Broken

“Did you really want to die?”

“No one commits suicide because they want to die.”

“Then why do they do it?”

“Because they want to stop the pain.” 

― Tiffanie DeBartolo, How to Kill a Rock Star

My sister in law died of an overdose a week ago.  It was a suicide. The ripple of pain that started deep inside of her mental illness and addiction is still spreading, more slowly now, in the same hidden fashion volcanic dust settles in the days and weeks after an eruption, I’m not sure when it will end. I hope she is at peace now as we try to pick up the pieces left around us, but there’s still quite a bit of fall out, the insidious dust of guilt, relief, anger, and hate all combined with the awful void, the piece of my heart cut away in still loving and missing someone regardless of their shortcomings.  I hate that this cancer of the mind creates such a stigma. No one wants to address it or acknowledge it in the same way as a palpable tumor but it’s the same crap shoot, the available treatments don’t always work and depending on the type, potentially incurable, terminal. My heart is broken for her kids, her mom, my husband, and the rest of us reeling from the cruelty of her death, but mostly for her, for her fear of living. I vacillate wildly between anger and grief. 

As I’ve reflected on the past and the horrific struggle, I so wanted to blame her, blame her for her weakness, blame her for her years and years of verbal abuse, her addiction to opioids. Her self made cage of isolation, consistently claiming no one was there for her as she constantly pushed everyone away. Yet how can I say she wasn’t trying her best? Maybe this person she was, as flawed and difficult as she came across was the best she was capable of being. 

I read an analogy comparing mental illness to being in a fire or drowning, that the actions taken depend on which sensation is most prevalent. When you drown, you take whomever is closest with you in the panic, taking them out with you. However,  when the fire hits you jump out the window no matter the outcome because the flames are worse. In my own way, I’ve been trying to put out the residual fire. One of the hardest parts is accepting we all tried our best, because it’s true, none of us is to blame or judge, grief isn’t a one size fits all, and it is important to let is happen with all the patience and compassion I can muster. 

It comes and goes

What’s your motivation? Like most people I vacillate between various states, I’d say there are really just two underlying everything, love and fear. When love is in charge, all is good, even when it’s not, because there is empathy, compassion, clarity, understanding, among other positive points, however, fear, though at times helpful, brings out worry, anger, irrational thoughts, impulsive choices, and stress. Firefighters are helpful when needed but they break doors and windows to get the job done…in other words you don’t need to pull out the cannons to get rid of the anthill, keep perspective! 

About three weeks ago, I started noticing a new pain in the top of my hands. It came on suddenly one morning, so badly I couldn’t put any weight into them, especially the right. I couldn’t do a sun salutation at all, and I panicked. I knew aging and my Rheumotoid arthritis could alter my practice, but I never thought I’d lose a basic down dog. It scared me, badly. I mean, seriously, yoga helped me through my worst, first starting out, what could I do without being able to put any weight in my hands? I freaked out inside because if a flare could take away this, I just wanted to give up…..( fear negating rational and compassionate thought!) 

I went into denial on the outside. I wrapped my right hand for support, went back to practice and teaching the next day popping a couple of Advil. But I wasn’t ok, I was afraid. Afraid of losing control, and as a recovering control freak, this was unpleasant at best. I haven’t always been so kind to myself, everyone is their own worst critic usually, and I can admit, my self loathing had been a consistent piece of who I was, until I found peace on the mat and forgiveness in my failures. I clearly remember the first moment that sensation of compassion filled my heart, ( yet even as I write that statement, I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger in my head from The Terminator talking about skynet becoming self aware..lol) it was overwhelming in the best way…yet as a human being, I forgot to remember it’s ok to still fail at times in things we don’t usually fail. Oh the joys of a monkey brain! 

The most remarkable part of this is I didn’t figure out why I was being such a crazed impatient psycho until I was quietly suffering from a massive panic attack during intense turbulence on a flight down to the Caribbean for a family vacation last week. I was breathing through it, knowing the competence of the pilot, knowing the logic of the safety of air travel, when it dawned on me, I wasn’t in control of the plane, just like I felt I wasn’t in control of my illness.  I had forgotten to have faith because I had let fear be my motivator for the past few weeks in just about everything, instead of love. 

