If we’re connected on social media you might have seen pictures of my recent trip to upstate New York. It was a first. A new adventure exploring that part of the country. Immediately I began to fall in love with its beauty and the people I met along the way.
The impetus for traveling was to attend “summer camp” with Dr. Douglas Brooks, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Rochester. I’ve been studying with Douglas for well over 10 years.
Summer camp is an Indian myth lover’s dream. We spent four intensive days immersed in Hindu lore as told through the narrative of Rajanaka Tantra. This school of Tantra is a more obscure perspective of Indian philosophy that resonates with my mind and spirit.
Douglas led us through the dappled light and shadows of the Thillai forest. The forest of exquisite ecstasy where you the listener also become the characters in the story. We wandered through this metaphorical forest, the place of “lions, and tigers and bears, oh my.” Of friend and foe. Villains and demons.
Paradoxically, it’s also the safe place where you’re invited to look at the parts of yourself you prefer remain hidden. Your own demons. Your “dark side of the moon.” You do this because while you’re giving them a look see they actually lose the capacity to frighten you. You begin to understand that those dark patches you believe contain the power to hurt you, and others, are in reality multi-faceted and rich.
In fact when you hold your base metals up to the broken light filtering through the canopy above, they alchemize into nuggets of precious gold.
The power of story telling is the unspoken suggestion to recognize the metaphors, the symbols they offer, and the connections that can be made to you the individual, and even greater, to you as one of the collective.
I particularly appreciate how the Indian myths oftentimes leads you deep into the light and the shadows of your psyche and soul. They mirror back to you all of your fragility and crooked nuances. From this vantage point the tales are the ultimate invitation to make the sacred out of the fractal pieces of oneself.
The bid is simply to learn to love yourself. All the misshaped pieces of broken light that you are.
Out of a roomful of about 40 people I knew only my teacher and one other person. Yet, the connection was instant as we were all joined in an endeavor of learning and discovery. We shared a respect for the stories and a commitment to our personal evolution. For a geek like me it was a love fest.
I left there filled with a desire to keep learning more about myself and the world around me.
Next, I traveled down to New Park Ithaca where I met up with my friend and co-heart to lead a mini-Home in the Mystic Heart Retreat. A small group of intelligent, mindful, action-oriented women joined us. Together we practiced yoga – on the mat, on the cushion, at the dinner table, in conversation.
We shared our stories and held them in the crucible of curiosity and compassion. We shared our pain to the greater story that was playing out each day in the news. And we shared ideas as to what might be possible in creating a more conscious environment.
At Lakshmi Institute, in Trumansburg, I was invited to teach to their lovely community. My theme was and remains, that our true power comes from the yoga of conversation and connection. It is through our capacity to be radically honest with our own light and shadow, the capacity to assimilate yet value our differences, that the potential and possibility for holding a deeper conversation with all of its implications – is necessary for healing.
Each encounter, each conversation I fell in love. My hurting aching heart opened just a little bit more.
While my husband of 34 years went off during the day to encounter his own adventures at night we offered each other our days experience. Together we have ridden the wild elephant of a life. Sometimes holding on with a death grip. Sometimes with joyful abandon. The line between the two precarious and permeable. But in that space we found connection. In the opening we found another level of truth. Unveiled another layer of intimacy.
Niagara Falls was the quintessential wow before we drove to the airport for home. We looked forward to sitting next to one another during the four hour flight and continue our conversation. Maybe even to close my eyes and rest my head on his shoulder.
However, the elephant had a different idea in mind and led us down another path. The plane was filled and we were unable to find seats together. He landed between two other men that soon lost themselves into their separate devices. Me, the last seat on the plane, was between a young nursing student on my right, and on my left an overwhelmed momma with her 14-month old little boy who had no intention what so ever of sleeping.
Struggling to keep him occupied he soon lurched towards me with sweet innocence, reached out his sticky hand and began to caress my cheek. That was it. I was toast. The next thing I know my new friend is in my lap touching my eyes, nose, ears, hair, and planting snotty kisses upon my lips.
And the thing is, the whole while I was falling in love – the world was falling apart with fear, anger and violence. The myths are no different really. This breaking apart and eventual regeneration has been happening for millennium.
So what’s the answer for today’s schism then? The balm that might begin to heal the wounds we have inflicted on one another? Truly, I don’t pretend to know. I’m not even sure at times what the evocative questions might be to ask.
One thing though I feel strongly about is that we must not harden our hearts. We must continue to fall in love. Even to fall in like. To ignite curiosity. At the very least we must cultivate a willingness to look upon the face of the person/people who scare the beejesus out of us. Just as we must be willing to look at our own darkness, we must also be willing to see how it plays out in our every day lives.
Some days I’m so sad, exhausted with the insanity that is playing out in our world that I feel immobilized. I want to pull the covers over my head and sleep away the next 20 years.
While at camp Douglas shared his teacher’s wisdom – “Courage isn’t a virtue. Courage is what makes us virtuous.”
There are no easy answers. Unfortunately, neither are there quick fixes or a pretty pink pill we can swallow that will set the world right again.
Only in small virtuous steps, incrementally, we must begin to reach out to one another in honest raw conversation in order to share creative ways in which we as a global nation begin to do yoga.
We must be willing and ready to be cracked open by our vulnerability and expose our soft underbelly of compassion.
We must be willing to take the risk of having our hearts opened by connection.
Only in this way will we cultivate the courage that’s needed to see into the eyes of another’s pain and sorrow. To feel into their hurts, their deepest fears.
Coming together in community with those who share your values and have similar ideas helps to build a strong container of commitment to a bigger vision. Then the even more frightening and courageous task is to begin a conversation outside of what is comfortable.
I’m not sure what that means, or what it looks like for me, and certainly I can’t imagine what it might look like for you. Each of us must find the strategies and methods, the mode of communication that best serves our own hearts.
I’m hoping you might offer a few ideas here and respond on the comment button.
How are you coping with such heartache? In what ways are you taking action? What strategies do you use to move you from despair to inspiration? In what way does your creativity serve as a release valve that opens the pathways of compassion and understanding?
Perhaps by sharing we can begin a dialogue that might ease the pain that I imagine each and every one of you is feeling.
In deep love and gratitude,