Yoga means “to yoke”, to join, to bridge.
“Only connect”, wrote novelist E M Forester when I read his famous novel Howard’s End in my first undergraduate English class in 1969.
My professor said: Only connect.
For me, now
more than fifty years later,
yoga’s connections expand
into a rejuvenation
of the body and the mind.
Yoga means holding out for more.
Not giving up or giving in.
It means giving up.
Yoga means sensual pleasure
and the erotic spring.
It means contemplative disembodied reflection.
Yoga means somewhere between these spaces
of opposition –
an ease in whatever emerges.
Yoga is Political
It is important to note the political complexity of Western yoga practices and how it is that yoga came to circulate in the West. Scholar Suzanne Newcombe introduces this topic in a review of an exhibition on Ayurvedic medicinal practices in India. She observes:
“Economic and political powers are strong influences on the shape and popularity of Indian concepts of the body today. Yoga is currently the most widespread Indian approach to promoting the health of the body. It is flourishing globally. Millions attest that yoga makes them feel better and Ayurvedic concepts are often presented as integral to yoga practices.
But it is not well known that the contemporary global interest in Ayurveda and yoga is partially a result of colonial mismanagement of India. This point is creatively illustrated in the Wellcome’s new show through an interactive commission by the artist Ranjit Kandalgaonkar. Millions of lives were lost throughout the colonial period due to forcible redistribution of food and other resources away from local Indian populations, to serve what were considered to be the greater needs of the British Empire.
As I have argued elsewhere, reactions to the tragic deaths of millions of Indians transformed yoga. Swami Vivekananda was inspired by the effects of famine and plague to redefine Karma Yoga as a social-service mission. Many leaders of the Indian independence movement, including Mahatmas Gandhi and Mohan Malaviya, promoted Indian approaches to medicine and health.
And so the establishment of the modern Indian nation was closely linked with the health of millions of individual Indian bodies through “Indian” systems of healing. This continues today as the prime minister Narendra Modi demonstrates through his association with Indian’s popular “yoga-televangelist” Swami Ramdev and the elevation of traditional medicine to that of an independent government department.”
Yoga is what arises
Yoga is what arises.
Yoga means time flies and catches hold of you.
It means your body’s arteries are inflamed.
It means fire in the belly.
It means your head aches and not.
It means your lungs are clear or not.
It means a knot in your brain untied.
Yoga means you wrap yourself tighter around your lover at night because you might.
It means you hold yourself in your own arms, an embrace that won’t let go.
It means you find yourself whispering to yourself in your sleep while you wake up in lotus. (That is a lie! But simply consider the possible.)
Yoga makes me think about living and death. The not being a presence especially at this moment in time.
Yoga makes me feel so very alive and so fatigued I can’t move.
Yoga makes me frustrated and unhappy when I think about what I don’t know.
Yoga makes me fly around inside my own body, my inflamed arteries opening up to my jet-propelled body within.
Yoga moves me into the world beyond. The connections that tie me to teachers present and past. To fellow students here and now and those I remember from long ago. Sometimes we are on an elevated platform beside the sea or in a darkened brick-lined room or a small studio in a basement. All of these places allow my body to stretch and thrill with movement and the constant opening of static poses.
Yoga makes me lie down on a mossy rock face.
Yoga moves me into the world beyond when I think about service. The work of teaching – something I would like to do again. And the work yoga teachers accomplish in under-served communities.
The Ashram Beside the Sea
When I was learning some of my first yoga postures at a Sivananda Ashram on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I was about 28 and had been working for CBC Current Affairs in Toronto on Ninety Minutes Live, a fascinating but ill-fated late-night TV talk show with Peter Gzowski. My job was to publicize the wonderful guests even though I had little experience.
Soon enough the program ended and I was unemployed in February. A few months earlier I had moved out of my wonderful boyfriend Duff’s house just down the road from the Art Gallery of Ontario. My search for accomodation was brief: I followed a Chinese man holding a for rent sign to the loft he was letting out on Spadina Avenue just above a wonderful Jewish deli and a Chinese bbq pork and duck store. It was a paradise for me. I didn’t cook a meal while I lived there.