What’s funny is about a month prior I had reached out to anatomy guru, David Keil, for insight on how to keep my grips with a crappy pincher grasp due to this on going flare, his response was awesome, but at the time I wanted something more concrete: 

I think you know the answer to your own questions. But just in case you need to hear it from someone else…. Modify as necessary when you’re flaring. More importantly, work on the inner judge who is having a problem with the modifications when they’re necessary. Look at the frustration, which of course is anger. Be compassionate to yourself.

The asanas themselves are not that important, but how you relate to doing them is critical for growth.

Om shanti,

David

Yes, how I relate to doing them. In other words, motivation through love of trying not fear of failing. Thank you David! 

The week away of vitamin D did me well to soothe my soul, relax and let go of the fear…the view didn’t hurt either!  

 

As for practice on vacation? Everyday, nice and smooth, I’m happy to say, with the toughest part in picking where…the tile floor of the hotel room or the “sanctuary” room off the gym, that had the uncanny ability to blast Party Rock Anthem while attempting kapotasana:) I went for the music distractions over the cement floor. 

 

Oh the tangled web we weave.

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I saw this majestic banyan tree while driving out of Mysore one my one day trip to visit temples. It was simply stunning and I had wanted to stop but there wasn’t enough time. I love trees. I always have. Climbing them, drawing them, sitting underneath the canopy, I don’t know why, the beauty, the energy, the roots. I knew I had to try to see it up close.

I asked my old teacher ( he’s 11 years younger than me, love the irony of that statement) about the tree, and he was familiar with it and suggested a trusted rickshaw driver to take me back one morning. I was so excited and set up a 7 am pick up after practice. My friend Brian came along for the adventure and closer look as well. I was bubbling with excitement over visiting the tree, the drive was exquisite, the streets through Mysore were empty with all the street vendors just starting to set up for the day and a loop past the Mysore palace as the sun was just rising, so much beauty and the bizarre contrast of a mostly quiet ride through the city that usually bustles with an energy you most definitely hear.

It was everything I hoped to see, and more. There was a circle of benches spaced far enough back in a circle around it to sit and admire this gift of nature, and at the base of one side of the trunk, an alter of sorts for prayer and puja offerings. I smiled when I saw the spiritual tribute, as in my own way, I felt it too.

I’m not sure how long we had been there, walking around, taking pictures and admiring the tree when I walked past this spot of the tree again.

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There was a branch, huge, jutting out from the tree that almost brushed the ground right in front of me. It just seemed to beckon me, climb, touch me, run up my arm! I impulsively just kicked off my flip flops and ran barefoot up the wide and sturdy branch. I felt like Mowgli in The Jungle Book! I was just starting to feel some adrenal surge inside me realizing how high up I had managed to get, when I saw and heard Dev, my rickshaw driver, running towards me from the road screaming. I couldn’t tell what he was saying at first, as the expanse of field between us was quite vast. However as he got closer, it was a voice of panic screaming for me to get out of the tree. I had no idea why at first, but Dev was adamant and scared. Repeatedly screaming to get out of the tree while waving his arms above his head. I was at least 20 feet off the ground, and I yelled back ok, I would start back down, but Dev said, “Get out now! Jump!” I was confused and frightened by his reaction, so somehow hung down and jumped from where I was, miraculously not hurting myself.

As Dev approached, I saw his concern, and I’m sure he saw my trepidation. He explained that banyan trees are sacred and the bark is considered to be a part of Lord Shiva. He was trying to protect me from the wrath of a deity and any remote chance of a passerby seeing me, thinking I was desecrating a holy place. I felt terrible for my ignorant, though innocent slight of dis honoring part of Dev’s culture. I hadn’t thought to have done any research in advance of this little excursion and had no idea of this significance. I apologized, stating I obviously had no clue, laughing a bit from my nerves, and Dev nodded and smiled, he said not to worry, he was just glad I hadn’t gotten hurt.

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I spent a few more precious minutes at the tree afterwards, I kept laughing to myself and Brian while shaking my head at my pure ignorance and feeling the raw nerves start to ebb away from the high leap as well as the unsettling thoughts of Dev being scared enough to think someone seeing me in the tree would have put me in danger. Just how sacred was this tree, and what did that mean culturally? I certainly would never have marked the tree or even broken off a twig, and though the base had been riddled with spiritual offerings, actually going on it was taboo.

