Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How Wonderwoman Made Me Feel Vulnerable (for a sec)

So, are we all just crazy chameleons? Walking around doing as we do? Society, pfft. Jean-Jacques Rousseau always looked down on you. He became so disenchanted in old age in Reveries du promeneur solitaire.
I mean, we already kinda know we're going to die... And as Woody Allen likes to repeat, something like: Life is just how we live with the ways in which we distort our reality.
A Jewish cemetary in Prague. Beautiful.

What is the ole adage? O yes...
"It is. What. It is."

In other news, a strange thing happened today: Wonderwoman made me feel vulnerable, and I'm not quite sure how it happened. First, I was shopping at Target and throwing a retro type sports bra of her face in the basket (you know how that goes at Target... flinging into the cart stuff you don't need), next I am trying it right on at home and to my surprise it looks kinda cute and I won't have to return it, and then I'm taking a selfie with my womdernwoman sports bra, smile, and stomach scars in a pic. Then, I'm texting a friend goin' "She may be wonderwoman but she doesn't have my scars." And then I do yoga, and I feel my body still need healing from all it has been through, and I start getting down on myself, somehow, about my disability situation and the rut I feel it has thrown me into: the indecision, the incertainty. 

And then I think of my scars and I start to feel proud again. I'm thinkin, Wonderwoman? She's just a face. I mean, she may be real to some, but it's besides the point: I know deep down, that I'm a real wonderwoman. So vulnerability because of disability? Yea, sure, I got that. Today was the first day that I let myself kinda complain to myself. And i thought: oh no, I must confess this. I can't let my gratitude lessen. My sheer awed gratitude helped me always see the super way positive of my disability - because I am still living because of those operations - duh! How could I get down on myself and this condition? 

Well, you can't keep me down in my self-image, cuz I see the scars. They are evidence of my strength and of the love that went into me. The love of God and the love of my parents and friends and family who prayed for me. I might need a picture to see them so that I can recognize what I have been through. I might need to still crawl out of my trauma, but I'm letting go with every pigeon and tree pose - and in many other moments in yoga. I'm letting go. I'm feeling myself as strong as ever. And I remember, hey, I saw a few strong abdominal type people in the Colondar magazine, showing not only their scars like mine, but also their in-shape-ness. There is something about being sick and weak and down at the pit of earth when you're getting out of a total colectomy - and all that ensues after it.... So yea, it's no wonder that some people want to get in tune with their body and feel stronger through their body by embracing their relationship with it, this wonderful body, conductor of... Life.

Getting in child's pose, almost a fetal position, made me feel better today. No coincidence in that, I realized afterwards. I stayed their a while, forehead to the mat.

Thanks for listening.

Yoga helps us be a self in awakening.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tree Pose: Running to Stand Still

The Art Institute of Chicago has an amazing, zenlike garden adjacent to it
Balancing in tree pose for some time last night, it seemed all at once that I achieved a new level of breath. The obvious tension of recent stresses vanished and I felt clear all of a sudden. I felt my breath achieve a place where it became deep, like a well of fresh water. The breath was so long and free and deep that it almost felt as if my body was drinking it. My arms rose like the branches of green that I admired out there in front of me as the vital life force of prana within was finding echo in the woods around me, with the birds singing in the cooling evening air. The wind carried the leaves gently side to side. I looked out at all these trees, peaceful bastions of the earth from which they grow, and I felt myself thinking about their lucky lot in life: trees get to stand still. Very unlike us, no?, we who flutter here and there and try to construct a life via job, friends, activities, duties.

Piedmont Park, Atlanta. Skeletons of trees,
veins and arteries ascending toward a painted sky above
It is always a matter of time and of intention, the time we give ourselves to stand still, to root down in order to lift up, to be tranquil amongst nature, and to enjoy the utter pause. In this place, we need not give attention to the self, but be low like water. 

The leaves are not pretending to be.

Greek columns in Paestum Southern Italy have withstood il tempo (in Italian, tempo means both time and weather).
They are like trees, erect yet fragile.
The notion of trees standing still while we run about collecting and depositing and throwing out.... reminds me of the U2 song: Running to Stand Still. Cuz isn't that we do at some times in our lives? We do so much in order to just be. (Alas, Joshua Tree, one of U2's best albums ever).

The body as a tree is one of the oldest analogies in the yoga tradition, according to Tias Little. He reminds us of the feet as tree roots: "The toes and feet nourish the body in the same way that the roots of a tree draw water, nutrients, and minerals out of the ground in order to support the vitality of the trunk, branches, and leaves. In turn, the spine supports the growth of the arms and hands like a tree trunk supports the branches and leaves. Ultimately the roots of the feet help metabolize prana by remotely providing support to fine twiglike structures within the lungs (bronchioles) together with their alveoli leaf clusters." from Yoga of the Subtle Body. One can even go deeper with this metaphor, and consider the tree a metaphor of the soul. I always think of this when I see two tree growing together... it is as if they have found their soulmate, and I am happy for them because they are obviously committed. Rooted together, reaching for the sun together, drinking water together, weathering the storms and years together.

