07 Feb 2018
This conviction motivates my way of being in the world: We have the power, as human beings, to choose, create, shape our own lives. We are not victims.
Don’t get me wrong: there are things in our lives we can do absolutely nothing about. Exhibit A: Cell phone text of a nuclear missile heading our way. Real or unreal as that threat might be, for most of us, all we had was our power to choose a response. And that’s a HUGE choice.
Like lots of people I know, our family stayed fairly calm, made rational decisions and plans on how to reunite should the missile actually strike and we all survived. That’s not to say that we didn’t feel the gravity of the situation – I definitely noticed my heart racing once the false alarm was called off. Our kids came over with the baby, and we were all relieved and glad to be safely in our loved ones’ company. And we went on with life. No big blame game… Let’s just say we weren’t the ones sending death threats to the government employee who pushed the alarm button by mistake!
If we had fallen to pieces, or succumbed to wild, panicked reactions, we would have been letting an external event break into our internal environment where our peace of mind and heart reside. In the 9 second video clip I saw of a father sheltering his young girl by helping her into a manhole, he seemed to maintain a calm demeanor and came up with what I thought was a pretty ingenious protective strategy on the spur of the moment. It not a matter of what we do on the outside that makes us choosing responders or hysterical reactionaries – it’s what going on inside that counts. That man seemed to retain his clarity in the moment.
I think of Gandhi chanting the name of God as he was felled by an assassin’s bullet. This heroic human being had trained himself in nonviolent action, speech and thought for most of his 78 years. Of course, without all that training, we don’t really know how we might have spent our last moments if we had gone up in a nuclear mushroom. Would we manage to keep a peaceful vision in our mind’s eye, a song of love in our hearts? I don’t know, but I was pleased at how well we held it together in the face of a dire threat, as did many others I know.
I’m aware of living in an internal world inside an external world. Imagine something like a living spacesuit that has its own internal environment controls, coordinated by my mind/heart/will. That’s what I envision myself living in. The health of my spacesuit depends on me. What do I need to do to keep my spacesuit resilient, pliant and unpoppable?
Whenever I shine out from my spacesuit, extending joy and friendship through its living surface, my suit becomes stronger, lighter, and more elastic. Its boundaries extend further out, able to emit and receive light and warmth. Love is the most powerful sustainer of a healthy spacesuit.
On the other hand, whenever I go into anger bursts or blame fests, pity parties or fear freezes, I’m weakening my suit from the inside. Blaming myself about doing so makes it even worse. It’s as if I’ve created a dark, sticky cloud around myself that just lets in more bad stuff. Indulging in this kind of personal drama is like setting off fireworks inside my own spacesuit: not a good idea. I find that I even succumb to sickness much more easily after these little episodes. And – unsurprisingly – nobody wants to be around me!
So I need to be make peace with myself inside my suit and turn the light back on. When I do that, I feel more loveable.
To a certain extent, I can impact my external world by means of the choices I make from within my internal world. When I’m balanced, strong and clear, I have the chance to positively impact someone I can touch outside. I can lend support, advice, a quietly listening ear; I can lead a crusade, build a business designed to help others, extend love to those around me. Each of those things could make a difference to someone’s life.
Or maybe I won’t make the difference I hope. Although I can take actions, I cannot control the results of those actions. I can’t live others’ lives, can’t make their choices, for them. (Thank heavens! That’s their kuleana!) In any case, my internal life earns the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve made the effort and, hopefully, learned for the future how to be more effective. As long as I’m not attached to certain results happening from my actions, I can keep my happiness level fairly even-keeled, my spacesuit more vibrant and springy.
So do I want my spacesuit to bounce or collapse? It’s up to me.
It’s always up to each of us to choose.
Resting in stillness and moving in Joy with you in this new year,
And you, dear reader?
Email me – I always love hearing from you.
04 Jan 2018
Letter from the Director
Writing this letter to you on New Year’s Day, 2018, I am taking stock of last year and of many years ago. The Romans dedicated January 1st to the god, Janus, whose two faces looked both to the past and future. Janus, namesake for January, oversaw time— its endings and new beginnings, gates and doorways. As we stand here on the precipice of a new year, do we not look to the past to get our bearings for where we are aiming?
I’ve always found January to be an important time on the personal, local and national levels, for looking behind to see ahead. I see us transforming our past in the present, creating our future. We do so gradually, sometimes seeming to lose ground, in Nature’s spiralling progression.
On the personal front, I remember a formational beginning in January 1st of 1979, when my beloved boyfriend of four years, Cliff, asked me to marry him. Recalling how our engagement unfolded 39 years ago, I see changing balances in our relationship that always manage to maintain our equality.
For a few months prior to our engagement, I had been playing around with different surname possibilities for us – such as hyphenating our last names, combining our last names, etc. – to keep parity between us. Tillotson + Auker… Tauker? Tillotker? Aukerson? They all felt ‘Aukward’!!! Then on New Eve, I listened to Cliff deliver a beautiful, poetic, philosophical talk at a gathering we attended. Wow. Shortly before the fireworks went off that evening, I told him, “You know, I am so inspired by what you said tonight, I would be honored to take your last name.”
Unbeknownst to me, Cliff was already planning, in the normal masculine lead fashion, to propose in the upcoming week. However, given my little pronouncement, Cliff suddenly felt the timeliness of the moment. So he proposed, just after midnight, on January 1, 1979. Of course I was ready with a definitive answer, “Yes, I would love to!”