I grew depressed and solitary and wept a lot. A friend recommended a therapeutic yoga vacation so with the last of my funds I flew to Nassau. I travelled for a week’s vacation and stayed four months in a pup tent near the beach. When I asked if I could stay, the ashram offered me a job running the wheatgrass hut and baking carrot cake. It was idyllic really. Yoga asana classes twice a day. Chanting and meditation morning and evening. A beautiful beach on Paradise Island where I could take extended walks.
One day a scientist who taught yoga to terminally ill patients visited the ashram with his family from the eastern U.S. He offered to teach me to meditate. I had been having a challenging time at the morning and evening gatherings at the temple. We sat down facing each other and within a few minutes I felt myself sink into a powerful deep meditative state. I felt elated as my seeing eye became a miniature body floating with some speed through my blood vessels. I have a distinct feeling of happiness and liberation still to this day when I think of this. After a few minutes – too soon for me, the meditation teacher called me back to the surface of my being and I returned uplifted by contentment, rested after my interior journey.
Recently I have been thinking of this experience as a kind of uncanny premonition, a through-line in my life from then until now when I have giant cells in my arteries that can kill me if not treated. I feel a powerful sense of deja vu. As though my body was turned inside out for me to experience what ails me now.
Spiegel, Adriaan van de; and Casseri, Giulio Cesare. De formato foetu liber singularis.
(Padua: Io. Bap. de Martinis & Livius Pasquatus, ).
The Temple of Eros
Almost twenty years later in 1995 when I was 44, I travelled to an international women’s writing conference in Mysore, India. It would be a few years before I became a mother, but I remember how afterwards I investigated international adoption from India as I loved visiting this country so and was moved powerfully by the culture. In Mysore, I stayed with other participants, most of us women, in a beautiful old colonial hotel. We breakfasted each morning with the family of scholars who organised the conference. On their rooftop, we shared delicious Indian cuisine artfully and generously prepared by the women in the family.
My public talk was difficult knowledge — a study of child sexual abuse narratives in Canadian women’s writing. After I delivered my paper, an elderly man, an Indian scholar, stood up to say there were no experiences like this in India. Without hesitation, two or three younger female Indian scholars stood up to protest his easy dismissal. They recounted how sexual abuse occurred in the regions where they lived. One woman said her twelve-year old daughter accompanied her to the conference because she feared leaving her behind in the large unsafe house she shared with extended family in her home town.
The topics of the international conference were often filled with abjection and sorrow as women from around the world explored the suffering of those whose lives were limited and scarred by patriarchy. But our meetings and conversations bubbled over with the joy we shared at meeting to share our stories, our analyses, our actions, our hopes and dreams.
One day I was relieved and excited when two women invited me to join them in a rental car that would take us to a famous temple not far away. The Virupakasha Tempe near Mysore in Kanartaka is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for the magnificent erotic sculptures that adorn the walls.
We drove into the countryside and luck would have it that we travelled just at the moment of a significant agricultural festival when all of the cows were decorated with powdered dye and the dogs that slept beneath them were also tinted purple and pink and blue. As part of the purification ritual, villagers lit fires and the cows were herded through the smoking embers to be purified. Thus it was that as we passed by a smoky village suddenly a blue cow with painted golden horns leapt along the side of the road like a magical apparition.
When we finally arrived at the temple we were told this place was very special because it was so intact. Historically it had been buried for dozens of years in order to stop the invaders from destroying the elaborate erotic carvings that covered every surface of the outside of the temple walls. Unlike other temples where the bodies of gods were marred and shattered, the sculptural artistry here was extraordinary. Tantric postures molded into sand-coloured figures mapped out erotic stories on every surface of the temple.
Inside the temple, the priests were busy standing on ladders in a ritual to purify the temple gods. Holding large bowls over each god, first they poured honey, then yogurt, and then finally rose petals. The golden, then white, then rose red colours dripped and fell from the gods’ heads to their feet. All the while this remarkable ritual unfolded, an old man played a very long horn eliciting deep sounds that resonated and echoed throughout the earthen and stone quiet.
