Friday, October 16, 2009

Chapter 3, Shell Shock

"Truth and unconditional love support each other. To love yourself unconditionally, you must tell yourself the truth. You cannot hear your own truth if you are lying to others. Begin to tell the truth in the smallest things. This brings you wholeness. Tell the truth often and you will be filled with beauty. You will have health. You will walk the beauty way of health/wholeness/holiness/. Your truth will bless all you encounter. You will be blessed. Do not be afraid to reveal your own uniqueness, for that is part of your blessing"

Susun S. Weed

Chapter 3

Shell Shock

The night terrors continued, but a subtle shift was taking place. I still had random episodes of screaming in the night but now, sometimes, I was being roused by it. Also, sometimes, instead of screams, there were words. I'd started shouting in the night, "what are you doing? what are you doing"?

With my tailbone healed, I was ready to get to work on what I hoped was the last place of chronic pain in my body. There was a tender area between and slightly beneath my shoulder blades. It had been sensitive and painful for as long as I could remember. It was one of the many places where I couldn't stand to be touched. When at its worst, locked and painful, I would have a hard time taking a full breath, and rage would come up and seethe just below my surface.

This was a tough area to touch with yoga. At first it was vulnerable and prone to injury. I had to be very careful. Spinal twists, supine the safest for me, Bow variations, Wheel, Tranquility pose, Shoulder stand, Plow, Fish, all took me to that tender place in my body and became a regular part of my practice. These poses didn't all come easily. I especially struggled with the inversions, but inevitably, over the course of time, with gentle, patient, persistence, there was improvement. Then, out of the blue, another memory surfaced.

These memories didn't come up in the usual way we think of as remembering. I didn't suddenly remember something I'd forgotten. These were body memories, entirely visceral.

In 2002 I took a yoga teacher training course at an ashram in the Bahamas. It is an odd place for an ashram, an austere spiritual community juxtaposed against some pretty hedonistic opulence. There are rules at the ashram, no coffee, tobacco, alchohol, drugs, meat, garlic, onions or sex. There were rules about dress, especially for women, no short shorts and shoulders covered, while next door and sharing the same beach was a Club Med where topless was the norm. Atlantis, a humongous Vegas style hotel/casino/resort is a fifteen minute walk along the beach. Nassau, a popular and busy tourist and cruise ship destination, is across the bay. The night life was twenty-four-seven. Party boats emblazoned with Booze Cruise floated noisily in and out of the bay, at all times of the day and night, music blaring, people hooting, hollering, drinking, dancing and partying as loud and hard as possible.

One night we were sitting for evening meditation in the open air temple. Normally I sat crosslegged on the floor, it was a requirement for those of us in the course, but my back was sore and I was feeling rebellious, so I sat in a chair next to a friend I'd made who was also taking the course. A Booze Cruise boat floated into the bay. The noise was so invasive that for me, meditation was out of the question. I even remember the song they were playing on the boat. It was that "Who let the dogs out" song, very popular, especially in the Bahamas, at the time.

I kept my eyes closed and tried to maintain an inward focus but when they started setting fireworks off from the boat, it was too much. I found the situation hilarious and was shaking from the effort of trying not to laugh out loud. My eyes flew open when my friend, an American, grabbed my hand. He was sobbing. Tears poured from his eyes, sweat trickled from his head, his tee-shirt was drenched. He was trembling and making strange noises, I think from the exertion of trying not to wail or scream.

Tall and solid, he was a large man but I held his hand and wrapped my free arm around his broad back as best I could. After a few minutes he was able to compose himself enough to beat a hasty retreat. I didn't see him for a couple of days. He may have been avoiding me. I got the feeling he was embarrassed. When I did see him, he didn't want to talk about what had happened except to say that "it was a little thing called Vietnam" when he was twenty-one years old. He did tell me though that "when this happens, I'm not remembering what it was like to be there, I am there". His body had been there, in Vietnam, re-living whatever it was that the fireworks had triggered. He'd had an episode of shell-shock.

I was meant to sit beside him in the temple that evening. I was meant to witness his shell-shock. Somehow the universe in its perfection put me there, in that exact place, at that exact time, under those exact circumstances, as a gift. That experience prepared me for something yet to come.