Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Interesting Answer to an Inner Conflict

I have an inner conflict.

Because I was only 19 when my first son was born, 21 when his brother came along, and 35 when I gave birth to my daughter, I now have two sets of grandchildren. The older set range in age from 20 to 25. The younger set range in age from due in December to seven. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn't get as much time with the older grandchildren as I would have liked. I lived with it.

Knowing all too well from our personal experience how times flies when you are having fun with your children's children, my husband and I have more control over our schedule in our sixties than when we were younger, and we've used this latitude to arrange our lives around the smaller set. We ask for them often, and are offered them often -- under normal circumstances.

They live only 30 minutes away, but their stay-at-home mom's schedule is very hectic, as you can imagine, dropping off and picking up two of them for school at different times, regulating the baby's nap, and taking the others to swim class, gymnastics class, and so on. Their father (who is so nuts about them that it brings squirrels and baseball games to mind) works at a very challenging and stressful job. Coming home to them every weekday and having weekends with them are what keep him going. Understandable. Because our time with them is what keeps us going too.

So here's the conflict: My son-in-law's job provides a very comfortable lifestyle for his family, but it comes with the possibility of transfer to a distant location. My daughter has recently pointed out that my husband and I need to prepare ourselves for the possible separation by spending less time with the little ones, and she is the one in complete control of if and when we get to have them. So the question becomes, is she right? Should we spend less time with them now so that if/when they move away it will be less painful? Or should we pursue every moment we can muster, while they are nearby?

Inner conflict can be explained as the conscious part of the mind (where we do our thinking) disagreeing with the subconscious part of the mind (where we do our feeling). Sometimes that line becomes muddled and the information stored mentally intermingles, as is the case for me now. Then the answer to the dilemma becomes, "I don't know."

Normal circumstances don't always prevail. My daughter is pregnant (hormonaly challenged) and I am 70 (read old and crotchety, not to mention hypersensitive). We both have a history of depression and she cannot take medication in her condition. My depression is episodic, not chronic, therefor medication isn't recommended (plus many years ago when the problem was chronic, I experienced undesirable side effects of all medications I tried). All this adds up to a mother/daughter relationship that is touchy and... tenuous... at times. Such as now.

This means that we can only see her children when she deems it acceptable. At her will and mercy, as her father puts it. This leaves us in a very uncomfortable position because we know from experience with our first set, that little ones grow big in the blink of an eye. If anything were to happen to us within the next few years, Annabella's memories of us would be hazy, Evelyn's even more so, Olivia's and Scarlett's nonexistent. (How much do you remember before the age of seven?) We've made certain to take photos of all the goods times we've had with them, but photos can only hint at a relationship.

My husband and I, alone together, take solace in enjoying each other and the many activities we share. But without our grandchildren (around whom, under normal circumstances, we plan much of our our lives), our corner can seem very dark and dismal. At least we're in it together. Frank and I handle testy relationships differently. Emotionally he holds them off at a distance, whereas with me they're as close as the nose on my face. We balance each other out.

There is a metaphor I've created for the aging process. When our children are old enough to drive, we sit in passenger seat next to them. Later we're moved to the backseat because someone more important is up front. Eventually we're put in the trunk to make room for others in the back. Then, at some point in time, we're taken out of the trunk and placed somewhere in a corner of their lives. Despite our full lives, when we are too long from our grandchildren, Frank and I have found our corner can sometimes seem dark and dismal. That's just the way it is.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eastern & Western Indians (But Not in That Order)

In our collection of old movies and TV shows stored on VHS, is a based-on-fact movie called Walks Far Woman. Starring, if you can believe it, Raquel Welch. Despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of Raquel’s, this happens to be one of my favorite movies.

She plays an Indian banned by her tribe for killing her husband (in self-defense). After wandering a while she is taken in by another tribe, to live with the chief and his wife. Enter the young brave who falls in love/hate with her. Love because she’s gorgeous, hate because she is also athletic; and the two become highly competitive.

The handsome man eventually visit’s the tepee of the chief and explains awkwardly that he is confused about the beautiful Walks Far Woman’s position in the chief‘s family. “Do you think of her as your daughter? Your sister? Or your wife?” The chief replies, “All of these.”

“And if I were to ask to marry her, how would I do that?” asks the young man. The chief replies,

“The old ways are always best.”

