Rt. 93 south of Columbus, Ohio. City lights left behind, the 4 lane road we were on was steeped in the dark of the new moon. Occasional headlights glowed in the distance, brightened, then faded as they passed.
In the yoga community, we talk a lot about light, but I find darkness, the absence of light, more interesting. There is much to see by delving in.
In the winter of 1967, probably February, I had spent a night in a seedy motel watching “On the Waterfront” on an antiquated black and white TV while a summer acquaintance and her friend aborted their unwanted pregnancies. My acquaintance and I had worked together at a Michigan “up north” resort.
She’d called me a few weeks earlier to ask if I knew anyone who performed abortions. They were illegal at the time, and she and her friend wanted to end their pregnancies without anyone in their community knowing. I didn’t know anyone but asked around and discovered that yes, there was a woman close to my home in Bowling Green, Ohio, who imported a chemical from Canada, which, when placed in the cervix, caused a fetus to be expelled.
I don’t remember how the two young women arrived in Ohio, nor do I remember how we all got to the East Lansing motel where we spent the night. Nor do I remember how I returned to Bowling Green since I didn’t own a car. Most of all, I do not know what the women in my care experienced.
I remember 2 things from that episode. The first is Marlon Brando saying “I coulda been a contender” and the amazing experience of nothingness that occurred on my return to my apartment the following day.
Exhausted, I walked in the front door to find my roommate and a mutual friend seated at the kitchen table. I said hello, moved past them to my bedroom, and closed the door. A small windowless room with a mattress on the floor as the only furnishing, the space was completely dark as I lay down and closed my eyes. Almost immediately I felt myself sink through the mattress to discover a vast black space in which I was present as pure consciousness. It was a space that held nothing concrete but one in which all things were possible.
I realized at that moment that I was also no thing. In being nothing, I could also BE anything. This realization excited me so much that I jumped off the mattress, opened the door and ran to my roommate and friend exclaiming “I’m nothing! I’m no hing!” in total glee.
This was a one off experience. Despite years of mediation and yoga, I haven’t descended to that vast space since. But I remember it, and I believe it lives in my cellular memory, informing how I see the world and my place in it.
Yoga says that within us all there is a light. It resides in our hearts. No bigger than a thumb, this light is the light of our soul, constant and bright. For me lately, it is the light of love that sustains life regardless of whether we can feel it or not.
But the greater awareness to which I aspire is that disembodied state where I am nothing but could be anything.
The last sentence sounds like it should be the concluding note to this blog. But it is not.
The reason my son and I were traversing the new moon darkness is that we were returning from the celebration of life of my youngest brother’s recently deceased wife. At 54, she had finally succumbed to the colorectal cancer that she’d been battling for 6 and ½ years.
I didn’t know her well, but by all accounts, she was a remarkable woman who loved life and who had been committed to helping others to the extent that her cancer journey became a vehicle through which she touched the lives of a multitude through detailed Facebook posts recounting each treatment as well as her struggles to stay positive and hopeful.
One image from the early days of this battle shows her standing smiling and toned from the hours of working out that were part of her normal self-care regimen. Her ostomy bag was prominently displayed outside her clothing. She didn’t hide her condition. She wore it proudly and in so doing she inspired many others to find the strength to live their lives to the fullest.
Because of the eulogy and the images of my sister-in-law, I'm inspired to enjoy my life more fully. I’m inspired to mine the darkness for the light of purpose that will carry me to the end of my days helping others.