Flowers in Sicily in Summer
My commitment as I move forward with my practice is to remember to hold tree pose longer than usual, more intentionally, and more often.

With this, a poem that I published in 2011 in a review online, Ishaan literary review, which is no longer in publication I recently discovered (darn). Thank goodness I still have the poem; in it I buried memories and images, nature and childhood.

Thoughts from a hammock
Studying under the shade of a tree in Paestum

There is a hammock that floats in a wheat field bordered by berries
Godlike design seems to play upon the wind that scurries about

I bend my ear
As I lift rocks for facts and reflection

The wind carries moments of my childhood
It is like an attic that I crawled through with pride

Shining jewels embedded in my imagination
Despite the winding tunnels of the past

In my grandparents’ house
I learned masculinity and age through my grandfather’s cough

Oh! Everyone was tough and sweet
The finest you could meet

When I tried to uncover their mysteries
Those silly whispering voices grew silent

As I reached for the dangling fruit
I felt curiosity and a stronger appetite

My head is now too replete with sugar and summer
Fresh like a cold mountain creek

Afraid of serpents hiding in the green plants
I suddenly realize that the carpeted forest floor does not reveal its paths

I walk with a stick in my hand
And wonder how to welcome old wisdom and deeper love

I think about reflecting on the stars I used to go to
I think about loving all who once loved me

I want to love the world in a person
Or in a tree, it is all the same to me

Love asks for my hand
I hold fast and run toward the forest’s edge

There I will have a playmate
To examine with me its treasures

Secret are the forces of the sky that cushion the trees
And the murmuring creek that bathes their roots is no different

Bubbles are blown from the mouths of children
And kisses are all we have to cling to as adults

I whisper and I sigh as I laugh with my love
He is as green as my favorite springtime

And that is why I am like a bumblebee
Making honey for our tea

Crushed flowers are like an elixir
When mixed with the fluid of our bodies

My love flows before me
Both as himself and as my desire

My affection is tied to this spot
To which I return for restoration and speech

I would like a bed of grass like jade to pillow me
In peaceful slumber and waking glories

Yes, I think it would be nice to be awake
So I might hear God when he asks for me

But first, I would like for some spirit to father me
Like a real person might have done

I would like to trust a man
Like I trusted in storybooks when I was little

And finally, I would like to contemplate the wonders of nature
In quiet gratitude and strength

From the breath of creation I borrow sustenance
And in magnificent trees my heart grows feathers

Yes and once, my heart took flight
Unto the setting of the night


More on Prana...
Prana moves along the spine, via three major channels, called nadi (see diagram to left). It is worthwhile to look into pranayama, which is the practice of bring prana into the organs and all the areas of the body. This blurb, from a wonderful article, is just the tip of the iceberg: "According to yoga, tantra and the science of kundalini, prana is supposed to originate in pingala nadi. Within the framework of the spinal cord, there are three channels known as nadis in yoga. One is called ida, another is pingala and the third is sushumna. Ida nadi represents the mental energy, pingala represents prana or pranic energy and sushumna represents spirit or spiritual awareness. These three nadis originate in mooladhara chakra, which is situated at the perineum or cervix. Pingala nadi flows to the right from mooladhara and continues to cross ida at each chakra all the way up to ajna. [....]
Prana is not merely a philosophical concept; it is in every sense a physical substance. Just as radioactive or electromagnetic waves exist even though we can't see them, in the same way, in this physical body, there are pranic waves and a pranic field. Now, each of us has a certain quantity of prana in our physical body and we utilize this in the course of our day to day activities throughout life. When our prana diminishes, sickness sets in, and when we have plenty of prana, every part of the body is in perfect health. If we have an excess of prana, it can be transmitted to others for healing or magnetism."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Glad to Be Home

 Mom got tix for her 60th birthday - this was on front of the card.
"Is that Rod's rod?" her and her friends all examined...
I love the outfit.

So, it's Julien's naptime and I am happily out in the sun, on my mat, taking a break to write, so that yea, I don't get all my thoughts simply stuck in my head. Sometimes it is good to share what you're thinking -- even if it's just for you, for a later date. Or just to reflect from inside the head to the world via a computer screen. And here it is, that which I was just thinking as I breathed and folded and planked: there's something about doing yoga out on a deck on a beautiful Adirondack May morning, with spring greening all around you. The sun is not quite directly above you but it is there down at an angle, and just above the trees on the hillside you live near. And then you think, hey, isn't it nice to live back home again. I lived in Florida and Atlanta for 10 years plus, Illinois 4 years, and Utica 3-4 years with summers always somewhere in Florida or back home in the 518. I was forced by academia to go off to two towns that offered me something very different from what I was used to - either a city or a hilly, mountainous zone: what to me meant home, friends & family. So, isn't it nice that even though I had to get sick and go through a lot to get back home, here I am.
Question: Is it still yoga if you don't do a sun salutation?
Answer: yes
Recommendation: But do them toward the sun and whenever you want to.
Happiness restored. Body and mind join in peace.