Since that time, we regularly swing back and forth in who’s leading what part of our relationship. I feel as if I rely on him greatly for confidence and support – I certainly have for Still & Moving Center. Then 2017 required me to rely on some cool-headed yang (masculine) elements of my own nature to see us both through trying times. Based on our initial engagement, way back on January 1, 1979, our balance as true equals will no doubt reassert itself in another way in the future.
Remodeling Still & Moving
On the local community level, I recall January of 2011, when Cliff had already gutted the building at 1024 Queen Street and was now vigorously remodeling it for us to open Still & Moving Center. We were rebuilding the stairway, creating new studios and showers, replacing the upstairs support posts with a steel beam across the ceiling, laying the mango floors, etc. This year, 2018 will significantly mark the 7th birthday of Still & Moving Center, and the beginning of a new era.
Saturn goes through 7 year cycles, as Alice Inoue, an insightful Honolulu astrologer, recently noted to me; hence businesses need to renovate themselves every seven years. Looking back to our Still & Moving Center mission statement from 2011, equality and inclusiveness in terms of gender, gender preference, ethnicity, faith and economic background have been built into and practiced at our Center from the beginning. I have no doubt that we will stay true to the foundational principles of our inception as we progress onward. I still look to the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara and its 1976 Declaration of Interdependence, as part of the lineage that I follow with Still & Moving Center.
Hawaiians See Backwards
Here on the islands, I’ve learned from our kumu hula Mālia that native Hawaiians interpret their backs as symbolizing the future, and their fronts as facing the past – similar to the two-headed Janus concept. When we remember with gratitude those who in earlier times have cleared the path for us, we help pave the way for ourselves and those to follow us. According to kupuna Clifford Nae’ole, “By taking care of the past, the past will take care of the future. In Hawaiian thinking, the seventh generation behind you has made you what you are today, so it is important to focus on the future by thinking of the past.”
Hang with me here, dear readers. I think I’m seeing some important, hopeful threads weaving from the past into the present and future. And there’s another wedding in the offing!
History is predictive… if we are patient
On the national and global stage, last year in January America saw the incoming of a president, the likes of which almost none of us expected. But perhaps we could have foreseen it by gazing backwards. Looking to our history actually allows us to see that social evolution and progress do occur, building upon the past, even if it’s at a 3 steps forward and 2 steps back rate. If human progress mirrors natural evolution, it will always be cyclical, never a straight line upwards.
Going back to the American colonists’ revolutionary Declaration of Independence from King George in 1776, we find the assertion that “all men are created equal,” meaning that the common man had rights to self-government that even a king could not abrogate. Thomas Paine, a leading American patriot, tried to do away with slavery in his first proposed version of the Declaration of Independence, but that change was too radical at the time, too far ahead of the cyclic curve of progress. So in the Declaration sent to King George, “all men” was taken to mean all white men. We had to wait almost a hundred years for Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War to get the the slaves freed.
From Slavery to Presidency
On New Year’s day we can always celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation back on January 1, 1863. But again, progress sometimes doubles back upon itself. There were many seeming setbacks for blacks along the way from slavery to presidency. The Jim Crow laws enacted after Emancipation were designed to keep the free African Americans and other people of color segregated from the white Americans, until the Civil Rights movement forced an end to those laws by 1965.
Equal opportunity has since suffered resistance from all those who feel that their place in society is threatened by others lifting themselves up. We could again celebrate a great advance when, 9 years ago, we ushered in an African American president, heralding a new milestone of success in the integration of our society. After electing our first black president for two terms, the choice to elect our first woman president (Hillary) or our first Jewish president (Bernie) was such a shock to our nation’s system, we evidently needed to go around the other side of the spiral to elect the president we now have, perhaps to accommodate many non-black, non-female, non-Jewish people who nevertheless feel they have missed out on their part of the American Dream.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. asserted: “Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.” What was a new, mind-stretching idea of the equality of all men at the founding of our nation in the 1700’s, cannot be undone. In fact, in spiraling motion, it is being further stretched! Since that time, we have increasingly affirmed that all HUMAN BEINGS are created equal. We can see our American notions of freedom and equality rippling out into the Arab Spring, for example, setting off all the expectable reactionary responses, and bouncing back now with Iran’s current uprisings.
Looking backwards helps us to see our trajectory and propel ourselves forward. So we can see beyond this next year, or 3 years, or 7 years into a future where multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-gender and multi-economic leadership of this country, and eventually the world, truly becomes the norm. Transforming our past in the present, we create our future… in Nature’s gradually ascending cycle.
Returning to our family circle, Cliff and I watch this January as our son and his new fiancee DD (Diedra) create their wedding plans together. Her parents also seem to have a strong, committed and balanced relationship. I trust anything successful Shankar and DD have seen in our marriages will strengthen the life that they will envision and create together for themselves.
As navigators at sea look back to the last-sighted land to chart their course forward, may we all fruitfully cast our gaze to the past to get our bearings, then boldly travel forth into our new tomorrows.
I wish you a 2018 of continuing light from your yesterdays, new foundational beginnings, and bright promise for the future!
Resting in stillness and moving in Joy with you in this new year,
And you, dear reader?
I love hearing from you – simply reply to this email.
07 Dec 2017
We are on the brink. A couple brothers who are part of the lifeblood of Still & Moving Center have only a few months left as 12-year-old twins. American teenagehood can strike with a vengeance, and one never knows what may be printed on the next page of the book. So let’s tell their story up to this point, and ‘get it while the gettin’ is good,’ as my dear ole’ grandma would say!