There I was sitting not far away from the musician, mesmerised. I could not move. The two women, both from Montreal, one a translator, urged me to get in the car and drive back to Mysore. But I was paralysed. I couldn’t leave this blissful place. Transported somewhere else, I was suspended in what I can only describe as a state of bliss. No other word would suffice. After an hour or so, I found myself disentangling from the experience and I managed to stand up from the floor where I had settled near the musician and walk outside to find my fellow travellers. The translator woman was very understanding as though she comprehended the profundity of being set adrift in another world. However the second woman was simply furious at the delay.
Not long ago, I told this story to one of my excellent Octopus Garden yoga teachers, Jay Andrews, a muscian/yoga teacher who is knowledgeable about sound. I was touched by Jay’s response. He told me he thought this experience might have been a “little samadhi” and I am grateful that he found a word for it. I would call it an inkling of samadhi.
I’ll never forget the sublime beauty of this experience and for me this too is yoga.
In fact, I would characterise the hallucinatory experience I had when I was meditating years earlier in the Sivananda Ashram as an earlier “little samadhi” — for there too the interiority of the bliss was almost overwhelming.
A bridge lists to the side when you tilt your head. Imagine the overarching span of the bridge. Solitary pedestrians walk alongside you on the bridge.
A very beautiful arc lights up the bridge at night. You cross a celestial rainbow. High – very high – above the river. Below the pedestals anchor you deep within the riverbed. A passerelle runs parallel, a very wide pedestrian and bicycle walkway crossing the river.
When I think of “bridge” – the yoga posture – I always think of this space spanning the wide North Saskatchewan River that has run through this province during settlement times when Edmonton was a Hudson’s Bay outpost and when the Cree and Blackfoot and Nakoda and Dene and the Metis Nation first traversed the riverbed below. On a summer’s day, I watch as a canoeist floats under the bridge following a long history of canoes that came before.
A big blue prairie sky dances above me when I practice the bridge yoga posture. The fancy dancers bedecked in spectacular finery of ribbons and feathers and beads along with women in their sonorous and jingle dresses dance in powwows not far from the riverbanks. This is where my body begins to unwind.
How the bridge opens up the body in a reciprocal motion to the forward bend that can – if not done properly – lead to hamstring strain. That is what happened to me. So the bridge heals and repairs.…
Yoga is the sea, a wave
Born in Italy, Vanda Scaravelli studied with several of the best yoga teachers in the world: B.K.S. Iyengar and T.K.V. Desikachar. She is the author of Awakening the Spine was a beloved yoga teacher of my first yoga teacher, the beloved late Esther Meyers.
Vanda Scaravelli practiced yoga until her death at 93 and she wrote of yoga: “What I gradually discovered is that we have three friends: gravity, breath and the wave. By wave I mean that undulating supple extension along the spine. These three companions, fused into one, should remain with us constantly.”
For her, breath “was the essence of yoga” and I remember how my teacher Esther Meyer’s Iyengar practice grew softer and more fluid the longer she studied with Vanda incorporating her wave-like momentum into her practice and her teaching.
Scaravelli writes about how our acceptance of gravity in the lower part of the body, our hips, our legs, knees and feet, allows for the liberation of the upper part of the body, the lightness of the head, neck, arms, shoulders ….
An ocean animates our yogic breath according to Scaravelli:
“Breathing is like the constant lapping of waves onto the shore. The wave comes inhaling. The wave goes exhaling. The wave reached out, unrolling itself effortlessly, then flattens, depleting its flow. In relentlessly coming forward and turning back, the wave leaves the sand wet. It may glisten with damp, but the sands smooth surface is now free of standing water.
In the same way, can we exist without allowing unpleasant thoughts and feelings, held in the recess of our memories, to leave their mark? Is it possible to give and receive with simplicity, without regret, without pride, without being involved in the result or consequences of our actions?
