I always thought that it was incongruous for us to be photographed under palm trees next to the river looking like we were in Pennsylvania. My mother’s touch. Tom and Bill always look unruly and unwilling, Jim and I long suffering, Julie and Bob, giving it their best shot. Two by two into the ark. We always did buddy up in a way – those next to us in line our friend for life, that one we were paired with in the birth lottery. A little shuffling along the way. We are showing our habitual "coping" responses to stress.
So much passed like a shot through the herd of us. The gaggle, the group the crowd the flock. We are connected by blood and by trauma. Now that the first generation have passed on, we are left to sift through the remains, to ponder the sense of it all.
Our parents hardly desired or wanted us. I used to joke when people asked if we were Catholic – I’d say no, our parents just didn’t understand birth control. My father is purported to have said, "Why did I have all those children with that woman?" When he told me his second wife was pregnant and I just stared at him, he said, "If a woman wants to have a baby there isn’t much I can do about it." So he lived a life with a certain kind of care-less-ness.
Maybe it was his psychology – his care and concern for anyone or anything blew hot and cold. Many times he told me in so many ways, "Don’t count on me." But being a child of my constant faithful mother, it was in my nature to trust and be constant despite all warnings not to be.
My gratitude to my siblings is different. When my stepmother died, it was like a bomb went off in the inner world of my siblings and I. We who are recombinant DNA from two remarkable people and maybe a little space alien thrown in are connected in that web and so many other webs large and small that the responses to the moon the stars the planets the seas and the emotional storms of life ricochet between us in symphonic style. We feel. We resonate. I can feel all of my siblings all of the time. The feeling is not so very comfortable. I have to remind myself that all of this feeling isn’t mine alone.
I don’t think the ripple of feeling I’m getting is "about" anything. It’s the relative ages we got locked into when my parents tore apart our family. They tore themselves apart, they tore us apart, they just ranted and raved and tore through our family like a hurricane with no regard to anything but their passions. My stepmother was the trigger that set off all of this. So much of us froze in place, did what we had to do to move on, to get away to survive. And now the thing is done. The shock wave that we have worked so hard to prevent feeling has washed over us again and brought us back to the shore where we held hands and watched the tsunami coming towards us – vowing to face it together.
Here we are. Faded. Looking out to sea.
Another Mom and Dad Dream
I realized today that I had a dream about Mom and Dad sometime a few nights ago. I was in my office when I remembered. I remembered because my office walls are painted kind of coral. It is the same family of color that my bedroom walls were painted when we lived on Laurel Avenue. At any rate, in the dream I walked into my office and Mom and Dad were cleaning it. I mean cleaning from top to bottom, very tenderly. They had taken all of the paintings off the wall and were scrubbing the walls behind the paintings. The interesting part is that they were working together, conversing in whispers. The wall paint had faded to show where the paintings had been. I wondered if they were going to be rearranging things, if the pictures I had would disappear. Maybe they were going to replace them with something else. I snuck around and saw that they didn’t see me. It was as though they were going to surprise me. It was sort of sweet. They have both been dead for years now. Are they together? Have they made amends with each other? Was the dream the presence of them in me and in my work healing each other? Are these things actually possible?
"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could."
The Painted Drum
"And then the kicker is this: in passing from the real to the imagined, in following that trail, you learn that both sides have a little of the other in each, that there are elements of the imagined inside your experience of the ‘real’ world – rock, bone, wood, ice – and elements of the real – not the metaphorical, but the actual thing itself – inside stories and tales and dreams."
– Rick Bass-
[Now this is yoga as I have perceived it in the natural world.]
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (PYS 1.1)
Anyone who is engaged in serious yoga practice has come to yoga for the same reason—we’re fed up! That means we’ve had enough.
Atha means “now.” But it’s more than just “now”; it means now in terms of “hereafter,” or “going forward.” The importance of that nuance is that it implies that whatever has been happening will now, hereafter, be different. So in his first sutra, Patanjali is speaking directly to those of us who are fed up with things as they are. Everyone has a different story about the shape that being fed up takes for them—a miserable job, a life on drugs, a troubled relationship, etc. But fundamentally it’s the same for everyone who comes to yoga—at a certain point in life we take inventory of how much is really great and how much is suffering, and we come to the conclusion that it’s mostly suffering—even if the suffering is relatively mild, like “things are fine but I know there’s more to life.” Most people are not there; they’re not quite willing to let go of the old model. Some even like their suffering and identify with it. They’re not at that point where they’re fed up enough to say, “okay, what else is there? I’ll search high and low to get it.” But for those who are, Patanjali grabs us and says, “you’re ready to hear this stuff.” That’s the good news of that first word atha.
The word shasanam can be understood as a set of rules, a discipline applied to us from the outside, a set of instructions for what we’re supposed to do next. But when we put the wordanu, which literally means “atom,” in front of it, it means the instructions or ways to act that come from the inside. For example—“I’m thirsty, so I’ll go get a drink of water.” It’s that simple: we don’t think of it as a rule that when you’re thirsty you have to go drink water, or when you’re hungry you eat, we just do it. In this sutra, Patanjali is telling us that yoga is one of these things that comes naturally. It flows from us, through us, and basically if we could just get out of the way, then it would be free to manifest in our lives. And that’s the practice of yoga—the practice of getting out of the way.
Of course it’s very difficult to let go of the parts of us that disable the natural flow of wisdom and purity, because they’ve become enculturated and neuroticized. They are the ways we cope with the world, our No. 1 defenses: they are how hard we’ve got it and how impenetrable our problems are. But Patanjali is saying that these are the parts of us that are unnatural, that have been inflicted upon us, and we could take them off like we take off a set of clothes. But it’s not so easy. One hundred percent of what restricts us is in our minds and has been concretized in our bodies in different ways. So yoga practice is meant to point out to us where that energy is stuck, whether in our minds, our shoulders or our hips. In this way, yoga is often referred to as a discipline. But it’s important to understand that it’s not the kind of discipline that’s forced on us from the outside, or in the case of teachers, it’s not a discipline that we’re forcing on others. It’s a discipline that’s naturally arising. As we move through our difficulties in the practice, whatever they are, we understand that the encounter with difficulty is a blessed moment and an opportunity. It is not a fail, but a chance to reflect on what separates us from each other, the nature of suffering in our lives, the role that prejudices and fixations play in our lives, etc., and just let them go. It can happen very quickly, in just an instant, but it can also take some time; it’s not easy to shed a carefully constructed armor. The great teacher Dharma Mittra likes to say, “Get mad and do it!” Get fed up! But don’t do it because a teacher tells you to do it or because it’s a rule; do it for your own reasons, because you’re fed up with the way things have been and you want them to change. Do it because you want to do it. Do it to get rid of a cruel dictator—your identification with your mind. Do it as your personal revolution. Atha…
— David Life
The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening; the smaller the doubt, the smaller the awakening. No doubt, no awakening.
—C.-C. Chang, The Practice of Zen
You live through that little piece of time that is yours, but that piece of time is not only your own life, it is the summing-up of all the other lives that are simultaneous with yours. . . . What you are is an expression of History.
—Robert Penn Warren, World Enough and Time
“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
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