Waiea and Kaiehu Helela came into my life almost 7 years ago when their mother Malia and I opened up Still & Moving Center. They were cute, but noisy, uncontained little chaps. I have to say I’d sometimes bite my tongue when they’d interrupt our conversation yet again. Normal, healthy, self-expressive boys – I’ve had two of them myself, so I know how to put up with their occasional annoyances.
For a long time their Hawaiian names were difficult for me, and even though they looked somewhat different, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t give them the attention to determine which face fit with which name. They DID look a lot more similar then than they do now, I will say in my defense!
How is it these two little rascals wormed their way into my heart? You know, I think that they EARNED their way into my heart. They have won my respect for their integrity, their never-failing politeness and their sincere, genuine aloha.
Eventually, their distinct personalities and charm began to emerge for me, especially as Malia told their stories. Remarkably and symbolically, they were born few minutes on either side of midnight of the Spring Equinox, March 20th/21st, 2005. She describes the first, Waiea, as Old Man Winter : wizened, measured, deliberate, born the last day of the Winter season. Kaiehu, more fair-haired and light-hearted, popped out on the first day of Spring, face up and smiling.
Some of those characteristics persist to this day. Waiea, more serious, tends towards engineering. Kaiehu is enchanted by music. He began to meditate on his own when he was 7 or 8 years old. Waiea, always playing the sceptic, has a wry sense of humor that will come out the side of his mouth as understated wisecracks.
Malia has been great at putting their boy-energy to good advantage. Eager participants, Kaiehu and Waiea have probably participated in every single children’s class or event at Still & Moving Center. They had sharp eyes for finding the Easter eggs during our celebration. Nowadays, they play Easter Bunny for us and hide the eggs for the little ones.
From children’s Nia to yoga to partner acro, they were always good sports. I loved watching Waiea spin in the hanging lyra at Circus Camp. As boys, they especially relished Kung Fu, Zen Archery and recently Axion Swords.
The one activity where they gave only a lackluster, half-hearted effort was hula class – taught by their mother, of course, our ^kumu hula^ (traditionally trained hula teacher). They’d begrudgingly slog through the opening warm-ups of hula class, pleading to be excused at the earliest possible moment. Eventually they got into an Hawaiian immersion school, and I watched the boys change at our hula classes within months. In school they were with others who had equally difficult or MORE difficult Hawaiian names to pronounce than they do! They were now surrounded by children their own age participating in the cultural practices of the school that they had previously engaged in with only their parents.
Not only do they now dance hula, they’ve even begun to swing their hips as they do so! Kaiehu has even started to occasionally accompany us, the hula dancers, on Malia’s coconut drum, allowing Malia to dance with us! Along with Malia and their little sister Ilana, the boys stand next to their mother as we chant our request to enter the dance space. It gave me chicken skin the first time I ever heard their voices chanting back a welcome.
I loved clearing a traditional taro patch with them – thigh deep in mud – at a sacred site where their care-take. The boys and their mom have also just finished 3 years of lomi-lomi massage training with a traditional practitioner. They’re really diving into Hawaiian practices. At this point they are humbly proud (if you know what I mean) representatives of their culture. They accompany Malia on many of her blessing ceremony and are learning to play a role.
They’re even performing hula in front of audiences. My heart just filled up to overflowing watching them perform in front of 3 thousand of people in a Waikiki ballroom – I was so inordinately proud of them!
Speaking of cultures, these kids are as diverse as Still & Moving Center is. This year at our enactment of the Ramayana story during the Indian festival of lights, the twins delightedly changed from their traditional roles as the virtuous young princes to now becoming swordfighting members of the demon hordes!
When I saw the boys change their roles that I realized that their years of childhood were swiftly coming to a close.
As I write, these boys are inquisitive, eager learners. In our hula prayer circle they give thanks and blessings for others in the group, or for anyone who may be sick or unhappy. Kaiehu was recently the only child in a yoga and spirituality workshop, and he gave ua a clear, cogent description of his self-created morning meditation practice. The two of them walk over to greet Aunty Renee – any every other aunty – with a warm hug every time they walk in the door. I love these kids.
I have no doubt Waiea and Kaiehu will be eventually be kind, responsible, honorable men. Who KNOWS what’s going to happen in the intervening years when teenage takes place?!? The boys will turn 13 in March (at almost the same time that Still & Moving turns 7.) Maybe their Hawaiian traditions will carry them through unscathed. They’ll probably be just as wonderful, but in a different way than they are now. In any case, let’s take this moment to celebrate a happy ending – the last pages of two wonderful childhoods – as they prepare to enter the next exciting volume of the story of their lives.
‘All good things are worth waiting for,’ is a maxim I’ve seen unfold many times in my life. Hah! After 61 going on 62 years, I guess I’ve had a lot of opportunities!
Doris Morisaki is one of those people I’ve always seen as outlandishly talented. And yet she’s been on her own time line in terms of unfolding some of her many talents. That’s OK; learning to move in Natural Time is one of the important teachings in Nia.
Doris and I were both Nia students of the same teacher, Kiwi Heilman, who first brought Nia to Oahu and who encouraged me to take my Nia White Belt training. I took it in 2003 and began teaching. A year or two later I collected students and brought an official Nia trainer to the island. Doris was in the graduating group of that first White Belt I ever produced, and she was oozing with teaching potential and artistic skill.
The training, however, was a bit stressful for her, due to the personality of that particular trainer. Moreover, she was completely devoted to the daily care of her young son, Josh, a preschooler at the time. I encouraged Doris to begin teaching Nia, and she very politely – and FIRMLY – declined and continued to take class as a student. Eventually, there were a few times over the years when I was running late for class that I called Doris and she kindly agreed to play some music and do a bit of warmup movement with the students. It made her nervous.