Forgive the finger blur, but I thought it added a dash of colour to the composition

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Trans Bodhisaatva: Representations of Mercy

Because this week is the one-year anniversary of my life-changing surgery, I will share (at the end of this post) an entry dated this day from my online journal, a journal that connected me to family friends and family while I was recovering from a major operation. Just to share the amazing transformation that *time* and yoga and the healing of the body can bring to us. It is very interesting to relive memories, since it was this time of year that my whole world was turning.

Today, I see Spring budding all around me - especially as of yesterday, and I remember that I was in the hospital in New York City for two weeks, unable to see my baby, and unable to see Spring bloom. When I came out of the hospital, it was like I had escaped Vietnam, and everything was green with new hints of pinks, whites, and spring yellows from the transformation that the world had taken on, seemingly without me, while I underwent my own transformative experience indoors on the 15th floor of Memorial Sloan Kettering.

A few days ago, to commemorate my one year anniversary of my total colectomy last April 19, I found myself in Troy for a pleasant stroll on an overcast, cold day. There, in an antique store there, I "met," if you will, a bodhisattva I had never heard of before. The statue was in the corner, elevated on a green pillar, brilliantly colored. I fell in love instantly. I did not know who this person was, nor how significant in all of the Asian world he/she is. But research would prove her significance, and give great meaning to "meeting" her there in an antique store on an unintentionally special day in not-far-away-upcoming-old-industrial collar city NY. My appreciation of the statue led me to read up on her and appreciate her: Quan Yin is a basically bodhisattva who has transcended time and space to ease the suffering of those on earth - all because she heard their cries. Her Chinese name refers to this hearing - real hearing - of the anguished. And her decision to go back to earth instead of walking into the eternal bliss she had earned through her life. This is what makes her a bodhisattva. Her name is Quan Yin.

Quan Yin, as she first appeared to me visually
There are many reasons to admire her and relate to her, now that I know of her life journeys and have had my own recent ones. It was a bit like love at first sight. I did not take her home, but I wanted to (we would all be wise to not bring a first date home lol). The next morning at 4am I was unable to sleep and was so inspired reading about her that I got up to meditate before the sun rose. So many coincidences with my recent experience with grace and mercy: she brings compassion and healing to those who suffer illness and she brings baby boys to women. It is almost as if what she incarnates had already touched me this past year. She is known for her deep compassion for the suffering, and her mercy. When you think of mercy and grace, what comes to mind? The symbol of a woman who gave of herself to help those suffering is one that evokes characteristics that both reassure - and inspire. All over the world, we all have our symbols and our reminders of values like mercy and compassion for the suffering and the sick.

There happens to be an intriguing and informative summary of her in Wikipedia, where a list of her names is given, already giving a taste for how she has impacted the world over the centuries. Her name Guan Yin is from the Chinese, and she is known as these names (which are fun to look at):
Guanyin statue on Putuoshan Island, China

Quán Thế Âm

In shortened form of the name, Guan Yin means One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World. Her Chinese name signifies, "She who always observes or pays attention to sounds," i.e., she who hears prayers.
Nitin Kumar has written a wonderful article
called Kuan Yin, Compassionate Rebel
The Sanskrit name of this bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara. Brittanica has an entry on Avalokiteshvara (click here) that is fascinating, featuring many links for your rabbit hole reading, and is worth reading at length.

In a way, Quan Yin or Avalokiteshvara is transgender (or perhaps androgynous or without gender), which is cool and reminds us that suffering and mercy is universal and that the Atman itself transcends gender. Brittanica gives this summary of the transformation from the male to the feminine image, with interesting traces of masculinity still remaining in some representations centuries later in the form of a light moustache. I wonder if I am the first to call Quan Yin or Avalokiteshvara a "Trans Bodhisattva," I mean, hey, it's perfect: she is both transcultural, transtemporal, and transgender.

It could just be a coincidence that I came across this representation of mercy and compassion on the one-year anniversary of my colectomy. Just like the coincidence I found in the kitchen store that I happened to walk into.... and that happened to also (coincidentally) be celebrating their one-year anniversary with a scavenger hunt and a cupcake making ceremony, pictured here->

At any rate, up to you decide how much fun you read into this post. At several moments the past few days, I have wished I took this statue home. This momento would not only be beautiful in my home, it would also be placed near where I practice yoga and I believe it would give me company and a special reminder of the birth of my son which mercifully saved my life, and all the compassion I was shown during my battle for health this time last year. And with this, I leave you with the words written from my hospital bed at MSK, this day just one year ago. Reading these, perhaps you may see why I believe I was shown so much compassion and mercy. And of course, the love for my baby son got me through.

