Often we don’t see what is in front of us; we see who we are.
When I was a youngster, my mother was hospitalized, and I was often left home alone for protracted periods. Then she would go home and return to a pill-popping regime until the next hospitalization. As a result, good-natured strangers would improvise and make room for me. I remember when I was eight being enrolled in dance school early in the year. I suppose the thought was that I would be watched after by the staff. My mother, a perfected martyr, was always very adept at conveying to the school staff the tragic degree her illness imposed and how it did not allow her to be available as a parent. Over the weeks, as I waited for a ride home after each class, the staff began to befriend me. Within months I was at the dance school daily from 3-7pm. As a result, I became pretty good at gymnastics and tap dancing. However, I knew I was there only as a substitute for being home without supervision.
I became familiar with the families that came and went, and I remember being hugely impressed by parents that stayed to watch their children perform. I have always had an inquiring mind, so I got to know the details of many of the families. They learned about my absentee parent and always showed concern mixed with sympathy. I hated that. You see, I knew that my mother manufactured a list of illnesses that regularly pulled her way from our family. I watched her flirt with the doctors, lap up the attention of hospital staff, and enjoy visits from unrecognizable male suitors early in the day while my father was at work. This ruse was not working for me. And the fact that strangers bought it and made it out to be a tragedy irritated me.
On one occasion, I remember feeling so jealous of another student (and her intact family) that I hid from her the newly purchased satin toe-dancing slippers her mother had just bought. It took her an hour to find them, and I was caught red-handed and felt smaller than small.
I became good friends with the Asian family that ran the corner market, popping in for daily visits and rewarding myself with handfuls of candy bars. I spent time talking with them, amused by their different look and accent, until I got bored watching their parental glee as they witnessed their child’s most recent achievement.
Then the summer came, and there was no school, so it was decided that I would live with a nearby single-parent family with three obese teenage daughters living hand to mouth. Surely a good resolve was to send me to these willing strangers in exchange for a token payment. So there I was living in a home where making white bread, mayonnaise, and bologna sandwiches was the focus of the day. These people lived in squalor, yet they seemed connected with one another–I was the little girl outsider living in their house yet feeling like I was watching it all from outside a window. It was in these two months that I remember fearing that if I went to sleep I would die. I would fight to stay awake, all the while believing that if I let go, I would perish. Needless to say, during these days I spent most every afternoon at dance school and often upstairs napping.
I also remember taking for granted what my body had been trained to do as no big deal to anyone else–so it was not big deal to me.
Something strange occurred 45 years later. I attended a yoga class for the first time in my life. People had suggested yoga to me over the years; however, I never had the time to sit so still…or so I thought. Now that I was in this new chapter “in life,” though, I decided to sign up for yoga and learn its practice and lessons. This would no doubt improve my new way of being spiritual, disciplined and mindful.
I arrived at the beginning class, and in came a man who would become not only my new yoga teacher, but also someone who would introduce me to new principles for living. He was generous in heart yet strong in his intention, something I have not readily seen demonstrated by males I encounter. The gift he offered his students was to slice out the 90 minutes in time in which the class could disconnect us from self-interest and draw from a source point that could fuel our souls. He taught us how to gather sustenance for ourselves.
Now, these lessons were not spelled out, nor did they involve a set of techniques. The time the class was together held a loving focus that encouraged us to disconnect from all else. The physical application of where our bodies went created intention. Each one of us did our own forging forward. I went inside to the furnace of my being and touched the fire power of my body. I assume that it was of no coincidence that several of the poses were reminiscent of my earlier days at dance school. However, something incredible had occurred, instead of being dropped off as a lonely child, I was found.
You see, in the decades that followed dance school, I came to intimately know and love myself. Now I could do the physical formations with pride as I alone witnessed the accomplishments. I didn’t need anyone else to notice or validate me. My body had been taught some wonderful configurations as a youth, but I was too emotionally twisted and hurting to behold them.
Something else occurred in that yoga class: I found the refrigerator, and it didn’t have bologna sandwiches! Instead, there was an array of healthy choices, each of which encouraged sustenance through a focus on quality rather than quantity. No need to fill up. I am not empty!