The sea in its immensity remains untouched by the pulsating of its waves. You are. Let nothing disturb this incommensurable quietness.” (“Wave” 180)
B.K.S. Iyengar wrote in his “Foreward” to the second edition of awakening the spine (ix):
If the functions of the spinal column are maintained in a sound state of motion and action through yogic discipline, the ambrosia of life’s energy flows like a vibrant river in the body….
In India the spinal column is compared to the veena (lute) and to Meru, the central point of the river of energy, originating from the spine. Like a lute or a violin, the spine has 33 vertebrae or knobs as well as nerves, which can be tuned through yoga like strings, to produce the sound or vibration of health, happiness, harmony, balance and rhythm.
The Bridge – Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Move onto your back with some gentleness.
Draw your knees in towards your body, your knees over your feet. Your feet towards your buttocks.
Your heels descend towards the centre of the earth (but who is counting the miles?)
Invite gravity to take hold of your body as your back and your spine anchor you for a moment.
Do your feet sink into the ground below?
Your arms rest on the ground and extend parallel to the sides of your body. The palms of your hands are on the floor.
Lift your arms slightly, just high enough to externally rotate your arms until your palms face the sky. Set them again on the ground.
Here you can perform one or another alternative movement of your arms.
You can rotate your shoulders away from your ears. Meanwhile raise your tailbone towards your knees and gently press your pelvis up and towards your feet. Clasp your hands together extending your fingers towards your feet. Your back is now arching over your arms stretched out below on the floor.
Or use your hands to support your back by cupping them over your upper buttocks. You can rest your elbows on the floor like pedestals.
Observe the double movement of your knees directly above your feet, grounded and moving into the centre of the earth. Allow your pelvis to lift up. Your hips ride high.
Your neck is relaxed.
You feel a sense of exhilaration as your lower body roots into the ground along with the edges of your arms.
Your torso becomes light above you.
Allow your heels to sink deeply into the earth.
Another day, you can imagine this interior scene playing out in your mind’s eye. Your arms stretch along your rib cage as you stretch out on your back. Dig your heels into the surface of your mat. Imagine you look up through a veil of golden needles above you. You are stretched out in what’s called Larch Valley in the mountains. Not far from Banff. Every fall, the fine soft green needles of the larch trees pale to gold and you can stretch out underneath them on the mossy surface below. Red purple yellow lichen provides enough friction to let you know you have arrived. Your breath is moving up and down your front and back body. Imagine your breath animating your spine with every inhalation and exhalation. An inhalation fills you up your lower rib cage, then your upper. Your front ribs and back opening opening opening. And on a count of four release. Your heels are planted. Our body’s desire keeps us moving through our bridge as much from release and pleasure as from discipline and repetition. The balance of comfort and effort is a yoga sutra.
Yoga and Illness
“…dwell on the eternal while doing your asana —
Regulating your breath through pranayama,
Meditate on the ever compassionate dwelling in the Heart.”
— T Krishnamacharya Yoganjalisaram “Slovak 2”
An aged [wo]man is but a paltry thing,
A wretched coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.
— William Butler Yeats
Most of the time I have been practicing yoga over the past year, I have been ailing and ill. My Grand Cell Arteritis was diagnosed in early September but I suffered the undiagnosed symptoms earlier.
Over the past six months, the medication itself has caused a range of miseries that range from behaviors, moods, to aches, and a range of strange new conditions. At the moment, my hair is falling out at a very efficient rate. Each morning, my pillow collects a small nest of strands. By far, this is the worst symptom I’ve experienced in spite of the fact that others may have been more alarming. My vanity dictates this hierarchy.
Nonetheless other effects of the Prednisone steroid are lamentable. Obsessive compulsive behavior is time consuming. Hypomania is exhausting. Insomnia sickens. Muscle wasting weakens. Hot flashes unsettle. Lack of focus and concentration distracts. Thinning skin hurts. Bruising and lack of healing disturb. A quick-blooming cataract blurs vision. Anxiety irritates.
