So today I seemed to be high on life. I walked loving every breath I took and and the sunshine beaming down on me and my delicious breakfast sandwich and coffee from a bodega for $3.75. I have a new job working as a chiropractor’s assistant at health fairs, which I am, surprisingly, loving. I realize that I love this today because pretty much all I do is visit with people, (and get them to fill out a “stress survey” and have a neck and back screening). Visiting is an art that I have been cultivating over my past two years in Arkansas. One of the most important life lessons I have learned, actually. The number one thing is giving of your time-not necessarily talking-just being together with someone. Sharing your presence, your touch maybe. As human beings we crave touch and connection. I learned so much about this over the last year I had with my Grandad. He had dementia and probably the early stages of Alzheimer’s and we had to put him in a nursing home. We had a amazing relationship. One that could not have been more different than the one we shared prior to his sickness. He no longer had very many words left with which to communicate, very few thoughts that could be conveyed or carried through to fruition. And so we sat. We held hands. We watched TV. When the weather was nice, we walked around the building. This is he and my Grandmother on one of our walks. Sometimes we went for rides around town and had coke floats. Sometimes I would just sit with him and rub lotion into his hands. In a way, it must have been a relief to be without so many thoughts. He used to be afraid of storms and would always take my Grandmother to their storm shelter but in the nursing home, he seemed to forget that fear. In a way he was free to live in the moment. In this picture, we’re putting on pajamas before we go home for the night. It was of an utmost importance that we (me, Grandmother, Mom & anyone else who wanted to have a relationship with Grandad) learn how to communicate even as he reached this point in his life. It was not easy and Mom and I talked about it often. The fact was that is was not about us. It was not about how hard it is for us to see him this way or how hard it is to have conversation with him. Boo-hoo. It’s not about US. It’s about sharing the time you have left on this earth with someone you love. And so we did.
That said, there is an art of visiting in the South. I love watching old movies when gentleman callers come over and everyone who’s home all sit together in a room and attempt to make conversation. This sometimes frustrates me, because even though there is a lot of talking, many things aren’t getting said. “Do not speak unless it improves on silence” is a Buddhist teaching and I take that into account. (That is also exactly why I love yoga class and can’t wait to go on a silent retreat). But this “Southern Visiting” is different. This is like a tradition of connection, and as I see it, if you can keep all negativity and gossip out of it, then it does improve on silence. Again, you take the time to have a conversation. The fact is that everyone has something to say, and to teach, if you will let them. They may be teaching you what not to do, but nonetheless, they’re teaching! Which reminds me of a quote from the most eloquent poem that I cherish and use a guide for my life, Desiderata by Max Ehrman. (I have been meaning to post this since reading it at the last yoga retreat.)
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in you own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever you labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
So back to my day today in NYC–high on life–enjoying visiting with so many people at a health fair. We got free lunch, which I ate outside, thanks to the unseasonable warm weather. As I walked around after, I noticed that a full two blocks of buildings were lined with giant pots of my favorite plants–which I just looked up the name of–Hawaiian Ti plants. They have hot pink leaves and are called a good luck plant! I walked one block over to one of the yoga studios (I take 3x/week for my certification) and arrived 30min early to lie in the heat and meditate. Then: a fantastic and challenging class that included triangle, revolving triangle, standing splits, half moon and revolving half moon in the middle of vinyasa flow and some assisted stretches that may leave me unable to walk tomorrow. I left yoga, several hundred calories lighter, and loved every breath again on my walk to the subway. Then at the end of my train ride home for the day I witnessed a dispute. It began with a pretty tame statement by a guy-maybe 20 years old- to an man of a different ethnicity in his 40’s/50’s. The younger guys told the older one not to push his way on the train because there was another one coming. (Which actually made no sense because, for 1-how does he know there is another train? and 2 We are all squished at this point, just let 1 more person on!) I rolled my eyes to myself but continued on in my bubble of happy energy. This may sound cheesy, but this is how I’ve come to see myself. Sometimes it’s a bubble of light I attempt to keep burning bright, sometimes it is energy that I emanate to try to tangibly, positively change people around me, and sometime it’s a force field used to block out negativity. My force field must need more work because it was definitely penetrated when we all exited the train at my stop. The older gentleman stopped on the stairs as the younger one followed STILL yelling–I’m not even sure what. Then it went on and on, louder and louder, the older man saying “go around me” and the younger man saying “GET OUT OF MY F—ING WAY!” The young guy waved over a policeman to settle the matter, but I had already turned to walk down the other staircase. Part of me feels that this should have just slid off of me–it wasn’t as though I was a part of it. But it didn’t. In fact, it actually hurt me. I almost teared up. I stopped at Mister Softee and got a dipped cone and ate it as I walked home and contemplated.
Why did this upset me so much and it is okay that it did? This hurt me because this morning I had actually had this wonderful thought about humanity and how we are all on the same side. I literally thought all this out on my way to the health fair. I thought about how I want to stop and give everyone a compliment on the street. And I wanted to tell all women that we aren’t all in some race for a man and we’re not in a beauty competition against each other. I think that after 2 years of leading classes that end in NAMASTE’, it is translating into my everyday life. This sounds easy, but it’s not. The Bible says to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and that we are all created equally etc. Namaste’ can be interpreted in many ways, but I love the what we say at Nirvana in Jonesboro, “The light in me (or what’s good in me), recognizes the light in you, and under God we are all equal.” At the end of my classes, I could not mean this more. I am truly humbled after leading a class and I feel a deep love for my students. Translating this feeling to the street is a different story for most of us. It is not easy for the average person to feel equal to homeless people, people of different religions, of different ethnicity, criminals, etc. It hurt me to see my fellow man knock each other down. And it was so petty.
And then I wonder, is it okay for me to feel this way? I know that I must have a healthy sense of detachment if I want to be a functioning part of this society. I’ve been cultivating this ever since reading “The Tao of Inner Peace” by Diane Dreher. But part of me also feels like, “I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.” (Jewel) Please feel free to leave any comments/opinions/suggestions about this. In closing I’d like to remind us all–even those of us who may currently be consumed with bitterness, regret, scorn or just general negativity–love your fellow man. “Service is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” -Muhammad Ali.
We are all one.