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Things as they are.
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Who can say how many episodes of my father’s life are unknown to me, how many thoughts my father never disclosed, how many times he concealed his sorrows, his quandaries, his weaknesses?
Now that he is gone, I shall probably never discover those secret and perhaps fundamental aspects of his being.
- Umberto Eco
For three weeks the dress I wore to my father’s funeral has been on its hanger on a hook in the living room where I took it off. I finally put it away in the closet today.
I looked at my journal entries – the one from September 1st, the day my father was diagnosed, untreatable poorly differentiated carcinoma, prognosis less than 6 months, and the one from September 5th:
I feel like he isn’t going to make it to even Thanksgiving; tonight I had the feeling he wouldn’t make it another week. I can’t believe it.
My father died in the early morning, September 11th.
For a week I had nightmares every night. In one, I stepped out of a house into twilight. The world was engulfed in a meteor storm and I could see rocks falling from the sky, plunging into the river in front of me.
As scary as they were, the nightmares were also comforting. They were so human, so like a talisman that seemed to connect my grief to my father’s journey as though I were still a child. But the day held no such archetype. During the day I felt I had crossed into some strange new territory, beyond that fantastic cataclysm.
A world without my father in it held an uneasy meaning, exercising a power mysterious and utterly awake in my understanding of things.
So often when I read about yoga or listen to conversations about it, at the center of the words, even my own words, is the reason, the reason to practice. For health, for prayer, to stretch, to de-stress, to talk to the universe, to worship, to free up energy, to join mind and body. And when I say that’s all good, I really mean it. I’m deeply grateful for and delighted by the love and affection I’ve enjoyed in community. I’ve taught a lot of yoga, I’ve seen a lot of benefit, a lot of growing and connection.
In truth though, for some time I haven’t liked any thought of having a reason. I’m out of sorts and out of sync with the idea of motivational spiritual ideological yoga. Reason doesn’t resonate with me in the sense that practice itself does. My father’s death made this feeling even stronger.
I wanted to be with my father when he was dying. He wasn’t able to open his eyes or speak to me. But his face changed in subtle ways as I sat with him on the last day of his life. I knew where we were. I knew what was happening; we both did. We both knew I wasn’t there to help him or to give him medication, to get right with him or tell him something before he died. I wasn’t even there to say goodbye.
I just wanted to be with him.
When I practice, it’s without any purpose. I think I used to think the purposelessness was some kind of failing on my part, a heresy. If I want to practice then it ought to be because I believe something about it, because otherwise I’m just going through the motions, right? And that has to be wrong.
That’s what I was thinking. Now I think, is it possible I was ever so young?
Maybe it’s like lovemaking – which we lose the joy of when we’re painfully trying to have a baby, or trying to “make it work,” or trying to find the right one and get married. It’s not that sex isn’t instrumental to life, but that space between sweetness and skillfulness isn’t an address on a map. It’s something that happens.
I just want to do it. I just want to practice. I just want to give myself to it, to the rhythm and breath of asana, to the quiet sound of motion, the air passing my skin, to the sensation that knows me and is untroubled by epistemological distinctions between Self and self. Enough already, with the talking and the thinking and the life everlasting.
When I practice, I just am what am I am.
Practice, too, seems to happen. I can feel myself resist it, and I can feel when I go with it. I don’t think I’m a better person one way or the other: I’m not improved.
When I practice, maybe it’s that I’m not looking for anything. Somehow that not-looking-for, not-seeking is intensely personal.
Sometimes I start to practice and instead, I just get up from my mat and get on with something else. It happens the other way too, when I stand up during hours of work and sway or swing my arms in the midst of writing, then find myself going there, going to practice.
When my father was dying his face had all his ages in it – not by some chance angle of light or turn of the head – but all the ages he had ever been, all at once and with a kind of transparent clarity that seared away the crush of my anxiety and dread. I could feel myself resist his beauty because it changed everything to accept it. It made talking about loss, for example, a mere figure of speech: convenient more than accurate, convenient because how would I ever describe what was really happening?
I didn’t fight myself about putting the dress away, and I didn’t keep myself from doing it when I found myself zipping it into its garment bag. I still think at least once a day of phoning him.
Practice: things as they are.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.