I continued to produce Nia trainings, even bringing the Founder of Nia – Debbie Rosas – from Portland to Honolulu to give some of the trainings. Doris would happily attend the trainers’ public classes, but she always refused to take any of the trainings.
On September 6, 2013, Doris came to her first hula class at Still & Moving Center with our kumu hula, Mālia Helelā. I think that was a real turning point. She immediately was hooked and became a regular student of hula in addition to Nia. Josh was in middle school by this time, and we were now getting to see a lot of Doris on the dance floor!
As her hula skills advanced, so did her confidence in Nia. One day she came to my class very excited about hearing a song on the car radio that inspired her to create some choreography to it. She hadn’t actually DANCED it yet, except in her head while driving. So she and I found time to play the song and try out her moves. With a little extra listening to the song, finding the verse, the chorus, and the solo sections, we were able to nicely fit her choreography to the music. That’s what Nia TEACHERS do…just sayin’.
We spent a couple months practicing her song privately, until it was a well-polished little gem. How could we keep a jewel like that hidden?!? After some coaxing, Doris agreed to lead my Nia class for three and a half minutes with her newly choreographed piece.
Turns out, Doris is a self-admitted showboat. Once she put on the head mic she could hear her voice fill the room, which was thrilling. She had a great little song by Taylor Swift to teach and she did it beautifully. My buttons were bursting with pride!
Meanwhile, over on the hula side, Doris was making her way more to the front center of the hula ‘auana class, where her ability to memorize choreography was making itself known. Once the teacher starts stepping to the side and allowing students to dance on their own, all eyes begin looking for the fellow student most like to remember the steps….and that turned out to be Doris!
Josh entered high school last year. Doris, it seems, had a secret bucket list item that she prepared herself to accomplish. One night she and her husband Mark attended a concert by the local band Na Leo. Doris waited to see whether see they would play one of her favorites, “Waikiki”. Confident in the choreography that she had learned from Kumu Mālia, Doris actually stood up from the audience and made her way to the stage when the first notes of the song came on. For those of you readers who are not from Hawaii, it is a well-loved tradition of the islands, people share the hula they know when the musicians share the music. So there goes Doris, in front of several hundred people, dancing her first solo performance, unannounced. How I wish I had had a seat in the audience to cheer her on. Evidently the band played at half the speed Doris was used to, so she danced the entire hula in slow-mo. Wow! I can only imagine the crowd applauding wildly as she left the stage!
At least I did see Doris perform hula with Kumu Malia a couple months ago in front of three thousand people in a Waikiki hotel ballroom for the Transpac celebration. That was impressive.
Back on the Nia side, Doris had been cautiously watching all of the trainers that I brought to the island. She finally felt safe enough with Winalee Zeeb to take her Blue Belt training in February this year, more than a decade after taking her White Belt training. And she even began subbing Nia classes.
We’re not done yet. There are a lot more Nia belt levels for Doris to take, and she has yet to offer a regular class of her own. In hula, she has also begun subbing and students devoted to Kumu Malia actually agree to dance with Doris! So far, she is learning modern hula, ‘auana, and has yet to dance the ancient hula, kahiko. The future is ripe with possibilities. Now that Josh is driving his own car and pretty self-sufficient, who knows where Doris will go, in her own time?
All I know is that it’s been well-worth the wait to see our ‘late-bloomer’ begin to blossom! Doris has taught me a lot about living in Natural Time.
Most of us have wondered, “Why am I here?” There’s a Sufi saying that I’d like to look at in regard to our son Govi: “Every soul is born for a certain purpose, and the light of that purpose is kindled in its soul.” And Plato affirms that we each see our life in great detail before we drop into it, and then we drink the waters of Lethe, and forget what we have seen.
No matter how much of the detail we have forgotten, we each maintain our line of life’s meditation, thrumming steadily beneath the surface of our everyday existence. To the extent we gain self-knowledge, we become aware of our life’s mission and meaning.
Govi became a father himself last week when Ryder Cliff Tillotson came into the world on August 30, 2017. Gazing at the miracle of little Ryder’s birth, I begin to see how Govi’s line of life meditation called Ryder into the world…with a lot of help from his wife, Caitlin!
Govi always saw himself following in his father’s footsteps, both in his line of work and in the family. As a little tyke, he said he was going to grow up and be “an Acacia guy” – the name of Cliff’s company at the time.
Also like his dad, Govi loved little kids. I remember now how he took his little cousin Ryan under his wing when the 6 cousins would annually go to family camp. Ryan was 6 years younger than Govi and followed him everywhere. Many older cousins would have brushed the little guy off as a nuisance. Not Govi. Ryan never spent any time in his own age group because Govi took Ryan directly under his wing and brought him along on all his own camp activities. (It’s interesting that his new son’s name is so similar to his little cousin’s.)
From a comment he made once as a teenager, I know Govi was already visualizing himself as a future family man – perhaps not even consciously until I asked him about it on his 15th birthday.
Govi’s first and only girlfriend, Caitlin, also envisioned a family of children. And before they married, they took in a troubled teenager for 3 years and in many ways parented her, even though they weren’t that much older than she was.
These I now see as earlier signals of some aspect of Govi’s line of life meditation – of course that’s really up to every human being to see for themselves, so my comments here are only my own musings.
Govi took his time in proposing to Caitlin, and then again in agreeing that they were ready to have children of their own. That, too, seems to have been part of his ideation on their being solid, reliable parents who had established their own relationship before bringing someone new into the equation.
