My friend James was involved in a horrible accident. He was my sister’s first boyfriend; like a brother to me throughout my high school and early college years; the most loving, adventurous, beautiful and soft hearted soul. I think of James and I see his smile and cute dimples, I hear his laugh, and remember his easy-going personality. One night, perhaps too many drinks later, his new girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend decided to kill him. James was shot just beneath his chin, the bullet pierced his spinal cord and lodged into his back.
On Saturday afternoon, James was alive and in surgery. His mom called with the news that he would now be paralyzed from the neck down.
I imagined James just yesterday, running up and down the stairs, driving his car, using a computer. He was going to wake up today into the heavy reality that he simply can’t even move. I told my sister to put her hands down by her waist and imagine not being able to pick up her phone, pick up a fork, wiggle your fingers; the brains messages just don't signal the body to move.
Yoga teaches us that the soul, who we really are, is encased within this material body; that actually, who we really are doesn’t have much to do with matter at all, though we are sheathed in this world and these bodies that are made of it. Yes, the body is sacred if utilized to re-establish our eternal identity as a soul, yes this body is a gift and a blessing if used to serve, though if not used for that purpose, we are simply entangled in the supposition that “I am this Body”.
Who we really are is the animating force, the life, within the body. We are the pure spirit that gives life to matter. We are in a material body because, somehow, we still identify as matter. And for me, it becomes so apparent how “stuck” we really are when I see that James is still there, though his body, his vehicle in this life, just doesn’t work anymore. But he’s still there; James is still there. He is not his body.
If we exist on the material platform, if we’ve spent our lives really believed that we are the body, the amount of suffering we’d experience from this is completely devastating.
Sunday morning we received news that he woke up only paralyzed from the waist down. This was the most incredible news, the most celebrated experience! Wow! He was still so limited, though in comparison, it seemed like the most amazing gift. Suddenly he had so much more freedom!!! He could answer his phone, he could cook for himself, he could get in a wheelchair and move around.
It made me realize how in every moment there is so much to be grateful for. In every moment. Our mind is so petty, we get stressed out or angry when things aren’t going our way, when our little desires aren’t being fulfilled, when someone isn’t acting the way we want them to be acting. We forget in those moments how lucky we are to be able to stand on our own two feet. Our ability to feel sensations in our body. We can wiggle our toes for goodness sake! We are able to pick up our own cell phones and make a call. Even when shit hits the fan, we can always find something to be grateful for. Always.
I know James would never ever take for granted his ability to stand on his own two feet if he ever has the opportunity again, though every day we forget to be grateful. We take so much for granted.
If we are ever not feeling the most incredible gratitude for what we do have and our abilities, it simply means that we are disconnected. Disconnected from the reality that everything we do have is a gift. At any moment, anything can happen that changes our abilities and our entire experience of life. We spend so much of our life trying to make the world look or be a certain way in order for us to feel happy or secure. The reality is, that just won’t work. The world outside of you is completely unpredictable. And it will change. And shit will happen.
If you’ve spent your entire life seeking happiness outside of yourself, in your job, your hobbies, in your finances or your body, and suddenly you become paralyzed, it will be hard to ever experience happiness again. James spent so much of his life cultivating deeper values and connecting to a deeper reality that allowed him to understand that actually the only sustainable happiness in this world is a happiness that comes from within, a happiness that isn’t dependent on circumstances outside of ourselves being a certain way. If you’ve spent time in your life connecting to that reality, then even as the world changes, our bodies change, our circumstances change… the happiness, the contentment, and the connection to who you really are will stay.
And it’s a practice. It’s not easy. Especially when the world, when life circumstances, seem to be against you in every way. That’s when we get the real opportunity to practice. When life is good, when things outside of us are lined up just right and the people are acting in just the way we need them to act, when our bodies are feeling strong and able… it’s pretty easy to feel okay in life. Though when life throws us a curveball, when the sensations in our body are really painful, or when we can’t feel anything at all… when your partner is acting in a way that stirs up anger or frustration, when the line is taking too long... can I stay grateful? Can I stay centered? Can I remember who I really am?