The path was obscured with pine trees that bowed under heavy snow and ice. We could push forward and risk damaging them, or we could turn back. For the past two days a blizzard had clenched Three Dog Farm in an icy fist. My dog, Ranger, and I had headed out to take stock of the damage. His long Doberman legs had carried him through until now. As we stood on the blocked path Ranger shook his head. His metal collar tinkled like a bell.
“Well, little buddy,” I said, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Let’s go.” He leapt forward with total loyalty. We began weaving our way among the pine grove, stopping every few steps to assess how we could best navigate.
When we had moved into Three Dog Farm the pines had just been wee saplings. That spring Ranger and I had emerged from the dark forest at the bottom of a hill. The clearing, which we nicknamed The Bowl, was glittering with sunlight and the pine saplings seemed illuminated from within. I half expected to see pixies darting among them. Over the past five years they had grown quickly and towered several feet overhead. Now, hammered by the blizzard, they were frozen to the ground in forced supplication.
Ranger occasionally reached an impasse. In the instinctive way of canis familiars, this domesticated dog still carried a wolflike instinct. He knew which drifts he could push his massive one hundred pounds through and which hid a tangle of tree limbs. I followed his lead and soon we emerged at the far end of the Bowl. A parting shot of the blizzard blew down the hillside and the enormous trees creaked like the hull of a wooden ship. We stood and I gave Ranger a scratch behind the ears. A few of the pines had remained upright. Their branches were laden with clods of snow. I took a few steps and let them surround me in a snowy embrace. In their shelter there was only a quiet hush.
After that blizzard I felt sure that winter had its final gasp. But instead it opened the lid to Pandora’s box. The days were a succession of wind, snow, ice storms, and drenching rains. Each time there was the mildest of melting the pines would begin to rise up, only to be pummeled down again. After a few weeks they were frozen even more firmly under several feet of accumulation. Ranger’s romps were reduced to skittering on ice and whimpering when his paws broke through and sank. We hadn’t been able to check on the Bowl in weeks but I was still hopeful the pines would survive.
One morning as I unlocked the barn kennel my lower back clenched in spasm. I took a few deep yogic breaths. It eased. Confident it had passed I leaned forward again. But a violent spasm brought me to my knees in an ice covered drift. I began to slide down the hill. Good golly, I thought, if I don’t stop I’m going slide into the compost heap. If I hadn’t been in so much pain, I’m pretty sure I would have been laughing at myself.
Somehow I got my hands into my frozen footprints. Over the course of ten minutes I crawled into the kennel and eventually down to the house. I spent the next several weeks in total surrender to the whims of my lumbar vertebrae in a rotation of heating pads, doctor’s office, massage, and healing salves. Weeks passed and almost imperceptibly I began to heal.
One morning I opened the back slider and a rush of cool air touched my face. It smelled of rich earth and ever so faintly I heard a succession of drippy plops from the barn roof. I threw my arms open and gulped in the breath of spring.
Over the next few weeks winter released. Soon it was time to return to The Bowl with Ranger and see if the trees survived. The pines had risen from their icy grave. They were bowed northwards, giving the whole grove the look of an old gentleman leaning on a cane. A breeze wandered down the hill and set their needles dancing. Ranger and I walked the path. The pines brushed against us and sprinkled us with drops of dew as if in benediction.
Perhaps they were offering a lesson in surrender. Years ago I would haughtily have thought that you’d never find me bowing down to anyone, thank you very much. I used to think that surrender was quitting or giving up my free will. But now I think that surrender asks me to let go. It asks that I respond to the way things are, rather than how I wish they would be. The demands of life—a creaky back, a slippery path, a blizzard—can bring a false surrender where I give into my frustrations and fears.But in life the only constant is change. And I can choose to surrender and dance with this change while staying connected to my inner self; my soul. With this type of surrender my actions can be guided from inner wisdom. Surrendering humbly to change allows me to grow alongside the pines.
Surrender is not always graceful or even easy; we eventually face the final letting go as we leave our bodies at death. And some of us have abuse, violence, and war forced upon us with a demand of surrender that insists on oppression. But the orientation of a spiritual life cannot be taken from us by any person or circumstance. Our relationship to our sacredness is private and pure. Surrendering to our inner divinity is a personal choice, an inner connection that makes us whole. And this connection to our soul cannot be touched by wind, ice, nor violent oppression.
The pines of the Bowl have no free will; they can grow only according to their nature. My trick as a human is to bend my free will in the direction of my soul, that it may guide me toward freedom. I brought my palms together and bowed to the pines. Then Ranger and I turned and strode off into the woods towards home.
About the Author:
Gita Brown is a wellness activist, musician, and writer. She is a certified Advanced Integral Yoga® teacher and licensed Yoga for the Special Child® practitioner. Through her “Yoga with Gita courses” and podcast, “The Gita Brown Show,” her mission is to teach her students how to adapt the traditional practices of Yoga to bring more ease, wellness, and joy into everyday life. Gita started Yoga as a teenager, when her love of Yoga grew in tandem with her career as a classical clarinetist and music therapist. For three decades, she has taught Yoga, wellness, and music courses at colleges, schools of music, community schools, private studios, public schools, and hospitals. She is currently finishing final revisions to her memoir. The story is about how she repurposed her wedding vows into a yogic vow to live love as a way of life—a pilgrimage that endured even as her husband and childhood sweetheart battled end-stage alcoholism. She offers Yoga to students of all ages and abilities through online programs and in person at her home studio at Three Dog Farm in Kingston, Massachusetts. Learn more about her services by visiting: https://www.gitabrown.com
Photos courtesy of Gita Brown.