Greetings from the Land of Enchantment: January 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

40 Days After a Good Man Is Gone

In our practice we often talk about 40 day sadhanas. We begin them usually because we want to change something, break a habit or build a new one, let go of something, or cultivate something else. We have had our moment of surrender, or our moment of inspiration; and now we're ready. Ready for something new. But how does one become ready to no longer have a father? To be fatherless. Is it even possible? It's certainly not something we choose; but it happens to all of us at one point or another.

So I have completed my first 40-day sadhana of being without him. It has been a long journey to get here. He was ill so long that it had been years since he had been the man I remembered--the man who was my father. And yet, there he was, flesh and blood and bone and breath. Burning away all the dross of a life well-lived but now gone, too soon.

I missed his last breath because instead of getting out of bed that morning when I woke up, I turned and wrapped my arms around my husband. In that moment I chose life and in that same moment, he let go. I had wanted to be there with him; but instead life, in its relentless nature, called me to lay there and breathe with my arms around my lover, my friend, my beloved. I chose the future. Seconds later my sister knocked on the door and said that my father was gone.

The night before we had all gathered around his bed and sang songs and hymns and spiritual songs, as the scripture says. We sang so loud I thought he might let go in that moment just to get some peace and quiet.  But instead he continue to breathe, a fluttering sound in his throat, the rise and fall of his ribs, the last moments of good man going, too soon gone.

My sister and I bathed him and dressed him. All the aversion I had experienced throughout his illness fell away (I'm not good at those things); and suddenly I was good at this. I could hold his hand, and sing to him and read scripture. I could sit in silence and just be. I could do this. The hardest part is the strange juxtaposition of life in the midst of death. They don't belong in the same room, but there they are, existing side by side. The kids talking about inane college football games as if they mattered, or people arguing over politics, or the in-law saying outrageous things at the dinner table, or better yet, the comedy team that was the men from the funeral home who came to pick up my father's body. They could have been called, Mr. Magoo's Circus of Strange and Mythical Men. And the smell. One of the funeral attendants was a heavy smoker and the smell of those stale cigarettes against his worsted wool suit was almost more than I could bear against the back drop of my father's skin and bones. Later, my sister and I just laughed and laughed because it was so absurd. Life going on in the face of our no longer having a father was, is, so absurd. And yet, it does.

A few days later we held his memorial. People from all parts of his life came to say what a difference he had made in their lives. People told stories, his son-in-law eulogized him more beautifully than any of us could imagine, and people remembered him above all else as their friend.

He was a good man. He was a great man. The last of his kind.

And now I will continue to mark 90 days, 120 days, 1000 days, but this is not a sadhana that ends. My father is gone. And the hole that is left inside me, my brother, my sister, my mother, my nieces and nephews, all who knew him, that hole is invisible; because if people could see it, it would make life impossible. Don't say anything, please, I plead to myself quietly. There are no words. My father is gone.

He was a good man. He was a great man. He was the last of his kind.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Feminism and the Face of Violence

Feminism and the Face of Violence

What happens to one woman happens to all the women of the world. If you understand this consciousness, then you can begin to make things right.
© The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan, July 9, 1979

In the wake of one woman’s death in a faraway place—that may as well have been next door for all the fervor and clamor it generated here—and the specter of violence against women every day in the United States, taking Yogi Bhajan’s words to heart is a challenge to our social construct. What would it mean “to begin to make things right”? There is no making things right for the young woman on that bus in New Delhi. So we must ask ourselves, is there a way to make things right for her classmates, her sisters, her mother, her friends? Is there a way to create not just security but safety for women; because it’s not safe to be a woman. And if you’re a woman, you know exactly what I mean. You’ve lived with the insecurity: you’ve walked fast down a busy street; you’ve crossed that same street, even when you didn’t need to, because the streetlamp was out; you’ve turned and stared down the potential attacker, only to realize it’s a pack of middle school boys or a homeless man down on his luck; or maybe you’ve run away, only to fall down and feel humiliated and exposed. These are parts of my own story, anyway. And every woman has her own.

When I was a young woman, “take back the night” was a social movement to create safety and security for women, a movement that espoused the notion that a woman had the right to move about the world without fear for her own physical safety, a movement that questioned the norms which said that if you were out late at night you were “asking for it”, a movement that demanded that men be responsible not only for themselves but also for other men. Then the 80s happened and slowly but surely women’s rights, so recently earned, were chipped away one state or federal bill at a time, one crime at a time, one nasty slur at a time. Women helped too. There was an intense backlash against feminism, so much so that today, young women don’t relate to feminism at all. It’s just some bra burning hippie thing that their great aunt participated in back in the day. They have no connection to the fundamentals of the movement or to the experiences of women that led to that movement.

Today we watch Mad Men from the comfort of our living rooms while our husbands do the dishes and we forget the humiliation, the exploitation and the imbalance of power that women had to endure—only 40 years ago! In one generation we have forgotten. And those who forget are doomed to relive it . . . So to New Delhi, the New Old World, where commerce and education and expansion—life itself—abounds. It’s booming—and women are beginning to take advantage of this golden opportunity to break away from the social constructs of their traditional culture and make a life for themselves. And what does the dominant culture do in the face of change, especially change that threatens their own privilege—it attacks. It does everything it can possibly do to crush the life out of those who would seek that change. What else can explain such gross violence, such viciousness? And such deafening silence by those standing by, witnessing it?

Feminism is the not-so-radical idea that what is best for a woman is best for everyone. Because feminism recognizes the fundamental vulnerability of being in woman’s body, while at the same time it recognizes the fundamental power that comes from the identity of a woman—creative, sacred, invincible! It is her vulnerability that must be acknowledged—and protected; it is her power that must be respected—and honored. These larger social issues seem to transcend the personal, the intimate, the here and now. And yet, a woman who was brutally attacked, raped and eventually died from the injuries of her attackers, her story, affects us all as women. So what can we do “to begin to make things right”? Are we powerless in the face of such profligate violence? That’s what they want us to believe. Every time a woman is senselessly attacked, raped, beaten or abused, it’s another notch in the belt of the oppressor. It’s another mark in the arcline of the shared consciousness that is womankind.

Our work must begin here at home, in our own lives. It seems small but the moment we reject the world’s idea of who we should be and instead simply be ourselves—unafraid—that is a victory. The moment we refuse to believe the lie that we’re not good enough, the moment we reject the notion that we aren’t capable enough, the moment we laugh at the thought that we deserve less instead of much, much more, the moment we take a good long look in the mirror and decide to like what we see, bumps and all—that is a victory. And in our victory we cannot forget to bring our brothers along with us, for this heinous crime harms them too. We as brothers and sisters must stand together and know that what is best for woman is best for everyone—and that is true feminism. The Aquarian Age will be manifest when the woman is honored, when the goddess is once again seated on her thrown in the center of all the lively things, when the good in everything is praised.
We begin to make things right again when we stand as women, unafraid, undaunted, and unbound. We begin to make things right again when we become women, once again.