My immune system is suppressed and any illness in my body surfaces and flares on Prednisone. Before beginning the steroid treatment, you must have tuberculosis and hepatitis and other tests to make certain you are not going to suddenly manifest the disease. You can imagine the range of ailments that can surface unbidden during treatment.
But all the way along, my daily yoga communicates with my body. Each morning it as though yoga rearranges my bedclothes and comforts me. With my early morning yoga zoom classes, teachers and fellow students provide me with a regular dose of community where I can remain safe in my home away from crowds and COVID. I am nourished in these relationships and connections that extend across the country to Toronto and beyond.
In October, I began my four-month yoga teacher training at Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Centre while maintaining my classes at Pur Resilience Yoga along with my independent Iyengar teacher Cindy Campbell. On Saturday I complete my Octopus Garden 200-hour Teacher Training with several examinations that I am anxious about — the first examinations I’ve taken in many years. My body and my mind are not quite what they once were- even a few months ago. But I will do the test “full out.” And hope for the best. The course of study has been for the most part exceptional. And I recommend it to anyone who is keen to teach or to deepen their personal yoga practice.
Do it full out (& balance)
…The streaming is as delicate and powerful
The central channel of your spine is the riverbed.
As the tingling touch of lovers.
Radiance arches between above and below.
Your whole attention resting in the subtle,
Vibrating in the center of the spinal column
Tracing this current between Earth and Sun,
Become magnetism relating all the worlds.
— Lorin Roche. The Radiance Sutras 34 (2014).
Nine months after I returned to yoga in the middle of the global pandemic, I experienced another rebirth and embarked on a journey to find the intimate pleasures of a shared erotic life with another. Soon enough I met a lovely man a few years younger than me. A skilled, adventurous, and tender lover, he is kind-hearted and a boyish rogue. He says he is happy at his age to meet an older woman he desires and who desires him. After sixteen years of celibacy, I can’t help but think that my return to yoga is partially responsible for my sexual reawakening. How can erotic affirmations not be an effect of almost daily asanas?
Every morning I awaken and head towards my mat. On my own or accompanied by the voice of a beloved teacher, my spine is lengthened and my body called into circular motions that swoop into and through sun salutations or stretch deeply into strong muscular standing postures. All the while your breath consciously keeps a rhythm that centres and opens you to the rapport between one moment and the next.
“The sage who lives beyond the pairs of opposites — “awakens to the light in the night of all creatures.”
(The Baghavad Gita quoted in Stephen Cope, The Great Work of Your Life, 177)
So what does an old woman in love do? She practices yoga that teaches her to balance between that vanishing point just there in front of her mat and the tendency to teeter and tip in situ. In the tree pose, the standing leg descends grounding itself into the floor, these toes and the heel make a tripod of stability while the other leg bends at the knee and tucks the foot into the thigh of the standing leg pressing in at the same time as the standing leg thigh resists the pressure. The body above lightens as the arms rise into fluttering branches reaching something beyond.
The old woman in love stretches and extends her being into unknown vulnerable spaces. Her lover whispers secret words in her ear. Sometimes he retreats. She whispers to herself: Expand beyond what you know. Keep yourself safe knowing you can always find your way home. Maintain balance but don’t hold back. She loves….
Stephen Cope reflects on how a seminal ancient text The Baghavad Gita teaches us to discover our dharma or path. And he elaborates: “Having found your dharma at every turn, embrace it fully and passionately. Bring everything you have got to it. Do it full out” (The Great Work of Your Life, 68).
Cope illustrates this point by quoting a passage I often taught in my literature and creative writing classes. American nonfiction writer Annie Dillard advises writers – and I extend her advice to lovers too.
One of the few things I know about writing is this. Spend it all, shoot it, play it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, 78
For Willliam/Bill Lane
Bill Lane was born in 1951 and died December 30, 1951. He was a director and producer of theatre and radio drama, a dramaturg, a playwright, and a teacher. After his CBC career, he earned an MA in Social & Political Thought and a PhD in Theatre Studies from York University. See here, for a full account of his creative life.
31 December, 2021: Such strange days and nights. I’m living in two worlds at once. Reviewing my correspondence with my beloved lifelong friend and intermittent lover as he dies. His absence cuts through me like a knife.
