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Third wheel for our anniversary celebration?

My wife and I celebrated eight years of marriage tonight. As eight is an auspicious number, tonight was a bit more special as we had an added guest to our dinner at a five-star restaurant: my mother-in-law Toshiko!

Normally this would be cause for some couples to “lawyer up,” but since my father-in-law’s passing a few weeks ago, the three of us have been inseparable during non-work time. We were initially going to ask the woman who helps us with Toshiko if she could “sit” while we went out to celebrate. But then my wife had a brilliant plan. Why not invite Toshiko to our anniversary dinner?

Before my mother-in-law’s stroke in 1997, she ran her own business in Waikiki and had numerous friends and customers. She was living the dream. Then a severe stroke hit her and confined her to a wheelchair. She closed her business and my father-in-law took tireless care of her up until a week before he passed. Now, my wife mainly has taken over the role of assisting her with daily needs with me helping to my capacity. One thing that has actually helped to avoid caregiver burnout is including Toshiko in all of our activities. That way my wife does not worry about her so much an it gives Toshiko a new perspective of our lives.

At the restaurant Toshiko was in awe. After all, this is where President Obama eats when he’s in town. Toshiko and my father-in-law have been to fancy restaurants before, but that was in the 1980s when going out to a fancy meal was about $100 or less. My wife’s doctor with whom she works with gives us gift certificates for Alan Wong’s for Christmas every year. This is a restaurant where dinner for two can run about $200, so the gift card makes this restaurant more accessible to us.

Between Toshiko’s unfamiliarity with the menu, her limited English skills, and her stroke, she was a bit overwhelmed with the menu and said “I just want steak.” My wife ordered the Onaga (red snapper) which is a signature dish at Alan Wong’s, and I won’t tell you what I ordered as I would probably get kicked off the internet.

The food came and Toshiko decided she liked my wife’s entree better, and proceeded to eat that instead, leaving my wife with her steak. Rather than getting upset, my wife relished the fact that her mother was trying new things and celebrating our life with us. Rather than a “third wheel” (extra visual as Toshiko is in a wheelchair), my wife thinks of her as a side car for an old time motorcycle. That allows the three of us to go on many adventures together. This is our family dharma now.

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Happy Anniversary!

 

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How sadhu-s define Haṭhayoga: not anything close to how it is defined in the West

An interesting paper came out this week by ethnographer Daniela Bevilacqua of the Hatha Yoga project. In her paper entitled Let the Sādhus Talk. Ascetic practitioners of yoga in northern India, Bevilacqua interviewed 48 sadhu-s, or ascetic holy men in Varanasi India. She asked them each to define Haṭha yoga. Her conclusions: three defined it as union of the sun and moon yoga which is a common definition among the Nath sect; five defined is as the keval khumbaka  (retention of breath at the end of the exhale in pranayama) as a means to samadhi; and the majority defined it as “strict intention” which is more of a mental attitude than an actual practice.

What does this “strict intention” mean? It means holding one’s arm up in the air for one or two decades, drinking only juice for sustenance, and sitting in the hot sun and building a fire around one’s self with cow dung as the fire’s medium. This is referred to as tapasya, or austerities. Patanjali lists tapas as one of the 5 niyamas.

My first yoga teacher, Daws (Das), was a product of this school of thought. In his 70’s, he still practices in Kapiolani park daily. He would have his own asana practice of standing in sirasana with variations for one hour. It was amazing to watch, but I saw many harm themselves trying to duplicate his practice.

When I first started practicing with him, our day would consist of sitting in meditation for one hour at dawn, then doing 45 minutes of asana practice. Later in the day at sundown, we would meet and do a two hour asana practice with a 30 minute meditation with chanting to Siva toward the end. I can fondly remember those days of holding vrksasana as the sun would set in the Ocean. Reading this paper reminded me of those days fondly.

My practice is not nearly as intense now that I have a family and am employed full time. But I do remember that the tapas I learned from that practice still burns inside of me. I used to be flakey, but since that practice I have been able to complete projects that I start and work long days without fatigue. I only skip teaching class under the circumstances of illness, family, and travel. I made it through graduate school with a 4.0 average, and was able to complete a four year apprenticeship in the Iyengar system to get fully certified and am still working toward the next level of certification.

Back to Bevilacqua’s paper, she said the motivation for the sadhu-s to do such an extreme practice is to “support the world” during this time of Kali Yuga (time of darkness) in which they believe all lay people have lost their dharma. When we look at what we have done with yoga in the West, it is clear they are concerned about the usage of yoga as a commercialized entity concerned mainly with health and fitness, and not so much its intended spiritual use.

The interesting item to note about the Sadhu-s is that they did not give much importance to asana. It was something they viewed as something a beginner ascetic would do to allow themselves to sit for longer periods to get the real “work” of yoga done in dhyana (meditation). Their personal asana practice was often done privately and consisted of a few simple asanas, according to the paper.

I remember Das would refer to these Sadhu-s as the “superstars” of yoga. It is a tinge sad that in our Western culture we don’t give much value to those who go through extreme measures to display the powers of spirituality. Some good discussion questions for my readers would be how do you use tapas in your practice? If you could choose one sole activity to do daily for the next decade or two, what would that activity be? Many blessings!