First, to catch us up to speed, there was also this entry from April 22 of last year:

Journal entry by Domenica Newell-Amato — 4/22/2016
Entry 6.
This is like walking a tightrope, as the nurse said. (And to all of our relief, the nurses have improved much these last days). Im told its a fine balance between necessarily lowering narcotics so my bowels dont sleep and mediating the pain.
I had major nausea at 5am, and started gagging and spitting. I could barely talk as I asked nurse to give me cold washcloth, lower the bucket, and not leave me. I also asked, how am i gonna throw up with this big incision? I braced my stomach with a pillow and tried to calm my gag reflux. Can you imagine throwing up with a six inch sutured incision going down your belly... I just couldnt. They gave me antinausea medicine thru epidural so it worked in time. Rough start of day 3.
Yesterday I was smiling, even today some, due to supporters and sisters and friends. I was even able to eat potato broth and oatmeal yesterday - first food in days. But now im back on clear liquids only, and am told walk, walk. Through the pain.
I can walk, but today i couldnt talk and had so much difficulty to breathe. So ive only done two laps. But after I write this and nap a lil, which i hope i dont get caught doing by my surgeon during his round, then i will get up and walk this hallway like the champ i am. Haha.
One step at a time, yes. And when i walk the hallways and feel weak, i think of mon petit Julien smiling and realize that yes, i am closer to seeing him, hearing him laugh and looking into his beautiful eyes. I also think of him wearing the cute nursing scrubs with stethoscope design outfit that my mother got for him to wear when i return home. You all, friends, family, colleagues, have been so wonderful. The support from afar has been so close in my heart. Thank you.

And now this journal entry, from this day at MSK one year ago:

Journal entry by Domenica Newell-Amato — 4/24/2016
hi people!
Since i last wrote, the bottom fell out on me. I had a smile-less day on Friday into Saturday. Out of nowhere, i was sitting and projectile vomited all over green bile. No bucket near. My sister helped me, and later the angel nurse Juanito helped clean up. I vomited again in bed. I was immediately taken off fluids and of course food. Saturday early morning was awful but i dont remember much of it. O wait, now I do. The worst part of it all. O yes. They wanted to stick a tube down my nose and back of throat to take some of liquid out since my stomach wasnt working and bowels were sleeping (due to surgery and to narcotics). The resident doctor who i think is a jack ass put a big tube down my right nostril i was screaming and crying. He pulled it back out and someone said it's too big for her. So he got he got a smaller one and tried left nostril. They had me sip water through straw as they tried to get it down back of my throat. I thought it was going and then he pulled it out and said no no - it had gotten coiled in my mouth. I started crying hysterically from the pain as the doctor said Sorry - and i said What do mean "sorry"! He left and he never came back, for the record. Stupid resident. Before he had started he asked the nurse a question about the tube or something, and I said, Have you done this before? I could tell the male nurse was having a hard time watching this procedure in the middle of the night... It was hard. The next morning i had nothing. Just nothing. I had been so hot, burning up with ice packs and cold washcloths on my forehead and back of neck as i tried to sit upright as the nurse suggested. All morning. I wrote quick message to friends asking for prayers and that was all i could do. By mid- afternoon, the nausea left me after hours and hours... Thank God. Thank God.
I still couldn't drink anything until this afternoon, Sunday, day 6. Im drinking little so as to avoid jumping the gun.
The drains coming out of my body are still producing lots of blood and body fluids from the surgery sites. And because my lungs are waking up, I am coughing which hurts. But thats a good sign. Yesterday evening i had some energy and clocked out with 14 laps of 15th floor where i am, a slow, spread out mile. Thereto i had only done a total of 4 or 7 laps in a day. Today, i have been mostly without nausea. I am very uncomfortable, but thats to be expected. Often i can overlook it. I just feel awful. Today, i started crying for my baby boy who i miss sooooo very much. I miss him so much.
Yesterday i went off narcotics totally, with only liquid tylenol to help pain. They also removed catheter and I am able to pee. Tomorrow or today they may remove the tube in my butt which is draining fluids and irritating.

In my next entry I will post info for a go fund me account, which will help me navigate the path I am on financially. My next operation is in three months - hopefully only 3-5 days in hospital, with family staying in nearby hotel room to help me through again. I will often have to travel to nyc for follow-up procedures. The rest, I cant think too much about. I just want to be able to walk normal again and comfortably care for my Julien. I cry and I pray he doesn't inherit this - with all my heart. I hope for the 1 out of 2 chance that he live a full life, always healthy, nooooo FAP.
When the volunteer deacons come to offer me communion I cry. When I stepped into the rec room where musicians were playing I cried. When i saw a toddler in his daddy's arms who was connected to an IV stand like me i cried and cried. Crying is good, cuz i wasn't able to do that for a couple days. (The last time i cried was when i woke up and my bag was leaking onto my hand. There are more beautiful emotions than that to let tear up my eyes)
I speak the words "my healthy baby!" over my precious Julien daily. I cant wait to do that again soon.
Thank you all for reading. And loving and praying. I am so glad I have my sister Candi with me. She's a real champ, doing so much for me without missing a beat.

