My journey took a turn for the better this past fall when I traveled to South Africa, investigating a business idea with my friend Tamsin who also, thankfully, along with my friends there, Dave, Lauren, Tina, et al sent me on a different path. This is from last October and originally appeared on Intent.com
A yoga mat is nothing more than thirty by sixty inches of molded plastic, a quarter inch thick, not much to it. When covered with two white towels, it can resemble a flying carpet of sorts. We are fortunate, blessed really, if occasionally we have the chance to pour ourselves and our life and our stress and thoughts and prayers and dreams into our mats with the same intensity that the sweat pours out of us in the heated room.
These moments are not necessarily a function of doing more yoga than you usually do for a time; it’s more that a moment happens when the stars align, when time and space combine to create a sanctuary for you and a safety net appears in that small crease between the mat and the floor.
Over the past eight days, there has been just such a net; just such a sanctuary; up a flight of stone steps, three-quarters of the way up Waterkant in Cape Town. With love and support and new friends I poured myself into my mat along with my sweat.
I traveled to Cape Town South Africa with my colleague and business partner Tamsin for our new business OBene and thanks to a recommendation from my friend Lily, Tamsin and I walked in the doors of YogaLife.
When we did, Dave et al, seated squarely behind the welcome table, walked into our lives.
The first question to answer as I fly to Zambia in the dark African night is where was I walking from when I arrived at YogaLife. It’s actually quite a complicated question; much more so than it seems.
Really, if I keep pulling away the layers, the man who walked into that studio last week is a man who started his journey on November 2, 2004 when I sat with my friend John Kerry and watched as he stood up, walked up to the podium and conceded the 2004 Presidential Race.
The seven years since have been a journey of immense highs and lows which finally culminated in a clear moment of breakage this past August, two months ago today, my mother died in my arms in Arizona.
But even that deep deep sadness was coupled with meeting just hours later a remarkable force of energy and light in the personage of a woman I don’t really know yet. But hope to.
Over the course of the seven years, I have journeyed through the end of a marriage, the combustion of a close friendship, the launch of one business that I am now involved in a legal dispute over, the launch of another business, another bigger new business idea, a great love sacrificed on the altar of circumstance complete with daily press bashings for months on end, major knee surgery, the decline of my mother and her death.
During this time, there has been great joy, watching my children grow and see the world and a beautiful woman who graced me for a short while but showed me what communication and love was again and then she continued on her journey. I must also note that I do not think my journey harder or more strenuous than many; some like an old friend of mine who has endured the unimaginable, the loss of his young son, many have a worse journey than I.
In the immediate sense I walked into YogaLife just 48 hours after I left Boston having delivered my mother’s eulogy. I flew to New York, flew to Joburg, flew to Cape Town and drove into town and after twenty plus hours of travel, there was YogaLife.
It wasn’t till later that I really thought about the South Africa connection with my mother – this trip, to help research and launch OBene, was planned when my mother was still alive.
South Africa was where my mother flew as a Pan American Stewardess in the 1950s and it was her favorite country in the world. Kruger was her favorite park, and Cape Town her favorite city. So I suppose when I walked in with Tamsin, my mother was there, walking in with us.
I took my very first Power Yoga class with Dave that first day (all Bikram for me before that) and then I took class with Sara and Vanya and Misha and Dave again and Sara again and as I learned new postures, as I also did Bikram, the sweat poured from me. But it was more than water leaving me I soon discovered.
The deep tired within, the jet lag, it was all coming out, my knee still swollen from surgery. But soon every day, as we walked in the studio, the steps up were a little shorter, the classes a little easier, the weight on me not as much. The sun a bit brighter.
I thought of my mother often in those classes and of something a friend said.
A little over a year, I began to seriously look at my life, my experiences, honestly assessing what has happened and what I wish would happen next. As my mother was slowly being eaten away by the dementia, I don’t think she knew so much the work I was doing, the time I spending, the effort I was taking.
For me, there was nothing I didn’t unturn as I went back to the night when the phone rang and I found out my father had died in Asia and wasn’t coming home from this trip. I went through the women loved and lost, the women unloved, friendships formed and friendships discarded. All of it, I put on the table and held to the light.
It hasn’t been an especially enjoyable or easy time of reflection, but I do think my mother knew on one level I was doing the work; that I was still incomplete in many ways and not quite ready to be alone.
I do think she knew as a friend said, “we are all children to our mother“ and even as I was increasingly taking care of her, with the energy she had left, she was still taking care of me.
She knew that even in her diminished state, she needed to be there until I, despite my age and experience and education, until I was ready to truly walk alone. I have no brothers, no sisters and now, no parents.
My mother held on until she knew I was ready and then with her life and her world greatly diminished and shrinking, she let go.
I see the light around me better now and I see the path. I am not perfect nor do I plan on being able to be but I am solid ground again.
As much as that moment in her hospice room was the breaking point, there had to be the moment of healing, the moment when the light came back on, and that’s what happened to me on that mat, on that wood floor, in that room, in that sanctuary.
It’s like after surgery, you can walk again but it’s not till you can walk without thinking that you are walking again, that you can actually walk with the freedom you once had.
So now I leave Cape Town, it’s already a thousand miles behind in the night sky, my tank is not quite filled again yet, but the holes have been patched a bit I suppose. The leaks are not as bad anymore. The tired I feel now is not the tired of the sad and the anger and the stress, but the tired of exertion – a tired I feel I can sleep deeply and heal from by the morning.
For the last year or so, the tired has been the tired you can never escape. The tired behind me is the dark tired, the tired some never recover from.
After one of the classes, as she turned out the lights, my new friend Sara introduced me to the poet Rumi.
Out beyond right and wrong.
There is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
For me, the field was a floor of wood, the right and wrong, the chaos and the pain of the last few years. I met my friends, Tamsin, Dave, Lauren, Lara, Sara, Vanya, and Misha there in the field. And there were others there with us whose names I don’t know but provided energy to the journey.
Colelctively, they held my hand, lifted me up and gently laid me back down on the mat. The lunges and the lifts helped me travel far beyond my small matted part of the field. The breath was mine, but the living collective, the progress such that one person could never make it on their own and I most certainly did not.
I may be back next week, if I am lucky, I have a friend who I just might share part of the journey with at least I think. I may be back next year but I will be back and in many ways, I will never leave. My sweat and life is in that room forever.
Namaste is a very over-used phrase often the habit of self-indulged yuppies.
But the true meaning is simpler and more powerful. The way I view the word, it’s that the light in me sees and recognizes the light in you. But for that to be true, the light has to be on in you.
For me the light has been flickering, like a candle on a wood table by the sea, the wind too strong for it. Some nights the light has almost gone out. When the light is not within you, it is impossible for it to see the good and light around you.
Now, hurdling towards Zambia at 600 miles an hour in the darkest of African nights light shining bright by a full moon, I turn around and whisper back, ‘namaste.’
Above the jet engines, I hear them whisper it back to me.