This comes to my mind as I prepare for the Traditional Yoga class I’ll be teaching when the new semester begins in a few weeks at the University of the Pacific. I call my class Traditional Yoga because, over the 40 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen so many changes take place. When someone asks me what style I teach, I say, “I began teaching before styles existed.” This means before Yoga became Americanized, commercialized, transformed into a business complete with cute clothes and trinkets and gadgets that are sold to increase revenue.

Now you can find Hot Yoga, Aqua Yoga, even Laughing Yoga, to name a few. You can find classes where a teacher merely strikes poses in front of the group, expecting them to follow the example asasks you to move into a forward bend and then puts all of his weight on you to force your stretch, and classes where a teacher asks you to remain in a posture for 20 or 30 possibly uncomfortable minutes.

I teach as I was taught by four different teachers, one of whom was from India. With the exception of one instructor, they also taught the way they were taught. They carried on the tradition of yoga without making changes to create a style they could then name after themselves, promote, and use to make big bucks. The one exception should have called his class Ego Yoga, since in each of the 10 classes he taught we spent most of our time listening to him tell us how great and wonderful he believed himself to be and how fortunate we were to be in his presence. Years after that I became certified by Kriyananda of the Ananda Yoga Retreat. It too has changed to become modernized, but I continue to visit and I relish my memories of “the good old days” when it was more rustic.

Once, in the dimly lit room of a health club where I was teaching, a gentleman came in after class began and sat silently in the back. I assumed he was there to observe rather than participate. Afterwards he came up to me and explained with an intriguing Indian accent that he had been visiting various classes on his visit to America. Mine, he told me, was the only one that “felt like Yoga. In fact,” he added with his palms together and a slight tip of his head (and this gives me chills every time it crosses my mind) “For me it was like a visit home.”

I’ve never tried to make a living at teaching Yoga. My belief is that Yoga is a personal experience, and in the traditional sense every teacher is sharing his or her personal experience of Yoga with students. I find it difficult to place the component of money into that equation. Yes, I’m often (and currently) paid to teach; but over the years I’ve also taught many classes without charging, and others with all proceeds going to the sponsoring organization.

As for “styles,” in my mind any Yoga at all is better than no Yoga. I’m 70 this year and who knows how much longer I’ll be in the front of the class sharing my Yoga experience with university students young enough to be my grandchildren? While I am, however, I’ll be teaching as I have taught for 40 years, following in the footsteps of my teachers, who followed in the footsteps of theirs.

I believe the old ways are always best.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

With Appreciation to Our Military

TV commentators have announced that a Chinook helicopter was recently shot down by the Taliban, killing all 30 on board -- including a dozen members of Seal Team Six. I just finished reading a book by that title, written by retired seal team six member Howard Wasdin. (My father's career centered on espionage. He could never discuss his work and refused to write his memoirs despite my urgings. So material of this nature is meaningful to me.)

It is possible that reporters are doing what they typically do -- reporting a possibility as though it were a certainty in order to awfulize it for higher ratings. Even if no passengers were special ops our nation's tragedy is devastating enough -- I mourn the loss of every military man and woman -- but to lose a number of our most stringently and technically trained soldiers leaves me at a loss for words to describe my sorrow.

I typically tend to be wordy when I express thoughts and feelings, but on this occasion I'll only go on to say that in high school freshman English class (1955) our teacher, Jonathan Pearce, assigned to us the memorization of a poem by John Donne. To this day I can recite it in its entirety but don't worry, I'm only going to share a few lines for those unfamiliar with it:

No man is an island, entire of itself

Each man's death diminishes me

For I am involved in mankind.

War is ugly and unforgiving -- the underbelly of life we wish did not exist. Yet exist it does. I did not know any of those whose lives were so dramatically sacrificed in this incident, nor do I know their names or any of their loved ones. But I take this painful loss personally. I have an intellectual understanding of the gruelling challenges they faced voluntarily to become who and what they became, knowing all too well the risks involved. And I know that the high price they've paid is shared by parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, and comrades. That's a hell of a lot of sorrow swirling about in the universe and it's as though I can feel their tears burning my cheeks.

Dr. Wasdin's book is a worthwhile read. I highly recommend it. Short of that, English poet John Donne's poem (written in the 1600s) is also worthy of consideration. Even at the crazy age of 15 it left a lasting effect on me.