23 August 2008

Going into the madness to find a sense of peace...

Striking a pose on the Brooklyn Promenade - 13 August 2008


I was in New York City recently visiting a fellow yogini and I think it was one of the first trips where I spent a significant amount of time by myself. When I traveled in the past I was rarely left in solitude. I always believed that a vacation wasn’t really fun unless you were accompanied by others. The objective of my travels lately has involved visiting different yoga studios and learning from different teachers. My time in New York City was spent doing just that in addition to checking out museums, walking through parks, and seeing non-Broadway related performances. Being able to spend time alone and experience things on my own agenda felt very peaceful and relaxing. I didn’t have to concern myself with time or anyone else’s itinerary. It was absolutely amazing however a bit ironic that I found a sense of peace and harmony in the city that never sleeps. I am very thankful for my friend, Isa who put up with me for 5 days…

During my visit, I spent a day in New Jersey with an old friend who had an automobile-related tragedy about a year ago and is now confined to a wheelchair and lives in a rehabilitation center that treats brain injuries. This was the first time I had seen my friend in several years and I had been told by her Mother in advance that she was very different from the girl I used to know and to prepare myself to witness a lot of suffering at the rehab center. I won’t say much more about my experience visiting my friend but I will say that I left New Jersey on August 15, 2008 a very different person. As I sat waiting for the train to take me back to the City I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my emotions. I had never witnessed that type of suffering. Many of the patients at the center had been there for over 20 years, some had been abandoned by their families, and most would never fully recover from their injuries. I felt helpless, ignorant, sad and small. What did any of these people do to deserve this? I felt like I couldn’t do anything to remove the pain and suffering.

In some of my recent studying on Buddhism, I learned that the Buddha taught that you can’t reach Nirvana until you have passed the stage of becoming fully human. The only way to become fully human is to witness true suffering and take on that suffering as your own. I obviously still have a long way to go in extinguishing my “Self” but I felt like I became a little bit more human that day in Jersey. I don’t know what its like to be confined to a wheelchair, unable to communicate through speech and needing 24 hour medical assistance. What I do know is that I was immersed in a pool of human suffering and I swam through it and emerged totally drenched and a little out of breath but in the end feeling more refreshed and alive. I left a piece of my heart with my friend in Jersey and she gave me a piece of hers. Suffering doesn’t have to be permanent; it can be turned into something beautiful. From witnessing or experiencing suffering, we can learn to be more compassionate and treat others with loving-kindness. I think sometimes that all the misery and anguish in the world is a test to get us closer to divine love. As each day goes by, my friend gains strength, her smile becomes brighter and her eyes have an amazing sparkle. I see divine love in her and I will never cease to learn from her…she is an inspiration.