Once they knew a baby was on the way, Govi was all in as a dad. New dads, in my experience are pretty clueless, as you can confirm with Cliff. Govi was as excited in his own quiet way as any mother to be that I’ve known! He joined Caitlin for a 12 week natural childbirth course and got training to be her birth coach. He told us excitedly when the baby reached the size of a blueberry, eventually a plum, and a sweet potato!
The next thing we knew, Govi had come up with the name Ryder, and gotten a surfboard for him (the little wave-rider, I guess) months before he was born! He also helped Caitlin put together the cutest little baby room in their house.
The two of them did tons of study about birthing and babies, so they were super ready when the time came, with a complete birth plan. I’m not sure of how much of it got followed, since she ended up having a belated, rough labor. But Govi was there with her and Ryder every step of the way.
In fact, Govi coached her through every contraction and push, no matter how stormy. He supported her from behind during her back labor and helped her in and out of the hot tub. Govi even had Caitlin pull against him with all her might while she was in her pushing phase.
After 42 sleepless hours of labor, Caitlin managed to avoid the C-section they were preparing for Ryder and pushed the baby out on her own. Govi, who had hoped to catch the little guy as he came out, had to clear the way for the worried doctors to take over. He stood watching, in tears of worry, as they cleared the baby’s air passage and allowed him to take his first breath and cry. Govi was finally able to heave a huge sigh of relief that his new son had made it safely into the world.
While Govi was awestruck by Caitlin’s determination and fight through incredible pain, Caitlin was amazed at how unfailingly helpful Govi was in the hospital. According to the hospital staff, most dads stay on their cell phones during their wife’s labor. But Caitlin says all the nurses kept asking about Govi, “Who IS this guy!?!”
Perhaps you’ll remember me asking a similar question about Govi in a recent letter I sent you, wondering what was inside this mystery box of a son. Through this time of Ryder’s birth, I’m beginning to get a clearer picture of someone who long ago saw his future of becoming a father and brought that vision into reality.
“The future enters into us in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Alan gets a call from some good friends: “Hey, we’ve just met your wife-to-be! Come on over for brunch and you can meet her, too!” He does come for brunch, and sure enough, he really likes the girl.
Great start to a story, yeah? But wait ‘til you hear about the first time they go out for a cup of coffee. Alan breaks the ice with, “You seem like a really nice gal, but I’m SO not ready for dating. Please don’t take this wrong. It’s not about you. I’m just really messed up right now and doing my best to get my life back together.”
Kind of a good teaser, right?
Then he tells her he’s a thief. Really. Lots of times.
Oh. And Anor tells him she majored in Criminal Justice in college. She wants to hear his story though. (And so did I when I happened to sit next to Cliff’s new friend Alan at a recent paddling party, so I’m sharing his story with all of you, my readers, with Alan’s permission.)
When Alan was a young teen, the church that he loved and in which he had been raised exploded from within. It turned out that the church pastor had been having affairs with various women in the church, and even Alan’s dad had broken his mother’s heart by cheating on her. Thirteen years old is a vulnerable age to learn that two of the people you respect the most for their moral teachings are not living up to their professed code of ethics.
A couple years later, Alan finds out that he is good at pulling a disappearing act with people’s belongings and getting away with it. Stealing becomes an activity he is good at, does fairly frequently and never gets caught in the act.
By his mid-twenties, when our story takes place, Alan can no longer look at himself in the mirror. Literally. He is ashamed to look himself in the eye. The thievery is too much. He finally tells himself, “This is not the kind of person I was raised to be. It’s not who I really am.”
And he makes an about-face, turning in his tracks. Alan stops stealing and instead sets out to make amends. One by one he visits every person he has stolen from. He admits what he has done, makes his deepest apologies and finds a way to pay them back. With every admission, his conscience feels a bit lighter.
By the time Alan has coffee with Anor, he has made 22 of these big apologies and pay-backs. He still needs to make his last amends to a small shop that he and a friend had broken into and burglarized one night. The theft was a big deal at the time, making the papers and really hurting the shop.
Alan tells Anor that he has waited to apologize for this last crime after all the others, because it is quite likely he will now be thrown in jail.
“You should be!” snaps Anor, champion of justice. “That was really wrong.” Alan agrees and soon goes to make his amends.
When Alan walks into the door of the shop, the owner of the shop is actually there. “Hi… I…. Uhhhh….Do you remember that time a couple years ago when someone broke in and stole a bunch of you staff?” Alan asks. Of course the owner does. “Well, ummm, that was me who did that.”
Now the shop owner stands up. He’s massive. Alan, not a large fellow himself, thinks, ‘This is it. Now this guy is going to kill me.’ But the man stops before getting to Alan.
“I’m really sorry,” Alex continues. “I know you can send me to jail if you want to, and that’s OK. I just have to be able to face God. And I want to make this up to you if I can. Every penny.”
The big man draws closer. Alan is trembling. Then he sees the man’s eyes well up with tears and the shop owner pulls Alan into a tight hug.
Alan ends up working for the man and eventually pays back everything he owes to the shop. To this day, Alan and the shop owner remain friends. In fact all 23 parties actually forgave Alan when he came to express his regrets and set right what he had done wrong to them.
It’s now about fifteen years later. Alan is a very open guy with a clear conscience, someone who ho can look you – or himself – straight in the eye. He is happy to let me retell his story if I feel it will be of service to anyone else.
Indeed, who can help but be inspired by this young man who refused to give up on himself?
Never having been apprehended, Alan had no external compulsion to confess his crimes. He simply insisted on living up to the standards of behavior that are at his very core. I would call his an act of true self-redemption. And I would say he did not allow his external actions to completely obscure the inner light of his true self.
