This Fall I’ve decided to take one day off a week to devote time and effort towards things I’m curious about. After eight years of teaching every Tuesday morning I’ve let it go and allowed a whole day to present itself to me like a big canvas ready for imagination and colorful strokes of inquiry. Since having kids my curiosities have been quietly sequestered or tucked into the mind and heart of yesteryear. “I don’t have time for that anymore” I’ve told myself or “oh to be young and free” is another favorite thought patterning to justify my absence of participating in the great big world of wonder. Don’t get me wrong –I do spend time in wonder and I do buy tickets to live music once and awhile and check out the new art exhibit. But I’m looking for something different this time around. I truly want to ask questions. I have a yearning to know not for the sake of knowing and repeating what I know but knowing to become closer to who I am as a human being.
On my first Tuesday off I dropped my kids off at school and zipped away to Port Townsend and ferried across to Whidbey Island where my parents live. I needed to go up there to get some things organized for a retreat coming up and I also wanted to visit with my parents. I was curious to know what they do on a regular ‘ole Tuesday morning. Whenever I go to see them I’m usually there with an entourage of family members who become obstacles in the way of really witnessing what is really going on there. I too am distracted by side conversations and constant food desires or squabbles from my kids.
When I arrived I noticed their sweet Springer Spaniel, Wren, and gave her a few loving hugs. I think Wren was shocked to know that I was aware of her and paid her some decent attention. I heard the music of Eva Cassidy in the distance near the kitchen house. My mom was inside making a simple healthy lunch. I felt at ease and at home. She had her usual stack of books and papers nearby with notes tucked inside listing people to call and Thank Yous to be written. She asked about each of my kids and how school was going. Soon enough my dad arrived from a spin class with a newly grown beard that made him look sort of like a 1970’s English professor. He was excited to show me the book of an artist who he will be studying water color with next week in Oregon. After that he leaves for a month in Bhutan. Books stacked up on nightstands, herbs sprouted tall around the garden’s edge, fabrics awaited colorful dye in my mother’s art room, neighbors sauntered over to ask about a community dinner. Wow! I thought to myself…my parents are alive! They are in their mid 70’s and still so curious about life. They wonder how they can contribute to their community and they have made all kinds of new friends since moving from Seattle over a decade ago.
I left after lunch to get home in time to pick up my kids from school. On the drive home I felt happy to know two people whose lives are an example of a life well lived. They have a love and appreciation for nature, a commitment to service and to helping others, a daily practice of art and self-reflection, and a deep enthusiastic love for this blessed life.
That evening after putting the kids to bed I picked up the New Yorker and read an article by Atul Gawande about his colleague Oliver Sacks who died just a week or so ago. Upon reading it I was reminded of an exemplary man in our time who lived life with tremendous curiosity and enthusiasm for life. A doctor, professor, lover of music, math and science he was the ultimate humanitarian. They say that he brought the “medicine of friendship.” Sacks says, “In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.”
Today teaching yoga I felt inspired by the short yet poignant day I spent with my mom and dad and the visit to the writings and reflections of a lost but not forgotten luminary, Oliver Sacks. On the yoga path there are the practices of inquiry and of fiery enthusiasm to enhance our lives and to come face to face with our own human potential and of one another.
More from Atul Gawande, The New Yorker:
“Sacks had asked me whether I’d read Forster’s “The Machine Stops.” I hadn’t, but his letter prompted me to, and I see why he was so drawn to it. It’s about a world in which individuals live isolated in cells, fearful of self-reliance and direct experience, dependent on plate screens, instant messages, and the ministrations of an all-competent Machine. Yet there is also a boy who, like Sacks, saw what was missing. The boy tells his mother, “The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come. Pay me a visit, so that we can meet face to face, and talk about the hopes that are in my mind.”
It is the face to face connection that I cherish. I am continually curious about our real time human connection in a time of speed and distraction. I am looking forward to a day off to stop “The Machine” of my life and make room for a visit to my parents, a visit to help serve, a wander through the woods or who knows? I am curious to know what will happen. A day of curiosity fueled with enthusiasm is a lively beginning.
Final words from Oliver Sacks:
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”