On the one-year anniversary of my life-saving colectomy
Wearing a chef's hat, Troy NY, April 19, 2017

What symbols of mercy and compassion speak to you?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tolerating Distresses in Life, Major Illnesses Included

My son Julien, a couple days old, January 2016

The birth of my son in January 2016 coincided with a battle for my life. How to stay resolute? I would have to dig deep and summon all the goodness that I had witnessed hereto in my life and in those around me. Gratitude for my son, amazement that he saved my life, awe in a bizarre, bigger plan. Without circumstances falling as they had, I would be dying now. At the time of my diagnosis when he was just 5 weeks old (and up until my colectomy nearly two months later), I did not know how many options I had left.

“The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”

This verse (2.14) of the Bhagavad Gita is beautiful in its universality, in its meaning, but it is also harrowing. It is beautiful because it represents a relationship with a source of peace -- such that it is well with the soul even when the boat is rocking. It is a bit like Jesus telling his disciples to not focus on the storm. It promotes balance through the awareness that all things shall come to pass. Knowing that impermanence is a fact of life brings wisdom and acceptance: one understands that what is essential are things like harmony, grounding, staying firm in one’s faith. I learned even more this past year that we are wise to accept all gifts and trials in life with this perspective. I learned this through my very real health battles and trials this past year. One may be worried or deeply stressed (as I was about a genetic life-threatening disease discovered weeks after I gave birth to my son), but we are encouraged to not focus on the swirling flux and chance in circumstances around us. This verse, like life itself, drives us to search for what is long-lasting. As the Little Prince said, “That which is essential is invisible to the eye.” Throughout my life, I have definitely felt a presence buoying me, saving me, rescuing me, looking out for me, guiding me, gifting love to me; I call it God, and believe He has guided me through the toughest times. Let's say that He gave me my son at age 39, when I thought I couldn't have a child anymore, and this saved my life. Basically, there were not many crises in my life that were surmounted without asking for God’s help - and for this last crisis, I was joined in prayer by so many brave, good souls. I cannot thank people enough for the prayers said for my health and recovery. Even just asking for God's help brought me hope and steadiness where things were bleak.

This verse offers a unique perspective on life’s stresses: happiness AND distress are both sense perceptions, and we "must learn [learning is a process] to tolerate them without being disturbed." And because life’s stresses can sometimes be so devastating, this verse is also harrowing because life can truly bring you loss, great loss, and none of us are totally exempt from such heartache. I am not speaking of simply a bad day, but of something so bad as say, the separation of parent from child, for example. Why does a mother worry so? It is because her whole heart is invested in her child. How is it possible that in this world, for example, a child may lose his or her parent, or a parent lose his or her child? How to reach a point of tolerating such a loss as the world may choose to throw at a person, even a good person, is quite a challenge. I take this “distress” to the extreme, because I do not believe that sacred texts are dealing with superficial experiences. At least, I hope not. I am not sure how I would deal with such a distress as the one above (I have dealt with similar ones, and the grief was intense enough), and yet that is the deepest fear I probably have. Each day that I waited for biopsy results was torture, and the not-knowing of if we would catch it in time to save my life. And my life had just become my son's life.
My son and I, weeks after my first surgery

Perhaps this verse is dealing instead with normal stressors, and not the deeper tragedies of life. But even in tragedy, one must root oneself all the more in something like faith – and be honest in that faith, even if angry with God. Because anger is a movement. Anger never really seems to last. I was not angry with God when I received my diagnosis. I knew to ask Him for help, and I prayed that my son would not be without a mother most nights as I lay awake worried.There are many times where I do not talk to God, but it does not mean I forget about him. God is always benevolent. Even in the silence, even with the clouds, we all know that the sun is still there – and that God is, even more so. Thus, the light that God gives is everywhere. We just may need certain rays to be highlighted for us. Gratitude is stopping to be like, Wow look at that! that must have been divinely influenced how that cool thing happened! And the more we appreciate what we do see or feel of God, perhaps the more we recognize it. I cannot help but see how all things conspired for my life to be saved, in some weird way, for some unknown reason. I just know that I would be finding out I had colon cancer right about now if I had not had my son. Being pregnant brought about the symptoms that I never had, though the polyps had been growing for over two decades in my large intestine - which explains why some of the thousands of polyps were as big as 2cm and high grade dysplasia. The key to getting through seasons of distress and of joy: giving gratitude through it all, and knowing that one can always find recourse in divine love. We can always turn to meditate on that. And the more we store up our recognition of God’s love, the easier it is to return to those moments in our mind when we need that faith when the skies are darker.

So, I guess that what I have learned after years and years of struggle and of relationships, and most recently, of a very trying health battle, is this: Where there is evidence of strong, pure love, it is hard to focus on the darkness. And I guess that that is how I feel about life. There is strong pure love we have all been shown, and that love, God’s love, is greater than anything He allows to happen to us. Therein is my peace. It may not solve problems, but love is there for the taking. And that taking is for when we are ready for it.