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The Universe is full of love, just open yourself to it

Thank you all for your loving sentiments over the past few weeks. There have actually been many positive things that have come out of the experience of my father-in-law’s passing. As my blogger friend k8macdo noticed, “one thing that the experience of the loss of a loved one can do is make us all aware to what extent we are not alone. We are embedded in a matrix of love and support.” Such beautiful words!

In all of my downtime I was able to read a ton of books. Some of my notable readings have come out of the Mundakopanishad. Here is a sloka or verse that has been staying with me:

By means of the Higher Knowledge the wise behold everywhere Brahman, which otherwise cannot be seen or seized, which has no root or attributes, no eyes or ears, no hands or feet; which is eternal and omnipresent, all−pervading and extremely subtle; which is imperishable and the source of all beings.

As k8 mentions, we are never alone as Brahman in which case I can call “love” is everywhere around us. Like the unborn child ready to come into the world does not know who is awaiting, we have many around us ready to support and care for us that we did not even realize. All we have to do is open our eyes to the all pervading love around us.

From my experience I have learned that if one just does his or her daily dharma with love and dispassion from what fruits will be born from work, many treasures will appear. These treasures may not have value for those who are blinded by the ego and constant striving for more and more. These treasures have only value for those who can appreciate the simple.

As my old meditation teacher Tom noted many years ago, kindness is an extremely rare and precious quality in the universe. To show kindness puts you light years ahead in your development. We must remember that the very first Yama is Ahimsa, or non-harming. This is even given higher billing than telling the truth. Kindness is truth. Pure truth.

We must first be kind to ourselves. The quality of kindness you show for yourself will mirror how you treat others. Self kindness can come in many different forms. If this is unfamiliar to you, I would start with simple things. Listen to that inside wisdom telling you to make better choices. The more you listen to that wisdom, the closer you are to realizing the Self.

I am inspired by all the love that has poured my way. I want to radiate it back to you all and beyond.

 

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Healing means returning to work

After a week off to handle family affairs following my father-in-law’s passing, today it was back to work. I was greeted with open arms from concerned coworkers. They presented a nice card for the family. I have signed many cards for other coworkers in the past, but haven’t until now been on the receiving end of such a gift. It felt wonderful. Hawai’i tradition is to give money for those who are bereft, and my coworkers pitched in with small hunk of cash. It was a nice token. The money will help pay for a nice meal when family comes to pay respects.

My wife returned to work too. She also has supportive coworkers who showered her with affection and cards as well. They really felt the brunt of my wife’s absence in a busy ophthalmology office as she often had to take time off to care for both parents. She called me a few times intermittently for support during her down times. A few encouraging words sent her right back to work with more confidence.

I normally teach a yoga class to my coworkers, and left some of my props at the office, not knowing it would be a few weeks before I would retrieve them again as Luke has been in the hospital. While I was gone, my supervisor took my yoga blankets (the one’s featured in this post) and sent me the above photo. It made my day! One of my coworkers said she would borrow one of my straps I left on my desk every day and practice during her lunch break. It reminds me that as a teacher, we never truly know how our influence spreads to students.

When I returned home there was good news. The woman who helps my mother-in-law says she can now come 5 days a week so my wife and I don’t have to scramble to find help on the off day. I showed my mother-in-law the card from my coworkers. She carefully read every entry with her Dorito-stained fingers. She found one written in Japanese from my coworker Mina. This brought her much joy.

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Much mahalo (Hawaiian for “thank you”) to all of our wonderful, supportive coworkers!

 

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Just the three of us…the new normal is very normalizing

It has been a tough week of mourning in our household. The quiet is deafening and on the verge of upsetting. We were so used to hearing Luke pacing up and down, using his nebulizer, and then bellowing for a car ride. Now silence. In this silence we all came to a realization: we are now bonded as three people instead of two couples.

Now that my mother-in-law isn’t keeping constant vigil at Luke’s side, it has opened her up to new experiences. We all went for a walk around the block. She talked to neighbors she hasn’t seen for years. All knew Luke and she shared the news of his passing. I can see her brighten up more as she shared more. Then a surprising twist: I asked her if she wanted to come with me to teach my yoga class on Saturday, and she agreed!

So this morning I packed my props in Luke’s old car and put her wheelchair in the back seat. We drove to town were I teach at the base of Diamond Head to Unity Church of Hawaii. She had been here only one other time when my wife and I got married 8 years ago on the grounds.

My wife sat with her while I taught class facing the road leading to the church grounds. My mother-in-law used to run a jewelry shop in Waikiki and was surprised on how much it has changed. The constant stream of tourists, runners, tour buses shaped like Whales, homeless, and the whole other gamut of Waikiki’s humanity passed by.

Some of my students knew about Luke’s passing and word quickly spread in class. After class, my longtime students rushed down stairs to pay their condolences to Toshiko. One of my students, Miho, speaks Japanese which brought great comfort to my mother-in-law.