You may be wondering what Anor did when she heard about Alan’s 23rd confession. Ah, well, that is another good story for another day!
And you, dear reader?
How have you saved yourself? I’d love to hear your story, too. Just reply…and THIS month, you will get through to me! Sorry I didn’t get your responses last month, so feel free to send those again, too!
He’s always been a mystery box for me…I’ve never known exactly what’s going on inside our younger son’s head. Unlike his everything-is-all-over-my-face-and-out-of my-mouth mom, the inscrutable Govi is a man of few words. He keeps an affable, pleasant countenance under most circumstances. What’s really going on in there?
As a little kid, he didn’t tell us much, but he always asked a bunch of questions, not waiting long enough to let us answer one before interrupting with another. We used to affectionately call those “Govi Questions”. That tendency seemed to end when he asked one too many questions of an elderly docent on a school field trip. The flustered old man shot back, “Shut up, you little smart ass!” shocking other parents in attendance, while amusing me. After that incident, however, we no longer heard many Govi Questions
We finally got a better interior picture once Govi met his life love, Caitlin, in his sophomore year of college. If he was a bit ‘veracity-challenged’ as a teenager, that changed once he met this beautiful, clear-eyed, feisty straight-shooter. She’d chase him down on any verbal attempt at evasion, calling him on his stuff. And I believe he keeps her on the level, too. The bond they have forged for good is built on a foundation of truth-telling. We still don’t get a lot of words out of him, but what we do get is the real thing.
Govi’s actions speak for themselves. At work, running field operations for our construction company, he leads by example, carrying more heavy bags of concrete up the hill than anyone he’s supervising. He doesn’t hesitate to call his men out when they slack on the job, yet he lets the guys know when the job is well done. He’s an exemplary leader. And he never goes fishing without giving away most of his catch to his workers as well as his friends.
When one of our close family members was going through a difficult teenage time, those of us in the older generation were striking out with her. Neither her father, nor her mother, nor Cliff and I were having any luck keeping the kid at home and out of grave trouble. There were times when we seriously wondered whether she would survive her teen years. After four high schools and three reform programs, we had run out of options.
Enter Govi and Caitlin to the rescue. They weren’t even married yet and were only 6 or 7 years older than the girl was. Over our great objections, they insisted that they would love to take this wayward one into their home. And they did…for the next three and a half years. To all of our grateful amazement, they somehow provided the stable, loving environment she needed – even when she got into shenanigans. It was remarkable. They were both loving and strict, a force to be reckoned with. And now our young lady is a fairly happy, stable 21-year-old living on her own, big thanks to this couple.
Another example of the stuff these two are made of happened at the time of their wedding. They did their best to include Govi’s sweet grandmother SuSu in the wedding planning. Even as she was diagnosed with bone cancer, SuSu kept contacting cake companies and ordering custom napkins for the couple. Just days before the wedding, SuSu suffered a bone break so severe she was hospitalized, much to all of our dismay. She had been SO looking forward to seeing her dear Govi and Caitlin get married.
The otherwise-happy day arrived, and Cliff kept his mom, SuSu, in the loop of the wedding proceedings via Facetime. It wasn’t the same as being there, of course. As soon as the ceremony was over, Caitlin and Govi disappeared. They showed up at SuSu’s hospital room, and do you know what they did? They recited their marriage vows all over again in front of SuSu. It chokes me up just remembering it. Caitlin gave her bouquet to SuSu instead of tossing it at the reception. SuSu was deeply gratified by their thoughtful sharing of a sacred moment.
Now these two formidable kids of ours are on the verge of having a little one of their own! Caitlin’s belly is swelling and so is their excitement. At their birthing class for couples they developed a birthing plan meant to cover most contingencies. Govi’s the coach and Caitlin is the ‘marathon runner’ of the fast-approaching ordeal. And maybe it will be that easy for this daunting duet.
Last time they came over for dinner, I got an inner glimpse of Govi naively picturing their upcoming event like a successful football game. Govi broke his usual reserve to confide in us: “I’m hoping to catch the kid!”.
I’m never sure what might come out of the enigmatic Govi…It’s always worth waiting for!
And you, dear reader?
Do you have any mystery people in your life? Someone who surprises you? I’d love to hear about them. Simply hit REPLY! I always answer back.
When our driver Suresh told us his wife’s family lived in Chidambaram, I had no idea of the significance of his understated comment. I did not guess that Cliff and I were about to be delightfully ushered through a portal into the heart of India.
At the time, I did not know that some temples we visited later would exclude us with spirit-crushing signs: “Non-Hindus not allowed past this point.” No doubt they’ve been plagued by disrespectful Western tourists trampling through with no sense of the sacred. Unfortunate.
So here we are, two Americans newly arrived in India, on a private pilgrimage to Chidambaram. We know that it’s Mahashivaratri, the holiest of holy days devoted to Shiva. The famous temple at Chidambaram is dedicated to Shiva Nataraj: Lord of the Universal Dance. I am excited to watch classical Indian dancing here, and don’t really know what else to expect.
Arriving at the temple grounds, Suresh leads us to the small stand where we deposit our sandals for a small fee – I reluctantly relinquish them to go barefoot in an unknown place.
As we approach the temple itself, I forget my feet, entranced by the ancient carvings of Shiva in hundreds of dance positions, covering the stone walls. So realistic and classical are these images, we see professional dancers in front of a wall, sculpting themselves into the graceful lines of Shiva’s poses.