And now, I will share a journal entry I wrote one year ago today, following my total colectomy where the surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering robotically removed my large intestine... This I do to commemorate something so awful and amazing at the same time, but in some ways... it was another rebirth. It brought me spiritual wellness, strength, faith, love, and gratitude. My 40 days in the hospital this past year, my ER trips, my worries, my health and bodily problems and issues taught me the meaning of the verse above: I can honestly say it was much more graceful and easy to tolerate the distresses I had to endure (and even joke about them with nurses and doctors at times) than to fight or bemoan them. Doesn't mean my heart was not wasted for missing my son while being almost incapacitated and helpless for two weeks in the hospital and for days here and days there. It just means I tolerated these sense perceptions and focused on the prize.

Here begins my writing from my hospital bed:

Journal entry by Domenica Newell-Amato — 4/20/2016

Entry 5.

Greetings from the recovery room. The operation was an open surgery and began yesterday morning and was over seven hours. I am told it went well and that the connection was good. I went with the jpouch. However, I have the ostomy bag now and for three months approx. until my second operation. I have not looked at my stomach but I know he decided to cut me in one vertical line, about 6-7 inches if I recall what he had said Monday.

I am alone now for a few hours (with exception of roomate and her visitors on other side of curtain) and felt like writing, as I asked my mother to be with my baby over me, so he will have more comfort and someone who reminds him of me. He is in good hands with his father, and great-grandmother, but his father goes back to work tomorrow and friday. When I left for the city I bathed Julien's head in tears. Looking at his photos and thinking of him bring me joy while here.

I had to fast Monday and yesterday and cannot eat yet today. Yesterday morning in the surgery prep area was full of jokes and cheer. My two nurses were from Ireland and so sweet.

Then I woke up post-surgery in recovery room, not nearly as nurturing an arena.

My mother and best friend, Carol, were right there, with time only for a quick hello before they had to leave. My mom relayed info from surgeon about how it went well, the connection was good, and it was 7hours long. I'm not sure what happened next but two nurses came to wheel me to my room. In the elevator they talked only to themselves and I got the feeling they didnt care much about me. They wheeled me into room where I am now and said, here's your call button and the pain button and literally left. I felt like I had just gotten out of Vietnam and no one cared. I couldn't wait to see my mom again. I don't know how long it was. I think I hit call button and said I needed to talk with someone. It took awhile, and so I think I was crying when nurse arrived. I said I needed to have my bearings... Nightime was awful, so much pain. Pain as a word achieved a new meaning for me. The hospital bed is horrible on your back, and with my abdomen in such pain I could only lay on my side. For maybe an hour at a time, and so that is how I slept: interrupted. Then, a roomate was wheeled in late at night. I had a hard time emotionally, and physically. I have an epidural in my back and two drains hanging off my front that collect blood and fluids from surgery, I have something in my butt, and of course an ostomy. I only discovered all this in stages and as I moved or had leakages.

In the morning, I was doing my usual side switch roll - very carefully - when my hand went in something... My ostomy bag had come off and I had my own waste on my hand. I called for nurse and began crying, slow whimpering. Just cuz I was alone and in shock I think. The nurse came and told me it was going to be alright and cleaned me up. Soon after, my mom came. I was still upset at how callous the nurses on this floor had been, and she assured me she'd call me dearie and sweetie and be there. So much pain still, I had told nurse, and she would walk out. I felt like I was in the middle of a conversation. But when I looked she was gone. The nurse from the night before was like, yea you're in pain from surgery. Finally, a pain nurse came to check how I was doing and responded by changing my medication.

after some napping it was time to walk. I thought this would be impossible, but I was able to make it a little ways down the hall holding onto my iv pole and Rosalie, a nice lady. I started overheating and said ice, ice. I need ice. It was too late. I was about to pass out. I said so, and went slightly limp. Rosalie held me tight and called for a chair. I was fading and seven people surrounded me and slid me in chair back to my room.

Another nap, and my surgeon and his team came. He told me that over time, my output would have consistency of pesto. I started to laugh and it hurt, he told me he says this to all his patients, not just the Italian ones.

i'm going to stop here, as I'm exhausted. Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and caring.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Eternity for a Pose: Forward Fold as Prayer

Do you ever feel like you could hold a forward fold pose for an eternity? Bending over, reaching your heart past your toes, letting the head hang, stretching the hamstrings... It feels good, right? I feel like I could go on forever when I'm bowing in some form or fashion.

As we bow our head and let it fall toward the ground, it somehow feels great. Is our body comfortable in this fresh view of self? Is our mind (now joined with our body because: yoga!) curiously intrigued by this unusual state of reverse-seeing the world? Does the posture itself carry meaning that brings us into a more content state of mind? Is this bowing posture intrinsically set up for humility or devotion to something greater than ourselves? How many paintings of people bowing to kings, royalty, friends, angels, or gods exist in earlier periods of the art world? Inclining self to other was often just the basics of greeting and relationship, let alone the tone of devotion it can take in a more spiritual or religious sense.

Forward folds are "forever" poses, I would say, because they naturally trigger self-reflection. I realized that the reflection that is naturally induced as the body folds upon itself may be why it feels so good. This, after months of mulling over in my head something my yoga teacher: In a forward fold, your heart is above your mind.

