Fat on Silence

 

I need to write it down. I should do this before true memory fades and is replaced, as it so often is, by a recall that looks like The way I wanted it to be, or The way I think it should have been. This is what we do, being humans of great imagination and great fear. We twist and rearrange the past to suit our current longing or passion or outrage or collection of beliefs.

Here, then, is what’s left of it, the details in no order of significance. If you read it and relate, that is le cerise sur le gateau, French cherry atop French cake. I should tell you, since truth is being honored here, that writers write what first and foremost will save their sanity, which means they write for themselves, whether they tell you so, or not.

For the record, it was surgery on my dominant foot. Neither the largest reconfiguration of bone and cartilage ever, nor a mere removal of some tiny irritant. The Podiatrist called it a Big One, and said the recovery would be the hardest part. A slice was made, and ten years of free floating stuff was vacuumed out, and tattered cartilage was cut away. Bone, grown spurred and convoluted, was planed down, made smooth and then holey, ready to receive adopted titanium parts. A plate and seven screws married foot’s old bone in a ceremony of bright lights and shiny, sterile tools, officiated by a surgeon seasoned in the ways of the human foot.

It was December, and I planned as much as I could for the extended period of no weight bearing. Yes, it hurt. It was hard in all the ways you might expect, and a few you might not consider. While I was able to schedule a break of several months in my Yoga and Yogabilities™ teaching, the rest of the  process was quite complicated by my role as primary caregiver to Bink, my adult daughter with special needs. But it’s the afterwards I concern myself with here.

After the first week or so, I got used to needing assistance with many activities of daily living. Superguy began to adapt to doing the chores and errands and caregiving that typically make up a good chunk of my days. As I stabilized, he felt freer to leave the house for longer periods of time. I had some visitors, but there were lots and lots of spaces in my days, stretches with no people, or very few of them.

I’m an introvert by nature, and the intensity of my care giving experience tends to add extra appreciation for solitude and quiet. I’ve never been one to shy away from being alone. That said, I’d also never had weeks of enforced couch time in a very quiet house. When Bink was at her day program and Superguy was off at work, I had hours and hours of time and space.

I read. I watched the collection of home shows I record on a regular basis. House Hunters International is my only mode of world travel, after all! I did some art, and wrote a bit. After some time I was also able to wheel myself clumsily around the house on my nifty knee scooter, but most of my time was spent sitting.

I resisted it at first, and spent a little time feeling sorry for myself. The magic—and I can’t call it anything less— began to manifest slowly, and only when I allowed myself to surrender into this lifestyle. I required the acceptance that my primary vocation for a while would be healing.

It’s taken me many months to write about this, and I am still struggling for the best words to convey the transcendent experience I had while I was confined to my house for those few months last winter.

In Yoga tradition, we all contain five bodies of life force that nest inside each other. The layers are made of increasingly finer grades of energy. During my couch sitting weeks, it was as if the edges of my energy bodies spread and became more porous. All that activity I was so used to, had been keeping my energy confined to a certain size and shape. When the structure of my life fell away, the collection of energies known as me began to expand, and in the process, I welcomed a deep peace to trickle into my being. It became flood, the landscape altering kind, unlike anything I’ve ever known.

This was a peace that needs a new name, like superpeace or hypercalm. It settled over me like the softest blanket, lightweight but warm enough to melt the frozen places in my heart and soul that hadn’t seen sunlight in years. The hours of silence and solitude were nourishing some bits of my insides that I didn’t even know existed. In circumstances that I thought would drive me nuts, I found a state of deeply serene acceptance, a wild form of being present that went beyond meditation. I didn’t realize the extent of the effect until I was exposed to the outside world again.

After weeks of confinement, the only exception being follow up visits to the foot doctor, my Superguy and I decided I could go out of the house on a little field trip. He helped me into a portable wheelchair we’d acquired to get me to and from the house for said appointments. We went down the street to Panera bread for a cup of tea.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you my senses were bombarded with haphazard grenades of color, light and noise. It was jarring, to put it mildly. I’d lost touch with how loud and chaotic and abrasive the sights and sounds, textures and energies of the cars and clerks and crowds are. I remember actually recoiling at the store signs and the speed with which all those tires on the roads kicked out snow and gravel. And the pace! Frenetic, dizzying. I was exhausted after that first outing.

