Creating Paradise

In a time of destruction, create something; a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment. ~Maxine Hong Kingston

Create something that looks and feels like paradise. I have heard this directive lately in my life and in my body. What to do with it? The world is full of destruction. Could it be that even one act of love, one act of courage could create something that allows a rebirth of paradise lost? Could it be that, through the creation of something new and by giving flight to that which is beautiful, we might make a journey, no matter how challenging and asymmetrical that journey, to something akin to the ideal and idyllic place one might call paradise?

I am practicing the challenging pose us Westerners know as “Bird of Paradise,” for the expansion it creates in my body and to teach to the advanced teacher trainees. The Sanskrit name of this pose is Svarga Dvijasana (pronounced Swar-ga Dway-jas-ana) and is translated as Paradise / Twice-born. I have been thinking of the image of this pose–that of the tropical flower known as Bird of Paradise with its asymmetrical shape rising upward into an exuberant display of brightly hued petals that shoot out from the stem like the wings of a tropical bird in flight. The flower does not follow a straight path to beauty. Its path into flight could be said to be a bit crooked, its floral display bordering on ostentatious. The abundant bud portion that juts at an angle outward from the stem resembles the head and wings of a bird balanced somewhat precariously on one thin bird leg. The pose itself resembles this very same image. Rising upward from the ground with the legs in asymmetry and the arms bound, we come to balance on one leg, as the other leg, bound by the wrap of the arms, extends outward from the hip and upward in flight. It is quite majestic once created. However, the creation itself, one that requires much core strength, open shoulders, and stability on one leg, can be a challenging and altogether crooked path to traverse in getting there.

From this image, then, consider the mythology of the Sanskrit name, Svarga Dvijasana, paradise born not once, but twice. There are many stories that come from this idea, but I am thinking about my writings from earlier this year. The start of the new year arrives as a kind of first birth, a “paradise” of possibility before us. The winter folds me into the birth of silence and stillness that allows me to reflect and cultivate the qualities I know I must then birth in myself. This time feels much like being held inside an egg of stillness that helps me to build the strength I need to break open and offer something new into the world. This returns me to my original impetus, the quote from Hong Kinston. In order to counter destruction we must create something new and beautiful–a poem, a school, a community, a peaceful moment, perhaps one lovely pose we take in our body. Yet, before one can birth something innovative and beautiful in the world, they must cultivate stillness, vulnerability, courage, strength, and flexibility. There are often stop and start moments along a crooked, somewhat dimly lit path. The full birth of something new and beautiful, too, is one that typically happens in increments, with small moments of light that come to help us envision the direction in which we must travel, how we can proceed further.

The pose, Svarga Dvijasana, comes in much the same way, with the same qualities of flexibility, strength, courage, and balance needed to open into this somewhat precarious, albeit majestic, pose. There are stop and start moments moving from Extended Side Angle Pose, where one steps forward into Bird of Paradise Pose. No matter how wobbly I feel coming out of my shell into balanced flight, I know I’ve cultivated the stamina to do so through the incremental work in my body and mind. This symbolizes the journey from winter into spring for me–a journey that began with quiet, internal reflection and has me ready to birth something beautiful into my body and perhaps even into my corner of the world. No matter how small our creation, it’s the making of that which is new and beautiful that speaks of rebirth, of paradise born again, of light, and of possibility both in our own individual lives and into the world.