Why might it be good to let the heart come to a physical position above the head? Perhaps because the heart knows certain things better than the mind, and placing it physically above the mind brings it to that psychic place of primacy too. Mind-body connection thus becomes heart connection. Why place the mind lower on the body totem pole of sensory?

The mind is a terrible thing. A wonderful thing. A terribly incomprehensible, sometimes comprehensible thing. It has a mind of its own, the mind. How many of us our victims of our own mind patterns? Most of the time (optimistically speaking), our mind does us good. The mind helps us live in this world, sense and deduce, speak and act, wonder and fear, desire and enjoy. It also helps us go through the yoga of the action of our daily lives - this is the yoga written about in the Bhagavad Gita. The mind houses our language. It sparks our words, hears our fears, knows our strategies. It is the engine behind the actions we choose as we live, here, in this world. In order to process all that we perceive and be able to respond to it, we need our thinking, our imagination, and our metaphorical ways of conceiving of the world.

Everything is made up of the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. According to the ancient school of Indian philosophy, when you boil the world and all its material and psychological contents down, there are the three gunas. This includes the mind, for it is material, and thus a blend of the the three gunas. If we want our mind to be more tame and at peace - avoiding the rushing, the mini-explosions, or even the sleepy cloud of unawareness the mind can cast instead, then our mind must be brought to a more sattvic state. Sattva is not the red hot tone of desire or rage or drive of rajas. Sattva is not the sleepiness, ignorance, or dumbness of tamas. Sattva is when the mind is clear, serene, productively joyous: aware. We can move from rajas and tamas to saatva (of the three gunas, a yogi will say that sattva is the preferable one): we can transform the very matter of our mind, says Dr. Edwin Bryant, specialist in Vedic literature and the Yoga Sutras. We do this through contemplation of the good, meditation on the breath or God. And this, I will add, we can only do after we have embraced an ethics of how we treat others and ourselves (see my post on the yamas and niyamas).

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Embracing Ethics: The Core of Yoga

Most people may not know that the yoga we hear about or see is just 1/8 of what this tradition is really about. Asana (Sanskrit for "pose") is just the tip of the iceberg. Poses are what the onlooker sees. But below the water's surface the teachings of yoga go even deeper, into the internal workings of the mind and soul. Yoga is beneficial just as movement and stretching; but come closer and you will find that it is much more - it is self-inquiry and a path of wisdom that has been developed for thousands of years, and brings about the unity of mind, body, breath, and faith.

Yoga is more that what is visible to the eye
Yoga is not a faith; but it is a practice that gives real shape to our spiritual and physical wellbeing. As such, it involves all of our life, and gives instruction and discipline in how we live and how we think and how we tap into our own faith in God. As I mentioned in my post on the Atman, Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, is nonsectarian. When he refers in the ancient Yoga Sutras to meditating on God, he wisely uses a term that can be adopted by anyone: Ishvara is a philosophical category rather than a name of God (oh so many in this world). As Edwin Bryant explains, it is a title, not a person; it's like saying "the President" - this could be Clinton or Reagan or Obama. Insert who you like. So if the third limb of yoga, asana - downward dog, Warrior 1, tree pose, etc. - is just one of the many aspects of yoga, what are the others?

Mara Carrico gives a very concise introduction to the 8 limbs of yoga her article in Yoga Journal: "In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb).... They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature."

Today's post will introduce the yamas and niyamas, just two of the 8 limbs of yoga, which deal with moral, purposeful, and ethical conduct and call upon our self-awareness and discipline. I appreciate how Carrico links the yamas and niyamas to one's health. I recently have been musing on the interconnectedness of our spiritual and physical health, as I am coming up on my one year anniversary of my total colectomy and the six month mark since my j pouch surgery. Being in and out of the hospital so many times over the past year has given me a unique perspective on the difference between physical and spiritual health, and the importance of both. My body is not where I want it to be (doctors say that it could take up to a year from my j-pouch), but yoga is giving me healing to continue my fight toward health. I don't know if I'll get to whatever "normal" feels like without a large intestine and with my genetic disease, and I may feel like I take one step forward two steps back some days. But I know I'm going to keep walking with love and light, gratitude, and discipline (tapas) to live a more centered life.

So, the first two limbs of yoga are are a set of ethical principles regarding our treatment of others, the yamas, and our treatment toward ourselves, the niyamas. In thinking more about them, and becoming more aware of how we can live according to them, we have the benefit (free gift!) of leading a happier, more peaceful and fulfilling life. The frustration that arises from not understanding these principles is really quite detrimental and harmful to ourselves, and to others by extension. Our actions matter so much, and so too do are thoughts. (And then there is karma, a single word for "action" and "reaction" which tells us that ethical principles are real, sometimes by kicking us in the head).

fort fortelezza
A photo of me from a trip to San Juan in 2012. I have always been reflective, but I was too carefree.
In some ways my illness has helped me go deeper into what I actually believe, and who I want to be.