Subsequent outings had similar but very gradually more muted effects on me. When I was finally able to drive again and I began doing all the things I’d been relieved of for so long, I vowed I would hold on to the peaceful state I’d been gifted through my convalescence. It faded, though. The figurative leap back into the busy swirl of my life demanded my focus and energy. I’m sad to say that I felt myself contract again, fitting back in to the expectations that my life before the big surgery was modeled upon.

I’ve not forgotten my experience, though. I’ll call this somewhat inadequate attempt to convey it to you a victory, because I’ve resisted even trying to explain this for so long.

A few years back, I wrote the following on one of my Yoga Facebook pages:

“There is a quality of fullness in silence, in emptiness, in spaces. Spaces nourish and soothe and spaces can heal. The space between sentences, between breaths. Space between footsteps and activities and thoughts. The space to be, the space to be with, the space to do small things well.”

Today I kneel before the transformational power of experiences we may dread and avoid. I bow to the possibilities that exist within the fullness of emptiness, and I testify to the immense importance of spaces between things.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

Welcome, Winter!

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Solstice 2016

On this, the shortest day of the year in my part of the world, I have a confession to make. I’ve been swirling, these darkening days, around and around like a pile of dry autumn leaves. Allowing myself to be picked up by the loudest winds of fear and unrest, carried this way and that, and spun around until I am dizzy. I’ve been letting this happen. And, because I know better, and because I sometimes ask others to know better, it seems appropriate to re-publish something I wrote for my Yoga students a few years back. It goes like this:

How to Welcome Winter

Listening is a dying art and science. Let’s listen to ourselves for starters. We begin to complain about the shortage of light. It is so much harder, we’ll say, to slip in the walk/the run/the gym/the sunrise Yoga, almost impossible, we’ll agree, to Get It All Done. The Holidays, someone will whisper, and you or I will nod gravely and point out the circles beneath our winter eyes. And if we pay attention we’ll hear ourselves repeat the litany of insults that Winter has hurled against us, has slid underneath our skin. It’s so cold, we’ll say to anyone who’ll hear. We’ll find new ways to explain the way the damp chill invades our very bones and how even the car groans when the key inquires about a ride to the market. The market! The lines are long, the fruit is pitiful, the prices prick our sense of decency. Damn the season. You know the one, the one where we are supposed to Joy! and Cheer! and Buy! our way to a healthy economy and happier family and friends.

Stop. Hear yourself. What is it your body needs at this time? Your mind? Your soul? We drown out the true voice within with our very human tendencies to complain and rail against what is. WHAT IS. We know, don’t we, that no amount of protest will raise the temperature, coax the daylight to linger a little longer, or stop the incessant cultural noise that exhorts us to continue on without change as if there wasn’t this season called winter. As if the natural call to slow it down, get a bit more sleep, find refuge in quiet practices….as if there was no wisdom in that.

Winter wisdom doesn’t whisper. When we listen, winter wisdom belts out it’s songs with bold baritone vibrato, sharp and clear in the frigid air. There’s a foot of snow on the ground–stay in! It gets dark earlier; go to bed earlier too! It’s cold outside-eat warm nourishing foods! I am winter, season of introspection. Go within; meditate and bear witness to those seeds sleeping under the frozen earth. They will bear fruit in their time and your worry will not hasten their germination! At least that’s what I hear winter saying, when I really listen.

You faithful Yoginis and Yogis are likely to have a more highly developed ability to tune in and really listen to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. That is, after all, a huge part of our practice, isn’t it? The witnessing without rushing to judgment, the respect for natural cycles and our place within them? This season, let’s do it differently. Let’s go slow as if this is the most natural thing there is. Let’s remember that we are enough, we do enough, and that the gift of being present with ourselves and each other is truly the greatest gift there is. That’s when we can begin to pay attention to that spark of light that flickers in you, and you, and you. We recognize it because it lives within each one of us, and we are mirroring each other. It’s the great grand NAMASTE, the honoring of the divine and universal light and life force in each other that emanates from one source, call it what you will. And that, my friends, is the essence of Bhakti Yoga; our devotion, yours and mine, to what created and sustains you and me and everyone else. It’s highly personal and universal at the same time.

I think winter is a beautiful symbol for the going within that is an essential part of the process of realizing who we are and what we are here for. I also think that’s a run-on sentence, but I digress. What do you think?

