The miracle within the tragedy is that she is happy -- smiling, laughing, hugging. That is a blessing because it could be otherwise.
She doesn't speak coherently anymore, except for a few words here and there that we know are meaningful, "Baby," "Love," "Thank you." We are so grateful for each of these glimpses into her reality. I feel strongly that she still knows who I am, but it has been awhile since she's said my name. Her mind is mostly a mystery to us.
Over Thanksgiving, I enjoyed simple time with her, just holding her hand. We didn't exchange anything of the mind, but we communicated heart to heart. I felt it. Her heart is as it always was -- open, compassionate, and even ecstatic.
As I watch my mother continue to exude joy despite her declining brain function, I'm reminded of one of the most important lessons of yoga: the Self is not just a mind. Our identities are not just a collection of ideas, memories, and beliefs. That sense of self is in fact what we endeavor to deconstruct and dissolve when we're on the mat. Who we are is so much more than just a body and a brain.
As yogis we work on it all -- mind, body, spirit, heart.
Heart. The heart center. The heart chakra -- an invisible concentration of energy that can flow freely within and radiate love or can be clogged, shut down, and dim in its projection.
I believe that, for some, open-heartedness comes naturally. My mother is one of these people. She doesn't need to think about radiating love, happiness, and generosity of spirit; she just does. She doesn't need to meditate and direct prana to her heart center. Her heart is engaged and enlivened without effort. Others of us need to actively nourish our hearts.
One of the most "nutrient dense" practices I know is Meditation for a Calm Heart. This is perhaps the meditation I talk (even proselytize) about the most. With consistent practice, it soothes even the stormiest of hearts. Try it -- every day for 40 days to get the full effect.
- Sit comfortably in easy pose or in a chair with the spine straight. Place the left hand on the center of your chest (the heart chakra). Raise the right hand up by the shoulder as if taking an oath and bring the thumb and pointer finger together in gyan mudra (wise pose). (See the photo above.)
- Close the eyes and beneath the closed lids, direct the eyes up and in toward the "third eye" (center of intuition). It is as if you don't have your regular eyes and you're trying to see through the center of your forehead.
- Inhale slowly. At the top of the inhale, hold the breath as long as you comfortably can. Then exhale slowly. At the bottom of the exhale, hold the breath out as long as you comfortably can. (Caution: Use your judgment and common sense about the breath and never hold to the point of gasping for air. You may begin with just short pauses and work up to longer holds.)
- Continue for 3-7 minutes. Keep redirecting the eyes if they wander.
May we all nourish our hearts, so that -- come what may -- we can offer smiles and hugs. Sat Nam.