ozark light

tara bray considers the joy that comes in little sips

The simple life, the spiritual life, at your fingertips - for a price. Just open the catalogue: Tranquility sculpture. Introspection ring. Meditation shawl. Zen rain chimes. Eternity pendant. Feng Shui guide. Om plate. Ecowood measuring spoons. Sound healers. Organic Style. Henna sleeveless yoga top. Sherpa crew. Handloom bag. Natural wooden bowls. Enlightened lemon tea. Poet's cloak.


And once again the forest has put on her green gown and moistened, sheltering chips of birdsong and scraps of last year's leaves. For the second time this spring I've stumbled upon an indigo bunting perched on a fencepost beside the dirt road I run several mornings a week. Four years ago I didn't know the colour of its blue, and the forest had become a place I visited just a few times a year. I'd yet to squeeze my first glass of fresh lemonade, or know the feel of a morning as I stretch across my bed and watch a gathering of birds at my feeder.


Thirteen years I worked as an elementary teacher, nine of those in a busy metropolitan area. I worked eleven-hour days, easy. But it was not easy. It was exhausting. On top of that I was trying to write poetry, which I felt was my true calling. I lived in a rush, giving myself over completely to the concept that time is lacking. In order to make it to the yoga class I preferred, I had to leave an hour-and-a half before it began; home became my car, trapped in a long line of traffic. And then there was the year everything seemed to fall apart. The rushing became too much, the career seemed to demand that I fall down into some strange contortion of worship that left me constantly in a state of exhaustion and despair. I felt so angry I grew brave. I applied to a creative writing program in northwest Arkansas, what seemed to me at the time to be off in godforsaken nowhere. And somehow the door opened, a way out of my frantic lifestyle, out of the turmoil. However, back then, the amount of turmoil I was in didn't quite register. Luckily, when I moved to Fayetteville, I was shown very pointedly what "quality of life" means.

I have lived here the past four years as a graduate student of poetry, making ends meet on an annual salary that equals not even a quarter of what I made as an elementary school teacher. I live in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with mustard-colored linoleum floors from the seventies and lemon-yellow countertops that are a shade or ten too bright to match. I have to go downstairs to a community laundry room and wash my clothes. My car is over ten years old, and they tell me my student insurance is not worth much. Yet I have never felt so rich. I have been given four glorious years to rest and to breathe and to live and to walk the sweet and musty earth, four years to eat mangos, to lick the sweat from the top of my lip, to write poems. God I'm lucky.


Obviously a deeper life cannot be bought, even if the purchase is made of organic material or is of exquisitely natural beauty. Meaning, more often than not, is found in life's dailyness. When I moved out of the city, I found the time for a regular yoga practice. I remember that first year here very well. Every day, my teacher, Louise, came to the back room of the Fayetteville Dance Studio just for me. Even though I was her only student, week after week she showed up at 6 a.m.; she lit the candles; she heated the room. I stumbled in, half-awake, and there she sat, in lotus. I fell into place beside her, the quiet darkness of morning settling in around us. For the first time in my life, this sort of stillness was doable. Every day she witnessed me moving through the asanas of Ashtanga; every day she adjusted me from pose to pose. Through this practice, I learned the value of simplicity. For nearly two hours I breathed, flowed within my own body as it moved quietly, the only sounds the dull thud of feet on the mat, the touch of skin on skin, the deep in and out of breath. By the end of practice, the sky outside had broken open the Ozark hills grown bright.

Saint Teresa says that all life's "joys come in little sips."

I have been saved here in Fayetteville, Arkansas, not by the Jesus of my youth, but simply by the naturalness of the world. I guess you could say I've found what grounds me, what helps me stay calm in life's chaos: the forest floor beneath my feet; the tall trees; birds of all sorts, especially the chickadees; stillness; a cup of steaming black tea; my body growing supple and strong while I do my yoga asanas in a quiet light; my yoga teacher's touch; writing on a regular basis in order to make sense of the joy, the heartache, the longing that sometimes seems to stay and stay; a simple bowl of rice; words that work their way inside and reveal what it means to be human; words that sing.

Tara Bray is a poet whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals. Her more recent work can be found in The Southern Review, Green Mountains Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Puerto del Sol. She held the Walton Fellowship at the University of Arkansas, where she completed her MFA in May of 2003.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life