A few days ago, I ended up reading bits and pieces from different books at various points during the day and there were three themes that sprang up. Dying, Forgiving and Love. I found the three again soon after in an endearing movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.
A cynical, jaded journalist who is known for ripping people apart is disarmed by the kindness and love of a stranger. Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers brings the gift of his complete presence to his interactions and invites people into his mindscapes of difficult emotions. He does this through the weathered puppets who have accompanied him on his journey as a host for a children’s show. The movie revolves around difficult parent-child relationships through the lens of death and abandonment. A dying father finds it necessary to make peace with his estranged son. Ultimately, an autumn funeral is one of love that finds redemption in the character of Mathew Rhys wanting to be a better dad.
About 8-9 years ago, I became interested in Indian philosophy and since then dying has had fascination as a thought for reflection. B.K.S. Iyengar’s words probably express it best, “Live Happily, Die Majestically”. It is considered inauspicious to talk about death and dying but that’s what we are heading towards the minute we are born. I’ve found being aware of mortality, my own and that of loved ones has been a way to live more intensely and joyously in the present. Now more than ever it seems urgent to reflect on what it means to die and therefore how one should live. In the context of yogasana, I remember Geeta Iyengar asking if one is willing to die in the pose? Change happens in that moment and space of a breaking point. Stick around, walk into the pain and you cross over into an unimaginable freedom.
Forgiving has always been a contentious word for me. Who am I to forgive anyone? But while sitting with the thought, it automatically split into ‘for’ and ‘giving’ and that made sense. Service. Giving like the flower gives, giving like the bird sings, giving like the sun shines. Giving wholly of oneself is its own reward. Often, it means just sharing our stories as they are. At the end of a life, the holding back of their ability to connect and heal don’t matter and just make for a dead weight kind of living in isolation. Vulnerability is like having the shell ripped off a soft body and the fear of being crushed is very real but it is also a taking one’s place under the sun in one’s fullness. That’s a brilliance which touches everything around it.
Yehudi Menuhin’s foreword in Light on Yoga is one of my favourite passages and a sentence in there expresses it best. “Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr. Iyengar’s attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created- unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation- in the garden of Eden.” I’ve experienced this sense of innocence in my yoga teachers too. It’s a clarity of a clear stream in which they allow all to enter, the good, the bad and the ugly without any discrimination and with compassionate detachment. So, the stream remains unsullied even while allowing all who enter it to wash away the accumulated dust of tendencies.
Love was the first theme I had encountered during the course of that reading day but while reflecting on all three, it made sense to see it as the last and encompassing the other two. My reading was from The Prophet and one of my favourite lines from that prose poem is, ‘All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart’. Recently, I got a lovely note from my daughter where she spoke of a state of flow, desire, abundance, detachment all aligning themselves with one’s destiny. She ended with I love you. Three simple words and I was grateful to be the recipient of those beautiful words while also keenly aware that I haven’t been able to say it to my parents.
There’s one point in the movie where Tom Hanks asks Rhys to hold a moment for those who loved us into being. It’s a moment where the other patrons in the restaurant also pause and I found myself pausing. But, that was a hard minute. One that also flowed into thinking about who do we really know as our parents. My mother reminisces about her childhood and youth and I listen. I also listen to my daughter about her young life impressions and switch between the roles of child and parent even as the individual me relates to my family members as individuals. As I listen to my mother, it is easier to understand how a young person was shaped through life experiences and inherent attitudes to meeting them. And my daughter’s words allow me to see that process as it is unfolding.
Kindness as a mirror
In the movie, Tom Hanks becomes the kind mirror we need to see ourselves and our frailties. The puppets in his bag are a poignant reminder of our lives alluding to the way we are played by the strings of our hurts, anger, fears, victories, loves, losses and a gamut of memories and inabilities. Often, they are patterns so firmly entrenched that it seems nigh impossible to even consider the possibility of another way of expression. Tom Hanks seems too good to be true and when Mathew Rhys likens him to a living saint, his wife points out that that would make what he has seem unattainable for people! She goes on to say, “he works at it all the time, it’s a practice. He’s not a perfect person, he has a temper. He chooses how he responds to that anger. He does things every day that help to ground him… reads scripture, swims laps, prays for people, writes letters, hundreds of them.” Letters really jumped out, I find them almost a meditation that can be shared with another and they have been a constant especially in the last few months.
Lately, I’ve found that all my loves converge and compartmentalizing them into neat little web notebooks is becoming harder. They seem to spill into each other and perhaps it is time to bring them all as a singular offering. Call it the yoga of words perhaps or sound. Writing is really speaking on paper or a screen, a silent sound if you please.And I find yoga in every moment of living, in music, musings and movement. It makes for a rich living even in the bleakest of times, providing an anchor to meet whatever comes or goes with a light heart and steady gaze filled with love.
I wish you love.
I wish you light.
I wish you life.