Take care, stay true to what grounds you, stay well,

Melinda

 

CHASING A CHEESE BALL MOON

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December, Massachusetts

This time of year in New England, it’s pitch dark at 4:30pm. I’m working on accepting this gracefully, though I do stray from intention a few times a week into cursing-the-darkness mode.

Last Wednesday, shortly after the early blackness descended, I was navigating the narrow curves of North Street, wondering if every town, in every state/province/territory,  has one—a North Street, that is. I reminded myself to slow a bit, and breathe; trying to time the art class pickup just-so, not early as this creates distress for Bink, not late as that has its own kind of dissonance. Autism is timekeeper and taskmaster in her measured life, and thus in mine.

Pickup complete, we made our way towards home, my voice soft and even as I announced the bright seasonal lights strung across a porch, snaking ‘round a pole, or illuminating an inflatable Santa or snowman bouncing on a lawn in the evening breeze. “ Don’t care. Not pink.”, she muttered. Hmmm. Last December she would chirp excitedly, “ Colorful lights!” as we’d pass the seasonal luminary flourishes. I heaved a sullen internal sigh. I really like watching her change as she gets older, but I’m a bit deflated with this latest assessment: no pink lights, nothing to see here, folks! There are precious few pink Christmas lights, have you noticed?

BUT THEN,

we rounded a corner and there it was, an impossibly huge golden moon hanging low in the sky, fruit-like. It dangled temptingly behind tree branches, then just above the highway. “ Look”, said I, “ The moon is huge tonight.”, and she, who finds no beauty in a sky without pink, she, who is finished with a zoo in moments if there are no bunnies, pink pigs or yellow ducks, she, who shuns so many of the flora and fauna that decorate our world because “not interesting” –- that very same she exclaimed, “Cheese ball!”. The hairs on my arms stood on end under my winter coat, and my mind percolated with delight. A shared interest! Super Guy and I do try to nurture any inclination she shows towards the natural world, and we often look for common ground. He and I can be a bit passionate about the moon, but Bink has not shared that, ever.

We tried to keep the cheese ball in our sights, Bink and I, as the car slogged through the traffic that can be the bane of crowded eastern Massachusetts. The lights—Christmas ones and traffic ones and the neon signs that have settled and bred along the main route—were competing with the cheese in the most irritating way, stealing its glory.

We finally turned into the street that leads to the street that leads to our street, and the cheese floated a little higher in the sky, seemed even brighter and more golden. I pulled the car over and grabbed my iPhone, trying to capture a picture of this enormous and other-worldly orb hovering so close to our mundane street. Bink followed suit, pulling her own iPhone out of her very pink purse and taking a pic or two. Still with me, she was! More percolating, more joy tugging upward, then, at the corners of my mouth. Alas, within the limits of phone camera technology, the photos captured none of the magic. The cheese ball looked like another of the many streetlights. Damn the lighted streets! Then I caught the irony of it, having been unhappy with the darkness just an hour earlier. Had a little laugh at myself, I did.

Glancing at Bink’s face, I could see that I was losing her. She was already checking out of this rare interlude of shared excitement about something, anything. “Let’s try , I said brightly, “ to follow the cheese and see if we can get a better picture!” Taking her silence as assent, I swung the car back onto the road and we made our way through the little maze of familiar streets, keeping the cheese in sight. I drove to the darkest end of street I could find, with cheese ball leading the way. There, behind some apartments, I knew we’d find that odd field of interesting, tall, reedy things that look vaguely like cornstalks in October. Here the golden cheese ball moon stood out in stark relief against the very black sky. I parked the car and we both got out, pausing just a few seconds to enjoy the sound of wind as it moved through the wispy reedy things. I made a quick note to find out what they were formally called, these rooted instruments of the field. Bink was making a low, throaty sound which I knew to be impatience. Any moment now she’d tell me she needed the bathroom. I took a few quick iPhone shots of the cheese floating above the crispy reeds in the still-early evening sky. Not stopping to check them out, we were back inside the car and off towards home.

Home. We got to the bathroom in time ( a constant theme in our lives). The photos remained unimpressive. Bink was, umm, uninterested in them. No matter, for these are the times that sustain me; a rare delight shared by my daughter, a reminder of the humor and wonder and joy of being alive, chasing a cheese ball moon through the neighborhood on a cold, black, early night. God, I love my life.

-Melinda Coppola