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As my blogger friend Sonia said, every day gets easier. We took Toshiko on our Saturday “routine” and went shopping at Costco after class. I am realizing that we are consuming 1/4 less and not having to buy as much. That is again simultaneously comforting and upsetting. We all wound up eating lunch at a Korean restaurant. Toshiko dug into the spicy house made Kim Chee with relish. After living on Luke’s unhealthy diet for the longest time, Toshiko is now in a position to make better changes in her diet and health. I am starting to see with a little bit of her cooperation with my wife and I, there is nothing we cannot do together.

 

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Working through my grief

I have to say its very difficult to go through the grieving process fresh after a tragic event. There are five stages of grief according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. As a licensed mental health counselor,  I have guided many of my clients through these steps and saw them go on to healing. For some strange reason, I feel like I am leapfrogging back and forth between the “anger” and  “depression” stages.

I have to admit I’m a bit pissed off at my father-in-law. Not because of all of his aforementioned shenanigans, but because I allowed him to matter so much to me. I actually allowed myself to become attached to his constant neediness. As much as I hated having to take him to the ER in the hospital way across the island every week for the past few months (he refused to go the hospital up the block because of a legal skirmish many years ago), I actually enjoyed some of my quiet moments sitting with him by his bedside. During his past few hospital admits, I took some strange comfort in sitting on the floor and playing bija mantras directed at healing him from my laptop, or saying the Gayatri Mantra and Ganapathy japas to remove his karmic barriers. I know Luke had some heavy karma from his war days. In my power I worked to rid him of it in the best of my limited ability.

The past few days I haven’t even gotten off the couch. I prefer to just sit with my family. Sometimes my wife will spontaneously cry. Sometimes my mother in law will say “I can’t believe it.” Occasionally there will be a phone call or Facebook message from a loved one. As I said before, Luke didn’t have many friends. In some ways I am grateful for that. I can barely be strong enough for my own family now. My mother and stepfather thankfully brought us a home cooked meal last night after we have been living on take out pizza and Chinese food since Sunday.

My mentoring teacher Ray Madigan was good enough to take over my classes for today and possibly Thursday. Ray has many qualities of my father-in-law. He is a no-nonsense tough as nails Aussie who also happened to be a labor and delivery nurse (I see a weird comical cosmic pattern here). He texted me this morning:

Just finished teaching your class. 8 students and a good group. Easy to teach them because they are well trained!

I’m not sure why, but I started sobbing after this text. They were tears of joy. Ray is a tough teacher and does not dispense compliments so readily. He also doesn’t sub, so I take it as a great honor he was able to take care of my students. In Ray’s toughness, he is also infinitely kind in his own unique way that would appear invisible to others who were not initiated. Very much like my father-in-law.

Tomorrow, we have the grim task of deciding what we are going to do with Luke’s remains.  Many miles away from the “acceptance” stage at this point…

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Aloha, Luke

My father-in-law Luke passed away today at the hospital after two unsuccessful surgeries. My wife and her mother were at his side during the time. It has been a long journey taking care of this man. He didn’t have many close friends most likely due to his PTSD. But he dutifully took care of his wife and kids. He often recruited me to take him on many “therapeutic” car rides where he would tell me all of his horror stories about the wars in which he served. He was a Green Beret and made it to the rank of Master Sergeant. He was even called up for a covert mission in the Middle East, only to find that when he arrived in Libya to carry out the mission, his orders were not from the Pentagon. It made national news at the time. After he retired from the military, he went to nursing school and became a labor and delivery nurse. As his gerontologist noted, this was a fascinating pattern in his life. He wanted to “undo” all the horrors of war by aiding in the emergence to life.

I was honored that he regarded me as his “friend” which he would call me often. As my wife often reminded me, he has not called anyone his “friend” before. Our friendship has not been easy, as Luke was a hard and difficult man who did not budge once he wanted something. But he allowed me to help him with yoga in a limited way. I believed that helped some of his suffering.

Luke taught me a lot about myself. I am a fairly patient man, but he always knew how to take me to the edge. In his “Master Sergeant” voice, he would command whimsical requests until you complied. “Take me for a ride!” he would say after I just arrived home after an hour commute in Honolulu traffic. He would also make me take him to the commissary which was always a trip fraught with peril. When my wife was at her wits end with him, I was always next at bat. When I approached him with a combination of humor and love, I was able to level this Green Beret (or at least neutralize him) to a congenial man. Often a car ride and “back crack” on an Iyengar chair would do the trick.

When I would take him on car rides, and he didn’t feel like talking, I would put in my recordings of Prashant Iyengar lectures. Luke would first say “what is that horseshit” as Prashant would talk about the intricacies of Panchamahabhutas (managing elements in the body). Toward the end, it would spark conversations about esoteric physiology and even God from a man who did not have a particular faith. He would eventually say “I know there is something greater out there, it just isn’t in the form that most people say it is.”

Today the whole family was together around his body still warm. The hospital chaplain came in and said a final prayer. Just afterwards, we heard overhead music. The hospital plays a lullaby to announce that there is a newborn. God be with the family who takes Luke’s next incarnation. He’s a tough one!

I will miss you dearly young man.