A few years ago I sat down to do some goal setting and realized that I hardly ever take personal vacations. I travel a lot with work, obviously, and I visit so many awesome places and spend time with amazing people all over the world, but I rarely plan a trip for fun and recreation. So I decided that I would take a trip to the Galapagos Islands, a place I have always wanted to visit. Anyway, me, Kelly, Mom and Dad have been planning this trip on cruise to the Islands for over 18 months. We left home last week and flew to Quito, Ecuador for a few days of rest and then set off to the Islands last Friday.
So many things could be said but to make a long story short, while we were on the island we noticed that Mom was getting very weak in her legs, very unsteady in her balance and her hands were getting very weak. Turns out, she was having a stroke.
On the second day of the cruise we landed in a small town named San Cristobal and got off the boat and went to the local hospital. We spent the morning in the local hospital and and eventually took a flight back to Quito where Mom was admitted to the hospital on Monday evening. She was seen by some amazing doctors and cared for by great nurses and we have been here in Quito ever since. Mom had a stroke in the left side of her brain that affects her center for walking, particularly on the right side so her right leg is very weak. Also, she is having some trouble using her right hand.
I have been spending the nights with her. I come in around 7:30 pm and leave around noon when Dad comes in. He is spending the days with her. During the days, Kelly and I have taken some time to get some food, to exercise, to make connections with the various insurance companies and so forth who are involved in Mom's case.
It seems like we are living a lifetime every day navigating a major illness in a foreign country where none of us speak the language.
One of the things I have always appreciated about traveling is the way that it knocks me out of my zone of comfort and confronts my stereotypes, unconscious assumptions and habitual patterns of both thought and behavior. While Facebook profiles and blog entries always show great images of cool vistas and nifty sites along the way, anyone who has packed bag and headed off on a trip- particularly for a long time and/or to a foreign country- knows that travel, for all of its boons and delights, is also full of discomfort and demands that range from strange foods, to long lines, to missed connections, illnesses, poor lodging, bad weather, lost luggage and so on. Things can and do go wrong and the gods of travel are both generous and cruel.
So while I hold these challenges in high regard as part and parcel of the process of transformation that I believe travel offers, this particular trip has been quite heavy on that end of the spectrum, as you can probably imagine. And probably because of the pendulum's swing to the end of challenging circumstances, the time has also been rich with food for reflection and insight for contemplation.
One of the most amazing experiences during the trip has come from being so vulnerable here- very sick mother, unable to speak spanish, etc.- and to continually receive the blessing of kindness that the Equadorian people so constantly offer. There is something both humbling and inspiring about being on the receiving end of another person's basic goodness. It is somewhat mind-blowing. From the doctors, to the nurses, to the cab drivers, the folks in the hotel and in the cafe- we have been treated with a generosity of sprit that has softened the experience quite considerably.
Also, it occurred to me the other day that the "life is precious and uncertain" realization is a difficult one to hold onto. Of course, experiences like the one I am having this week with my mom serve to drive the message home in a visceral way. However, one thing I have come to realize is that moments of inspiration do not, in and of themselves, change me. The inspiration must be integrated, fought for even at times and concretized through action over time. Over a long time. Just today, as I was reflecting on the great fortune it is to have health and well-being, I felt a sober voice emerge from within that said, "You know, as strong and solid as this feels now, you will probably lose your certainty in a few weeks. Insight is easy to forget so stay close to this moment in the weeks to come as complaint, comparison, fear, etc. arise and remove you from the simplicity of the gratitude you are feeling."
So, the thing is that is what practice is about for me. I don't practice expecting that I will remember every inspiring insight I have or because I expect those quotes on Facebook and Twitter to really come to my rescue in a moment of need, as much as I might like to read them in the morning as I scroll through my News Feed. I do not practice because I expect that I will become some different person from it. In some ways I practice because I expect, at least on one level, that I will forget a lot of what I learn. I practice because I know how hard it is to make lasting shifts and changes and because so much of growing is about managing a kind of inner profit-and-loss. I practice because it is in the small acts of asana, of conscious breathing, of mantra, prayer, Remembrance and Assertion, I connect to my important insights and to what holds meaning for me.
The paradox of the process of sadhana is that even though practice doesn't necessarily make me a better person, it does give me a thread of connection, a way back home to my Heart, and a doorway to a context for my suffering and joy that I do believe makes me and my life better than I or it would be without those things.
So, I am here in Ecuador, counting my blessings, chanting the Names of God, caring for my mother, doing my best to support my father and to take care of myself . I find myself remembering something Manorama said that her teacher, Sri Brahmananda Saraswati, used to say: "You do not need to practice every day. But when you need your practice, you are going to wish you had been practicing every day."
So like that.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."