This article is part of my series The Fabric of the Universe, a fictional, artistic interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The first article is titled “Here and Now We Begin.”
Please note: The translations of the Sanskrit verses are not literal.
Always keep your eye on the warp, and adjust the weft accordingly.
“Do not allow yourself to become frustrated,” the teacher says. “It is like weaving knots into your tapestry and will only slow you down. But know as well that this is not a race; there is no rush. Haste, too, will impede your progress. Be patient, with both your loom and yourself. With time and practice, you will begin to find your rhythm. It will arise from deep within you, like a thought or a feeling. Subtle at first, it will grow, then blossom into a pattern uniquely your own.”
As he speaks, his hands flutter and flow like birds, his body waves and bows like a tree in the wind. His eyes shine silver, reflections of a hidden moon. A breeze snakes into the room from deeper inside the cave and, as the teacher speaks, it whispers: so hum.
“Restrict your gaze to the single point where the threads currently cross. Look neither to the stitches you have already laid, nor to the awaiting gap on the other side. If your concentration slips, you may skip a warp string or pull the weft too tightly. The former will leave a hole and the latter bend the warp.”
The teacher picks up the young man’s loom and points out examples of both. The young man hangs his head.
“If you notice these transgressions immediately, then you can easily fix them by going back to the compromised crossroad. Later, it will be too late to correct them without undoing all the work you have completed to that point, which”—he pauses here and winks—“will cause you to become frustrated.”
The young man throws his hands up then smacks his thighs. “Great! So you’re saying we might do all this work for nothing?” He rolls his eyes. “What happens if we just leave the mistakes in? Who cares if the tapestry has holes and curves in it?”
“Good questions,” says the teacher. “First, understand that no work is never for naught. Even if you must start all over, you will have learned something. You will see what before you were blind to. And if you can remember this,” the teacher says, touching his forefinger to the space between the young man’s brows, “you will not make the same mistake again.”
The young man’s eyes open wide and light up from the inside.
“If you do not unravel the work and start again where you erred, the defects will be evident in the end product. Holes in the weft reveal the warp, which is the structure of your pattern and meant to be hidden, and bent warp lines distort the overall design. However,” the teacher says, holding up his index finger, “your last question is the most significant.”
The young man sits up tall, his spine lengthening as the teacher extends his arm upward, pointing to something beyond the ceiling of the cave.
“If you do not correct the faults and choose to leave the holes and curves in your work, the only person this matters to, is you. After all, it is your tapestry, no? You are its creator, and if you choose not to show it to anyone, then no one will ever see it besides you. So, you may do whatever you’d like with it. You can design it any way you choose, or you can allow the design to emerge however it comes out. As long as you are happy with it, it doesn’t matter what it looks like.” He pauses. “It all depends on your intention.”
The silence that follows expands to the edges of the cave, and the walls and ceiling dissolve into darkness, and for an instant, they are surrounded by a hundred million sparkling specks of light.
The old woman nods her head and tears trace the wrinkles down her face.
The boy’s eyes light up and he grins from ear to ear.
The young man knits his brows together and stares down at the floor.
“It is all right if you are still confused,” the teacher says, looking at the young man. “Do not be ashamed of what you do not know. Shame, like frustration, will only stand in your way. This is all still very new to you.”
He holds his hand out toward the old woman. “This woman has been weaving since she was a child. I am certain she could tell of many mistakes she made in the beginning, many times she had to start all over.”
The teacher walks behind the woman and rests his hands on her shoulders. “Perhaps she has even repeated the same mistakes, over and over again.”
The old woman slumps forward. The teacher catches her with his hands in front of her chest before she falls from her seat. Her spine straightens for the first time in as long as she can remember, and her lungs fill with air as if they could inflate forever. Her eyes open and keep opening. She looks as if she might levitate from her chair. The teacher places his hands back on top of her shoulders and presses down lightly.
“It is of no consequence. She kept on weaving, year after year, garment after garment. She learned from the mistakes she could see, and now she sees them all. She knows. She is ready to begin again.”
The teacher moves away from the old woman, walks in front of the boy. He stands so close and the boy is so small that, at first, he sees only the white of the teacher’s robe. But once his eyes adjust to the nearness, he sees every single strand in the cloth, and the fineness and perfection of the delicate weave, nearly transparent. The boy gasps, but before he can look up, the teacher cups the back of his head with his hand and draws his forehead to his sternum. The boy’s body trembles, then shakes, and just when it seems he will start to convulse, the teacher grabs the hair at the back of his head and pulls him away. A streak of bright white light, thin as a filament, appears above the boy’s head. It is impossible to tell if the light is emanating from or entering him. It hums. The boy’s hair stands on end and his eyes are open so wide the whites show all around. His mouth freezes in the shape of an O. The teacher places his hands on the boy’s narrow hips and presses him down into his seat. His body and face relax instantly.
“One day, this boy will become a master weaver, perhaps one of the greatest of all times. And once he perfects his patterns and designs, he will share them with the whole world, and the stars and planets and galaxies, and what lies beyond.”
After the teacher stops talking, all three students remain completely still and totally silent. A minute passes, an hour, eternity. They are suspended in a place that is no place, where time and space merge and dance and dissolve. In that moment, everything becomes crystal clear, like a diamond, and then it disappears. They are back in their seats in the cave holding their looms.