivered and then stretched, as if its shoulders and chest had suddenly been inflated. The shadow seemed to have come alive.
I let out a shriek and jumped up. I shouted to Clara that her shadow was alive.
I was ready to run away, terrified that the shadow would run after me, but Clara restrained me by holding my shoulder.
When I had calmed down enough to talk again, I told her what I had seen, all the while keeping my eyes averted from the ground for fear of catching another glimpse of Clara’s sinister shadow.
“To see the movement of shadows means that you have obviously freed a huge portion of energy with your recapitulation,” Clara remarked.
“Are you sure I didn’t just imagine this, Clara?” I said, hoping she would say I had. “It was your intent that made it move,” she said authoritatively.
“But don’t you think that recapitulating also disturbs the mind?” I asked. “I must be very disturbed in order to see shadows moving by themselves.”
“No. The purpose of the recapitulation is to break basic assumptions we have accepted throughout our lives,” Clara explained patiently:
“Unless they are broken, we can’t prevent the power of remembering from clouding our awareness.”
“What exactly do you mean by the power of remembering, Clara?”
“The world is a huge screen of memories. If certain assumptions are broken,” she said, “the power of remembering is not only held in check, but even canceled out.”
I didn’t understand what she was saying and I resented her being so obscure.
“It probably was the wind that stirred the dirt on which your shadow was projected,” I said, offering a reasonable explanation.
Clara shook her head. “Try looking at it again and find out for sure,” she suggested.
I felt goose bumps on my arms. Nothing was going to make me stare at her shadow again.
“You insist that shadows of people don’t move by themselves,” Clara said, “because that’s what your ability to remember tells you.
“Do you remember ever seeing them move?” I replied, “No. I certainly do not.”
“There you are. What happened to you just now is that your normal ability to remember was held in check for an instant and you saw my shadow move.”
Clara shook a finger at me and chuckled. “And it wasn’t the wind stirring the dirt, either,” she said. Then she hid her head with her arm, as if she were a timid child.
It struck me as odd that even though she was a grown woman, she never looked ridiculous performing childish gestures.
“I have news for you,” Clara continued. “You’ve seen shadows move before as a child, but then you were not yet rational so it was all right to see them move.
“As you grew up, your energy was harnessed by social constraints, and so you forgot you had seen them moving, and only remember what you think is permissible to remember.”
I was trying to appreciate the scope of what Clara was saying when I suddenly remembered that as a child I used to see shadows wiggle and twist on the sidewalks; especially on hot, clear days.
I always thought they were trying to pull themselves free from people they belonged to. It terrified me to see the shadows curl sideways to peek behind them.
It always seemed odd that adults would be so totally oblivious of their shadows’ antics. I mentioned this to her.
Clara concluded that my being terrified was a product of the conflict between what I really saw, and what I had already been told was possible and permissible to see.
“I don’t think I follow you, Clara,” I said.
“Try to imagine yourself as a giant memory warehouse,” she suggested:
“In that warehouse, someone other than yourself has stored feelings, ideas, mental dialogues and behavior patterns.
“Since it is your warehouse, you can go in there and rummage around any time you want and use whatever you find there.”
“The problem is that you have absolutely no say over the inventory, for it was already established before you came into possession of the warehouse.
“Thus you are drastically limited in your selection of items.”
She added that our lives seem to be an uninterrupted time line because in our warehouses the inventory never changes.
She stressed that unless this storehouse is cleared out, there is no way for us to be what we really are. Overwhelmed by my memories and by what Clara was explaining, I sat down on a large rock.
From the corner of my eye, I saw my shadow and experienced a jolt of panic as I asked myself, What if my shadow wouldn’t quite sit the way I do?
“I can’t take this, Clara,” I said, jumping up. “Let’s go back to the house.”
Clara ordered me to stay put. “Calm the mind,” she said, staring at me, “and the body too will become tranquil; otherwise you’re going to burst.”
Clara held her left hand in front of her body with the wrist resting just above her navel and her palm faced sideways. The fingers were pressed together, pointed downward to the ground.
She told me to adopt this hand position and gaze at the tip of my middle finger.
I looked over the bridge of my nose, which forced me to look downward while slightly crossing my eyes.
She explained that to gaze fixedly in that manner places our awareness outside of us onto the ground, thus diminishing our inner agitation.
Then she said I was to inhale deeply while pointing at the ground; intending to get from it a sparkle of energy, like a drop of glue, on my middle finger.
Next, I was to rotate my hand up at the wrist until the base of my thumb touched my breastbone.
I was to gaze at the tip of my middle finger for a count of seven and then shift my awareness immediately to my forehead, to a spot in between the eyes and just above the bridge of the nose.
This shift, she said, must be accompanied by the intent of transferring the sparkle of energy from the middle finger to that spot between the eyes.
If the transfer is accomplished, a light appears on the dark screen behind the closed eyes.
She said that we can send this luminous spot of energy to any part of our body to counteract pain, disease, apprehension or fear.
She then moved her hand and gently pressed my solar plexus. “If you need a quick surge of energy, as you do now, do the power breath I am about to show you and I guarantee that you will feel recharged.”
I watched Clara do a series of short inhalations and exhalations through her nose in rapid succession, vibrating her diaphragm. I imitated her and after twenty or so breaths, contracting and relaxing my diaphragm, I felt warmth spreading throughout my midsection.
“We’re going to sit here doing the power breath and gazing at the light behind the eyes,” she said, “until you’re no longer frightened.”
“I wasn’t really that scared,” I lied.
“You didn’t see yourself,” Clara retorted. “From where I’m sitting, I saw someone who was just about to faint.”
She was absolutely right. Never had I experienced such total fright as when I saw Clara’s shadow stretching itself out.
Lost memories had surfaced from such forgotten depths that, for a second or two, I had felt I was actually a child again.
I held my palm sideways and gazed at my fingertip the way Clara had recommended. I kept my eyes fixed, and then shifted my attention to the center of my forehead.
I didn’t see any light, but I gradually became calm.
It was almost dark. I could see Clara’s silhouette outlined beside me.
Clara’s voice was soothing as she said, “Let’s remain here for a while longer to allow that sparkle of energy to settle in your body.”
“Did you learn this technique in China, Clara?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I told you that I had a teacher here in Mexico,” she said.
Clara then added reverently, “My teacher was an extraordinary man who dedicated his life to learning, and then to teaching us the art of freedom.”
“But isn’t this method of breathing Oriental in origin?” She seemed to deliberate before answering me.
I thought her hesitation was due to her desire to remain secretive, so I probed, “Where did your teacher learn it? Was he also in China?”
“He learned everything he knew from his teacher,” Clara said evasively.
When I asked her to tell me more about her teacher and what he had taught her, Clara apologized for not being at liberty to discuss the subject further at this time.
“In order to understand it,” she explained, “you need to acquire a special kind of energy, which at the moment you don’t have.”
She patted my hand. “Don’t rush things,” she said sympathetically: “We intend to teach you all we know, so why the hurry?”
“I’m always so intrigued when you say ‘we,’ Clara, because I get the impression that there are other people in the house, and I begin to see and hear things that my reason tells me can’t possibly be true.”
Clara laughed until I thought she was going to fall off the boulder on which she sat.
Her sudden and exaggerated outburst annoyed me even more than her refusal to tell me about her teacher.
“You don’t know how funny your dilemma is to me,” she said by way of an explanation:
“It proves to me, just like when you saw the shadows moving, that you’re freeing your energy.”
“You are beginning to empty your warehouse. The more items of your inventory you discard, the more you make room for other things.”