And here is some more wisdom: As Gaura Vani said to me in a recent visit to Yoga Mandali (as his guru once said to him), "It is not so much what we do that God is concerned about, but how we do it." This is so true. Think about it. How someone goes about doing something can leave either a bad taste in your mouth, or a much more palatable one. And likewise for the taste we leave in others' mouths. The effects of how we relate to others (and to self) is palpable. My question to Gaura Vani had been: what if we have been asking God what we should do about a really hard personal decision, and we cannot come to a decision no matter how we struggle. A greater understanding of the principles that yoga teaches is helpful, and then the relationship decisions we need to make will follow. Life is about relationship with others and relationship with self. Thus, in each action or decision, it would be wise to keep in mind the following:

The 5 yamasAhimsa: nonviolence, Satya: truthfulness, Asteya: nonstealing, Brahmacharya: continence, Aparigraha: noncovetousness

The 5 niyamas:
Saucha: cleanliness, Santosha: contentment, Tapas: the fire of discipline; spiritual austerities, Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of self, Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God

Sound easy? Yet each one of these could be a lengthy introspective diary entry for each one of us. If you search the web, you will find a lot written about each one. When we reflect on any one of the yamas or niyamas, we see new ways to consider these principles. For example, aparigraha. We may not covet someone's wife or husband, but we may be a hoarder. What's wrong with hoarding? When we look deeper we can see that hoarding, as my teacher, Gopi Kinnicutt, pointed out, is not trusting (God) for what we need. As Yoga Amrit Desai has said, "Once you realize that the source of all solutions that you seek outside yourself are always present within you, asteya naturally happens." If this sounds like my Wizard of Oz analogy of the Atman (Sanksrit for "soul"), where Oz steps out of the projection booth and lets himself be seen as a real person and says, "Everything you were looking for was right with you all along," it must be because we are onto something here! (See post). Anyway, we all have ways in which we can improve on our ethical code (and by extension, true happiness), even if when we first look at the yama or niyama word and think, hey I'm good, I don't do that! As I grow older, I trust that life will reveal to me deeper levels of these principles, deeper ways of being honest, pure, and of studying self or wisdom texts, etc. I am happier already when I realize that peace will come through pursuing such principles, and through self-checking when I/we have lost our way in one of these regards. I find the words of Swami Kripalu to be very encouraging: "In firmly grasping the flower of a single virtue, a person can lift the entire garland of yama and niyama."

In this introductory entry, I will give my take on asteya (nonstealing). At first, I felt like does not apply to me in the strict sense because I do not steal. Then, I read that asteya can also mean not taking that which is not offered. Now that is something to ponder. Also: I came across the notion of wabi-sabi, a Japanese philosophy that teaches beauty in imperfection or impermanence. I found this while reading a blurb on asteya on the yoga international site; the section of the article in Yoga International has the interesting headliner: "Appreciate rather than conceal." This reading got my wheels turning about my own level of contentment with the world around me and how I could appreciate it - and others (and maybe myself too) - more. Wabi-sabi is an alternative perspective to our quest for sleek, mass-produced products or the desire for guarantees that generally don't generate what we want anyway.
Maybe wabi-sabi is in the elegance of decrepit abandoned factories in Detroit, or it is in the seconds of a beautiful sunset that will not stay, perhaps wabi-sabi is in a chipped statue, the old bent wooden floors that creak, the garbage bags strewn along a brick wall showing human life, not just waste. It is the beauty, muted by society's rules and standards, of something that at first appears ugly. Perhaps asteya is not stealing beauty from something that, if you look close enough, still holds beauty. Wabi-sabi is a reassuring perspective: it is not rejecting what is there. It is authenticity. The beauty may be in the how: how it reveals itself to you, and you alone. Perhaps wabi-sabi is the beauty in upstate NY on a week where the sun doesn't peek through the colorless sky, yet the grey somehow cradles us, insulating our thoughts, memories, and actions in its strange way, not to last.

wabi sabi
Further regarding wabi-sabi, and the beauty in impermanence: The author of the aforementioned article on asteya, Michelle Marlahan, writes that yoga is “training yourself to be aware of the sensations, thoughts, and emotions present in any given situation. Rather than running off in the story of those thoughts or feelings, see them as ever changing and watch their fluctuations like clouds in the sky.” That seems to me to be a way to celebrate impermanence, rather than to fear it. I want guarantees and a permanent situation, especially given the huge turn of events in my life given my diagnosis, surgeries, changed body, and continuing disability. But that is neither possible nor in fact, desirable. I must embrace impermanence, and live in the moment – which is exactly what yoga helps me to do.

                w     a      b      i            s       a      b      i
Perhaps wabi-sabi is seeing as Swami Kripalu saw: Everything was alive to him.

On a last anecdotal note about asteya, sometimes I have to admit that I can be greedy about food, especially because I love the unique preparation of food so much. How awful that I am not willing to share a bite! On the other hand, if I am cooking or enjoying a nice moment at a restaurant, I will love to share food with others and will insist that someone try something. I think I better prefer being genuinely generous!

Perhaps I was practicing wabi-sabi during that San Juan trip in 2012
without realizing it when I took this photo?