Sleepless tonight, I reflect on what was and wasn’t and what might have been. Thinking about how I lived in a frenzy of single mother professorial workaholism (for lack of a better word ”getting stuff done”) for years. The end result: a marvelous daughter and some books and thousands of former students I often enjoyed teaching. And …
At the same time I’m thinking of my present life, my lover(s) [the plural more potential than actual], and how I arrange my life.
Then I kept romance at a distance in order to try to keep my life ticking along at a mad pace that could carry with me everything that needed caring love and attention. How fast could I run? How much of myself, my desire, and my pleasure could I jettison without a backward glance?
I study a portrait of you, my friend William – known as Bill. When we were so very young I began to call you William and I never stopped.
Katia, your caring lover and companion over the past five years, sends a last photograph to those who love you. You are propped up on your death bed with your beloved Katia. You wear a golden paper crown mocking a mad King Lear. You both laugh into the lens. Katia’s beautiful daughter Aurora takes the photograph. Her partner’s hand holds a lamp – “lighting grip”, writes Katia,
In this last photograph, William, you look so very slender from your year-long deadly tangle with cancer. Yet your smile is the same. Your chiseled features still yours. Your beard and mustache trimmed. Your sensuous long-fingered hands are the touch I remember. I hear your low tones, tender voice, telling observations, and loving words.
I read years of past emails and messages that chart our long rapport into the past, at a distance: the missed phone calls, aborted meetings, plans gone awry. I read backwards through time messages about our creative lives, our travels, our shifts and changes, our longing, our whimsical regret, and my maneuvers to maintain distance.
In 1970 or so, our conversations and studies intersected just as I left home and began to find my feet as a Carleton undergrad student. You were one of the first people who helped to make me feel like a creative intellectual. I was keen about drama and film and art and literature and ideas. You have such a beautiful mind – “a rare intelligence,” someone said after your death.
I remember how at twenty you were so very excited about cybernetics. While undergrads, both of us studied in a graduate comparative lit theory class with Professor Hans Ruprecht. Perhaps you told me about the class. Or perhaps I recommended it to you. The theoretical ideas flowed over my head at the time but enough bobbed around in my undisciplined brain to spur me on later to graduate school in a related field. And late in life you returned to school to do a PhD in Social and Political Thought – revelling in the theoretical and political complexity.
At the time we first met, I was a twenty-year-old student teaching assistant in two film courses. And I was making a film for children for the CBC as part of an internship program. That too was beyond me in a way but I improvised my way to completion. And I loved editing I remember. All the while, William, your beautiful voice gave me support and encouragement.
A few years ago, you wrote to me: “… I think we move thru very specific pathways in our world, often remaining adjacent to the ones we begin adjacent to… Mobility in our society certainly isn’t complete…”
And that certainly is how our lives flowed.
Adjacent. But intertwined.
Almost exactly a decade ago, you wrote to me:
I know, you probably noticed, I’m flirting with you. I think you don’t
like people flirting with you when you’re trying to get some serious
work done. I used to be like that. I remember, when we were at Carleton
together, you forced me to make love with you when we were supposed to
be on the way to our Comparative Literature class. I tried to resist,
and we were almost late for the class, but actually, I really loved it.
These days, I probably wouldn’t even resist. There’s no time to resist.
Still, if this isn’t a good decade for you, we could wait a few years.
You never know.
Seriously, though, if you’ve noticed that I’m flirting with you, the
least you could do is to flirt back.
More seriously. though, if it’s a stressful time for you, and this is
just going to make the stress harder to take, then I totally understand.
Somehow I thought it might relieve the stress, though. Isn’t that what
these kinds of things are supposed to do?
We could get together (at least for dinner) anywhere you’re going to be
on your travels, if it’s not too far away from where I am.
Then, if the flirting gets out of control, we would know what to do. And
if not, then not.
And I wrote back on April Fool’s Day 2012 when we were both 61.