I reached out to my teacher after, explaining my idiocy and asked how I could make amends to Dev and Lord Shiva without extending my trip to include a trek to the Ganges for a purifying dunk. I was completely serious, as I felt awful about any perceived desecration in my ignorance. He said Dev had probably dropped me off and went straight to make an offering of puja for my transgression, but not to worry, as now I know.

Well, I have had this bizarre superstition ever since that occasionally hits my brain with worry in how to make an offering for atonement, yes I gave Dev a generous tip, for almost giving him a heart attack, but for my own heart, I decided I would paint a picture of the tree with Lord Shiva in the bark. I have yet to start it, as my hands have not cooperated. Part of the consequences of getting so sick in India re activated my RA and my thumbs are paying the price, my ode to a comfortable pincer grasp, will you be mine again? Either way I will have to deal with it and figure out how to draw and paint again so that I can still function after, but I haven’t yet, so the picture remains in my minds eye for now. I’m hoping putting my intention out will help it manifest.

On a last note, when I first got back someone I was friendly with asked how the trip went? I kind of laughed in my nervous way as there was too much to say in passing and I hadn’t yet figured out how to just say, “Incredible.”, and leave it at that. So instead I shook my head and though I don’t know why I said I don’t know where to start, the worst I did was climb a sacred tree. Before I could continue, she just freaked out. Well, I can attest everything can be misunderstood, as she looked at me and shut her eyes off. It was so disarming and I tried to explain, but she wanted to know no more. I felt sad as someone would misinterpret my action as so callous. I just didn’t know. There were no signs, no one gave me instructions, I didn’t even think it could be looked up on the web, until afterwards…in any case, I’m sorry.

Glass houses

“You must purge yourself before finding faults in others.
When you see a mistake in somebody else, try to find if you are making the same mistake.
This is the way to take judgment and to turn it into improvement.
Do not look at others’ bodies with envy or with superiority.
All people are born with different constitutions.
Never compare with others.
Each one’s capacities are a function of his or her internal strength.
Know your capacities and continually improve upon them.”
― B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

The beautiful man who wrote this sentiment passed away this week. As much as I love the perspective, I confess it’s not easy to even step back enough, or pause enough to do just that for me at least. Even with my children, I’ve criticized them for faults I have myself. Oh the joys of being human!

One of the best parenting moments I ever have had was a few years ago. My oldest daughter and son had been fighting, they were both wrong in their actions and each was demanding some version of discipline for the other’s transgressions. I was upset with both of them for hurting one another and really didn’t have the mindset in the moment to master a quick solution on my own. I was frustrated and sad that they were being so terrible to one another. So, as they were each so eager to demand justice, I said fine, you each come up with a punishment for each other. I warned them not to be to draconian and ensure that what they come up with should be fair.

Alas, as each had not given up on their festering anger, the consequences they had each envisioned were absolutely just a small step shy of fifty lashings while tied to a stake. I spoke to them both individually and asked are you really sure that what you’ve decided befits their actions, that the punishment fits the crime? Each hungrily agreed that their sibling deserved their choice and that it wasn’t too harsh. Honestly I can’t remember what they each thought of, but truly at the time, I wondered where these atrocious ideas could even exist in their normally quite kind and loving minds and hearts.

I called them together and stated one last time as I had them look in each others faces, are you really sure these punishments aren’t too much? Both, still so heated, readily agreed. So I said ok, you each came up with a penance, but, instead of it being for your sibling, the consequences you’ve decided will be for yourself.

The silence for that first few seconds afterwards as they each were stunned in fear of what they had come up with for the other was telling. Both my daughter and son started backtracking, pleading with me, tears streaming, that it was too much, too humiliating and abusive. I reminded them that they each thought these were fair and just to be inflicted on the other, so why is it too much for you? I was crying too, as I said, please learn from this, please grasp that vengeance won’t make it better, cruelty and judgement won’t change what happened, that the golden rule and forgiveness are much better choices. I told them that they needed to apologize to each other and really think about what they thought each truly deserved as a consequence, to be careful of rash judgements when we all live in glass houses. I hadn’t read Light on Life yet, but instead told them the gospel parable, lest he who is without sin cast the first stone.

I can’t say they’ve never fought since then, but I know the message was felt and I can only hope that they remember and are learning to pause before reacting and learn their capacities and improve upon them. ❤️here is a nice tribute to Iyengar.

