Last year I spent Christmas in Korea, and this year in India. I hardly remember what Christmas is “supposed” to be like. Neither country goes all out like the USA’s consumer frenzy. In the absence of shopping, and in India, without a church service to attend, Christmas serves primarily as a marker of time, an occasion of remembrance and reflection. Accompanied by the solstice, the early sunsets, and cooling temperatures, even in tropical India, it’s also an inwardly turned time. What were this year’s lessons?
A year ago I was preparing to return to Detroit life. I moved into the Boggs Center to join Grace Lee Boggs’s caregiving team. So much of this year has been shaped by her, reflected upon in other posts. I continue to be held in her thrall, and grateful for every moment.
It was also a year of missing BKS Iyengar, who passed away right before I left for Korea, on my daughter Meiko’s 28th birthday, August 20, 2014.
When such immense souls such as Grace’s and Guruji’s pass on, it takes a while for the universe to reorganize itself around the vacancies left in their wake. The Boggs Center had been tending to immediate needs since Grace’s passing in October, and more recently, taking up longer-term plans. The Iyengar family and Institute in Pune has taken on a whole new shape.
It takes time for our own souls to rearrange themselves around our losses. There’s a spot in the practice hall at the Institute that reminds me of Guruji everytime I step through it. I have so many images in my heart and mind of him, practicing and teaching, ever vigilant, generous, all-seeing. The other day, I visited the library where Guruji worked every afternoon. It's still imbued with his every touch.
All Fall, I felt Grace as soon as I unlocked the front door of our house. It took several seconds to remember, oh right, followed by a pause to grieve, and feel the loss.
I received word a few days ago that an uncle in Korea, my mother’s sister’s husband, completed his battle with cancer, and passed away. It will be some months and years for my cousins and my aunt to process this deep loss. In fact, grieving never really ends. I feel vaguely comforted by this realization. It takes the pressure off. We don’t need to “feel better” or “get over it.” Instead, we need to absorb the new reality, and incorporate it into our daily being. At best, loss informs us, makes us wiser, and brings us into deeper contact with the spiritual world. Grieving deeply opens up the wells of emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, and ability to love and celebrate.
A friend once told me, after my mom died, two years after my dad, that I seemed larger. That in fact, everyone she knew who lost parents, seemed to grow on an energy level. I certainly see this in the Iyengar family. All the members of the family, but particularly Geetaji and Prashantji, have expanded immensely in stature and significance, and continually channel Guruji’s teachings.
Although Grace didn’t have biological children, she served as mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to generations, and her impact will be felt for decades to come.
As different as they are, there was a moment of conjunction between these significant teachers. Last summer when Guruji passed away, Grace was at an all-time low point. She had suffered a fall, was in pain, and didn’t know how and if she could go on. I told her the story of BKS Iyengar, and his passing, and she recognized a soulmate in the stories, and found inspiration. The spiritual plane must be wondrous indeed to include all these loved ones.
Weeks after Grace’s death, I decided I would give away mydecades-old library of books. Then I decided just recently that I would give up shaving my head. Shortly after that, I gave up my tooth, and along with that, my dogmatic attachment to how healing should look. What more will I give up? Time will tell.
“The product of yoga should be wisdom,” coached Prashantji this morning, as he riffed on process and product and reasons to practice.
Oh, and getting back to Christmas. Back in 2012 I committed to learning how to improvise on the piano. In 2015, a friend from Milwaukee gifted me an electric keyboard. And my rental house in Pune has an electronic piano! So here is my gift to you, dear friends. Merry Christmas, after all. This was a favorite carol of Grace’s, Joy to this broken, brutal, but beautiful world.