Whoever invented the term “sandwich” generation knew what they were talking about. Lately I’ve been feeling like a squashed slice of old salami.
My mother was in a serious car wreck over the weekend. My son is heading off to college, with the normal ambivalence that implies. There are the usual stresses of life—unexpected expenses, job issues. As the oldest child in my family of origin, I am programmed to be uber-responsible. As a mother of two and stepmother of two, my radar is constantly scanning to get a reading on how everyone is doing. I am easily caught up in the eddying currents of emotion around me. I am not a sanguine person. I cannot read the paper silently, without exclaiming over tragic or sorrowful stories. I am hyper-sensitive and easily knocked off my horse. I wish it were otherwise. I envy those who putter along in a steady state, neither high nor low. But I am not one of them.
So, I find myself faced every morning with the question of how to proceed. How to prioritize, what actions to take, when everything and everyone seems to be a priority?
Luckily, I’ve had some training in this. My illnesses and injuries have forced me back into my body, back to my breath. Caroline Myss, the medical intuitive, believes that our illnesses happen not to us but for us. In my case, I have been forced out of my mind and into my body. I must still my mind and focus on my breath if I am to find a still point in the constant flux of life. So much easier said than done, especially for one who has spent her life pretty much holding her breath. But if I do, I find a spaciousness open up within me, a place from which to meet the other challenges of my life.
There is a scene in Family Matters, by Rohinton Mistry, one of my favorite writers, of a man opening up his yoga mat on a crowded, rushed train platform in India and calmly doing his yoga routine. That image has sustained me for many years. It is not that a practice of yoga stops the chaotic life around him, but it provides him with a way to quiet his mind and deepen his breath. In the end, that is all we have, anyway, isn’t it, our bodies and our breath? That is our territory, all that we can control.
Families are important, and being responsive to them is a good thing. But our first responsibility is to the relationship to our own bodies and breath. I love these final lines from Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric”:
The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you, or within me, the bones, and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!