William, I think it is sweet you are flirting with me. It’s possible I’m just too fragile to get involved. At least now. At the moment. Maybe by the time I come round, you’ll have gone on to something else. That’s what seems to have happened over time. We flit in and out of each others’ lives with some whimsy and it’s fun. But I’m a bit tired right now. Trying to keep track of my thirteen-year old girl who is just plain rude half the time. …[Trying to] keep up my writing which tends to disappear if I’m not careful. And my students are quite lovely but need tending too. And my roof is falling in. Our poodle knows how to open front and back door with his teeth and paws. Our neighbours find him wandering the streets – he likes that.
Things are generally chaotic though I wash dishes and clothes.
“Only connect,” my professor told me in 1970.
When you finally flew to visit me a few years later, we had a good reunion but I was so entirely disinterested in sex, it surprised me. My whole being was devoted to my academic work and my mothering. I had no room for you.
Now in 2022, I’m retired and living alone, my beautiful daughter lives a province away.
Happily I find myself in the midst of a beautiful sexy polyamorous romance with my new lover. So much to appreciate in my here and now.
While eschewing marriage or co-habitation, I still seem to long for the everydayness of a daily relationship in spite of what I once lived. And I’m not sure what I want.
Since William’s death, I feel a deep loneliness for his presence. Or perhaps I simply experience the depth of longing and the in betweenness of space and time that separated us.
Over the winter holiday the longing and loneliness of thousands of windswept prairie kilometers separated my new lover and me. Even in the months since his return, we tenderly pull each other closer and push one another away as though we are children playing the fort-da or the “gone”-“here” game. A child repeatedly disappears her toys and then experiences their reappearance. Rehearsing over and over again the pain of loss — of the absent mother? — along with the compensatory pleasure of repetition/compulsion and the sense of continuity and return when the toy reappears. This play exhibited ‘mysterious masochistic trends’ in Freud’s words.
At our age, my lover is 66 and I am 70, it is obvious that any sense of disappearance and loss is tightly linked to our health and well-being. Illness, infirmity, and death are with us. Both of us have lost dear friends in the last six months.
Even now your… his… absence cuts through me.
Like a knife.
“Time is a ship that never casts anchor”
“Time is a ship that never casts anchor” – a Sami aphorism that suits its nomadic northern Indigenous people – is an aphorism that suits me now.
I like to keep my body and mind in motion even if I do nothing more than trace a small pathway through my house, neighbourhood, and city.
What protects me from despair during this long pandemic that erupts with waves of infection and polarizing hatred even as I write? I’m insulated in part by my privilege and situation.
Police from various forces gather this morning in Ottawa to expell the COVIDIOT truck convoy that has terrorized cities and borders with their threatening public health demands and noise and air pollution and White Supremacy and anti-democratic hatred these past weeks.
What protects me? My work and my good relations. My intimate relationship pleasures and comforts me. My friendships nourish me. My daughter keeps me grounded and alert to the world around me. My writing and my yoga focus me. The creative process keeps me in touch with myself and supplements my everyday life with a solitary encounter with myself, an intellectual/emotional companionship that continues through the years.
This all seems ever more important at this moment in time of increasing economic inequality and precarity along with the seeming inevitability of environmental destruction.
Yoga teacher Vanda Scaravelli holds up the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai as one who discovered his dharma and dedicated himself passionately to his path.
I’m moved by the fact Hokusai produced almost 30,000 works during his long creative life. His daily practice included drawing a Chinese lion or lion dancer every morning only to throw it “out the window to ward off ill luck” – a strategy that might help heal anyone’s writer’s block or morning anxiety.
Hokusai passion and dedication to his work, along with his humility, is charted in this observation about aging and creative life:
“When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75, I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80, you will see real progress. At 90, I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100 I shall be a marvellous artist. At 110, everything I create — a dot, a line — will jump to life as never before.”
Hokusai never achieved his centenary and I wonder how he finally came to terms with his legacy.
His enviable and productive humility endured til the end: “On 10 May 1849 he died aged 88, apparently exclaiming on his deathbed, ‘If only Heaven will give me just another ten years… Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.’”