Soon another young man bounds up, throws his arm over Suresh’s shoulder, and beaming an irresistible smile from his dark, handsome face, greets us warmly. This is a brother of Suresh’s wife, but the affection between the two of men is so evident and deep, Shiva Ram seems to be Suresh’s own brother. Soon we happily meet Shiva Ram’s father, a middle-aged man with deeply kind eyes and a large crooked smile. Even without a shared language, we feel a kinship with him.
Suresh now brings us into the temple itself, with its long rows of ancient stone columns. Every few paces we encounter a shrine to another aspect of the divine. In Hinduism, deity is one whole with myriad aspects. And each of the Hindu gods – all facets of one shining Divine – have their own names, faces, attributes and stories. I study each stone and metal image intently, always recognizing Shiva’s son, the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. I often correctly decipher which of the other deities I’m looking at. Suresh nods approvingly.
As evening advances on this Vigil Night of Shiva, so do the devotees. The temple fills with women of all ages draped in their beautiful saris, and men more drably attired, most in traditional wrap-around lungi’s for this sacred occasion. Children dazzle in bright finery and even brighter eyes.
The shrines become a bit difficult of approach through the throngs of devotees, each with their own manner of worshipping their favorite deities. Incense is burning, priests are chanting and occasionally offering sacred ash and bright red and orange paste for our foreheads. We are surrounded by nearly wall-to-wall currents of people.
Now Suresh’s father-in-law, that dear man with the gentle eyes, reappears with a priest wearing a sacred thread across his bare chest, who manages to convey to us – above the din and language barriers – that he needs our names. We shout them to him, and Suresh lets us know that we are being invited to a special ceremony.
Braving the crisscrossing tides of humanity, we slowly make our way up the stairs to the platform of the inner temple. I marvel at myself, someone who typically hates being in crowds and loud noise – I have often compared being in crowds at a rock concert to the closest experience I’ve had to hell on earth. Yet, here I am, undaunted among thousands of human beings…all of whom are sober, all of whom are simply present to honor what is holy to them.
Cliff is instructed to remove his shirt to be closer to God, and we are eventually pressed through the crowds of devotees into the temple’s inner sanctum. Numerous ceremonies are happening simultaneously. Our priest chants mantras while holding a sacred fire in a metal bowl, and he invites us all to receive the smoke as a veil-like blessing over our heads. He no doubt includes our names in his prayer, but his voice is drowned by the dozen other priests who are chanting, waving flames, and pouring milk or ghee over holy statues.
We emerge from the inner temple, a bit dazed. Cliff dons his shirt again. When we thank Suresh and ask him to give our appreciation to his father-in-law, Suresh says that even he has never been in the inner temple of Chidambaram before. That’s when I realize what a generous act of inclusion this family has extended towards us.
Now it’s time for dance performances in the temple courtyard. This display of Indian exuberance, with fabulously colored dance costumes, blazing footwork, dramatic eye and hand gestures….and horrible speakers at maximum volume, is truly an ear-splitting event. My poor eardrums and I jump at Suresh’s suggestion to leave the temple for a cup of tea. I actually can’t wait to get out of what I had thought would be the highlight of the evening. The dance performance simply pales in comparison to the family including us in their sacred ceremony.
Suresh and Shiva-Ram lead us through the temple grounds, straight past the shoe stand and out into the crowded, festive street. Cliff’s jaw drops in amazement as I follow the two young men into the city in my bare feet. This is not his scaredy-cat wife who took 40 years to decide to travel to India! I’m so enchanted by the whole occasion and so embraced by these people, I feel a certain invulnerability entering further into their world. I nevertheless exercise enough caution to get my cup of hot chai in a sanitary paper cup, rather than a glass that I’m not sure has been washed!
Suresh next heads for a stand selling Hindu souvenirs. As he buys his items, I try to hand him rupees, asking him to buy me one of the blue Ganesh key-chains that have caught my eye. Suresh turns to us with a shy smile and delivers his own purchases into our hands: the exact shiny blue Ganesh I had wanted, and a shiny red one for Cliff! “For you, a gift,” he says, evidently being a mind reader…but completely innocent of what a soulful gift this entire trip to Chidambaram Temple has already been for us.
16 Mar 2017
Forty years is a long time to be apprehensive about something. Yeah, I’ve had a love/fear relationship with India for at least that long.
I’m not sure when I first heard about India – was it when I studied the religions of the world in my Unitarian Church Sunday school class at about age 5? I recall seeing the OM symbol. Maybe I was even younger when my mother would encourage me to finish everything on my plate, to be grateful for the good food I had, unlike the starving children in India. At some later time in my childhood, Mom told me about the only truly unselfish person she had ever heard of: the Indian father of nonviolent revolution, Mahatma Gandhi. My dad took several trips to India to study yoga with Iyengar.
As a freshman in college I heard about a brilliant lecturer at UCSB who always wore red, orange or gold shirts and who always received a standing ovation. Once I took his class, I found that he was not only a true genius, he was from India. He inspired me to start on my spiritual life path and gave me even greater respect for Gandhi. While he taught from and interwove all of the world’s traditions, much of what I learned from him derived from his Indian homeland.
He was also responsible for bringing the Dalai Lama to Santa Barbara several years later, enabling me to personally meet His Holiness, and more importantly to become aware of the Dalai Lama’s exemplary life of returning love for hatred, living the vast majority of his life exiled by the Chinese from his native Tibet, finding safe harbor in…of course, Mother India.
I’ve spent much of my adult life reading and even producing plays of Indian mythology and the two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, filled with valorous princes and brave princesses, fantastic gods, demons, superheroes, and sumptuous palaces. I’ve enjoyed the immense sophistication of classical Indian dance, music and cuisine. We even gave all three of our children Indian names.