Accidents will Happen

“And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!”
— Dr. Seuss

Part of practice, of life, are those moments where you really are truly completely mortified. Human moments, I’ve had plenty. I think I sometimes envision my mat as this intimate private space where I’m protected, invisible from judgement, free to explore. Yet, most of the time even though I’m in my bubble, there is usually an instructor in the room guiding the process, as well as fellow practitioners working just as hard, around me. On any given day in the shala, there can be laughter, tears, sighs, moans, grunts, panic, fear, sweat, flexibility, stiffness, injury, pain, accomplishment, meditation, envy, awe, enlightenment, flailing, falls, farts, and smells….yeah, and that’s just in the confines of my own mat!

Embarrassment. Yes, I’ve had my moments all throughout every aspect of my life, why would my expectations of these moments occurring in yoga be any different, or less frequent? The physical aspects of attempting asana have taught me so much more than just how to figure out what muscles to use and how to put all the components together to find ease and stability. Non attachment to the outcome and trying your best everyday is a fabulous aspiration, however, it doesn’t stop the epic fails nor days when your best is just plain awful. A sense of humor helps, I just don’t always remember that during these foibles, though in retrospect, it’s been a great salve.

As Sharath is planning his next jaunt to the United States, I was reminiscing his last visit here, in April of 2013. A week of led with Sharath is exciting, crowded and challenging under the best of circumstances. Mat to mat next to strangers, acquaintances, and friends, all in the common mass of wanting to practice under Sharath’s guidance. My fear of such a tight space was always related to getting kicked, or kicking someone, but I learned a new lesson in personal space last time.

Oh, how I love the standing sequence! As it falls in the category of done first, therefore done with greatest frequency, it is the most rote and routine part of practice for me, not that there aren’t areas to go deeper or improve, but it gets me in a great meditative place of stillness in the movement, a safety net that guides me to where my strengths and weaknesses are for that day, showing me in how my body responds to the asana, where to be most mindful. For instance, I have been trying since forever to open my shoulders more, and prasarita padotanasa C is one of those spots I work on it. A week or so before his visit I over zealously tried to get my hands to the ground over my head in it and ended up doing a funky summersault instead. It was unexpected, comical, but no harm to me or anyone else, just my ego! It fell in that category, don’t worry nobody saw that, except everyone here;-)

So now here I was in led, trying to loosen up and relax my shoulders once again, but not yet releasing the mindfulness of falling, and not wanting to fall on anyone in such a crowded space! I happened to be next to an acquaintance that day. A very quiet and reserved gentleman who practiced occasionally at my shala. Though I didn’t know him well, his dedication to his practice and his kind if shy nature were both familiar and comforting…So there I was hands clasped behind my back, legs spread, exhaling my head down to the floor. Sharath’s count began and I tried to relax my shoulders open more to get that elusive touch to floor with my hands and not just my head, I did relax and stretch more forward, if the floor was touched, alas, at this point I don’t recall, because, I was so relaxed, for once, in a crowd, in count. It was time to come up and out, I was moving slowly appreciating my inhale, oddly, my hands came into contact with something soft. I wasn’t really thinking, in that meditative zone and all, but I guess in curiosity I groped slightly, trying to figure out what I was in contact with before rising completely. It was this poor innocent fellow’s testes. I was cupping his balls, seriously! Though I’m sure in the cosmos of the universe, this all took place, I’m hoping at least, in a split second of time. In my shock and horror, I flew back, away from his personal space and private parts, and promptly landed on my rear. I couldn’t look at him, and in the mercy of led pace, picked myself back up on the double to get into prasarita D.

There were no words spoken, neither of us ran away, we continued to practice, I was really at a loss for how to address it, and was grateful for the time and asana to diminish my transgression. As we finished up after our final rest, I gave this lovely man a contrite smile with a nod of my head, lowering my eyes in true regret. In it I was trying to convey, hey, it was an accident, I really really didn’t want to fondle you, I’m very sorry for the intrusion and over reach, literally…He very politely gave me a smile and nod back, I hope accepting my unspoken apology because words would just make it more awkward than it was….so yes, I still fail, I make mistakes, and I feel safe in my bubble on the mat, but now keep a little more awareness and though I’ve had my share of mishaps since then, I plan on stacking during prasarita this September with Sharath.