I’ve also read such books as The City of Joy about the desperately poor inhabitants of the slums of Calcutta, the kind of people Mother Teresa rescued from the edge of death or comforted through the end of their wretched lives – and yet from a certain perspective, they could be said to live in joy. Since I was born, India’s population has grown from less than half a billion people to over 1.3 billion people now. Many are crowded into teaming cities where disease is rampant, the gutters can reportedly flow with raw sewage, and children are sometimes deliberately maimed to make them more effectively pathetic beggars. Whew. Unreal.
And I’ve met the valiant Vandana Shiva from India, a tiger-like force of a woman who has almost single-handedly battled industrial giants like Monsanto, creating with the farmers seed banks of heritage seeds, crusading to make trademarking of seeds illegal, thwarting GMO’s from taking over India’s rich agricultural tradition, and fighting to save subsistence farmers from the ruination of Coca Cola stealing their irrigation water to make softdrinks. Imagine the stuff SHE is made of!
My closest shave with a trip to India myself was 9 years ago when our daughter travelled to the Thar desert of Rajasthan to do volunteer work with impoverished villagers. Cliff protectively accompanied her there, and I was supposed to go, too. But the chance of contracting a life-threatening disease and specter of facing thousands of crying street urchins was too much for me, and I got too sick to travel before I had even purchased my ticket. I preferred the idyllic ancient India of my story books to the harsh reality of India today.
What changed this year, I don’t know. After numerous invitations, I finally accepted an offer from our dear friend Jivatma to give us a tour of southern India – Tamil Nadu – where she grew up. So at age 61, I summoned my courage and embarked with Cliff on 3 week trip to that mysteriously alluring and alarmingly repelling land.
I’m out of writing space this month to tell you yet of our wonderful journey. Suffice it to say that by the end of our trip, I truly had trouble saying goodbye to the place, the ethos, the eyes, the saris, the smiles, and the people of India. I really wasn’t ready to leave. I woke up the first morning at home, not quite oriented and eager for the next day’s adventure: “Where are we going on pilgrimage today?” not even realizing I was back in my own bed!
So was all my fear for naught? I usually think of myself as a fairly brave person. Should I kick myself for not having made it to India earlier? I prefer not. Perhaps my apprehension protected me. Perhaps my first, seemingly-belated trip to India unfolded at precisely the right time in my life, with exactly the necessary ripeness to truly appreciate that magnificent land.
And maybe I wouldn’t have been so anxious if I’d thought the lady in the video below was going to be my flight attendant!
And you, dear reader?
Tell me about a decision that took you a long time to make. How did it turn out for you in the end?
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center for teaching mindful movement arts from around the globe. She is inspired by the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and by the lifelong learning shared at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. She intends that Still & Moving Center always be filled with laughter and friendship!
02 Feb 2017
Did I tell you I’m a teetotaler? Yeah, I’m really boring. Pretty much my whole life – just too much of a control freak to want the slightest mind-altering substance on board. Really, in excess it’s been very damaging to certain family members, and I’ve never seen it add to anyone’s edification. In my work and social life, my lack of interest in going out for a drink has lost me more than a few friends…
So Cliff and I are flying from New York recently and I strike up a conversation with our seatmate. Guess what his profession is…Bartender! Obviously this conversation will be going nowheresville.
Or will it? I could dive deeper into discussion, intrigued by a life I don’t have much real understanding of. In this case, my curiosity gets the better of my preconceptions.
“What’s the best part of your job? I venture to ask, wondering what could possibly redeem the job of helping people to get drunk. I really have no idea where this conversation might go.
“Well, the best part is the worst part,” he replies. “It’s the people.”
“Alcohol reveals people’s truths. They can’t cover it up. They finally get honest about themselves.”
Hmm, that’s something for me to ponder. There must be a reason just about every community in the world finds a way to loosen people’s normal ways of interrelating and perceiving.
He continues, “And on a good evening I get to conduct a fantastic party. Everybody opens up and gets along. Then of course there are the ugly times. That’s the worst part of my job. Not all our truths are that great.”
Even though I now see some value in people opening the lid on their secrets, I challenge him about alcohol revealing truth. “Have you seen that alcohol allows people’s highest truths and spiritual insight to shine through?”
He doesn’t give me a straight answer, instead launching into a well-educated discourse on Plato’s Divided Line and the differences between reality and the illusions of reality. I invite my husband Cliff to join the discussion, which is on the verge of going over my head… I haven’t expected us to go into heavy-duty philosophy in a conversation about tending bar!
He then takes the line of thought into advanced mathematics and nanophysics…! I innocently ask what he might know about the fascinating 11 dimensions that I’ve heard about in String Theory. Our seatmate gives us a very cogent explanation of the theory until he no doubt realizes that the fuzzy look in my eyes means that he’s WAY out of my depth.
He now brings up Magical Realism in art, which happens to be a favorite topic of mine. And that leads us back to New York City and the arts, to the Broadway shows we’ve just seen and our backstage visit at the musical Hamilton. Whew! Back on solid ground again. And our seatmate is fully conversant in the realm of theater as well. Turns out I’m talking to quite the renaissance man…pretty well blasting my stereotype of a barkeep out of the water!
Back at home, I come across a blog blog on how to be a more interesting person: Be interested in OTHER people. Open our minds and hearts to others, even – and especially – to those whom we might not immediately recognize as sharing common ground.
And I realize that was quite the rollicking conversation between the teetotaller and the bartender. Maybe he really enjoyed the opportunity to bust through boxes other people have tried to put him into because of his job. I was just interested in him, and as a result I got to take him out of my mental box.