Those of you who practice yoga may know what it means to "open the heart." Even though at first it sounds like something one does purely with the brain or the emotions, it is actually something you do with your whole body. It is when, usually in a physically challenging pose, one stretches out with the front body, reaching with the heart outwards, pulling away from the back, and sending the ribcage forward into space. Yoga is an incredibly easy vehicle for metaphors, mostly because what we do with our body impacts every aspect of our life. No really, stop and think about it. Our body is what makes us, us, right? It is our body; made up of billions of teeny parts which were dictated by some random gene pattern which then in turn created the person who we see each day in the bathroom mirror. We are given some semblance of control over this body that was given to us by the function of our brain. The brain tells the body how and where to move through space and time. How we operate our bodies ultimately is what comes to define us. Most of us are pretty good at moving our bodies, and we can even afford to embellish our movements with yoga worthy poetic phrases and insights. Some of us in comparison, flex the brain muscle more often than the body muscle, and that too, becomes the dominating characteristic of our personality. Who we are, who we perceive ourselves to be, rests solely on this. It stands to follow that as our body changes as we grow older or sicker, so it alters who we think of ourselves to be. Almost like a fun mirror you may see at the haunted house. If we didn't know what we really looked like and somehow managed never to see a reflection of our selves, (perhaps we lived under a log in dark cave for instance...or perhaps if Trump was our last name) we would take the distorted image we saw as truth about ourselves, once someone managed to explain to us what a reflection was, considering we've been under a log this whole time...
Anyway, we would take this false image as our true self and interact accordingly with our environment.
Jeez, what crazy head would do that? Who lives under a log these days anyway? Would you be surprised if I said almost all of us have done this one time or another in our lives? Would it shock you to learn that most of us create our idea of "self" based on a horror house mirror?
But what if our body did not make up our self? There's a pretty interesting video up on youtube by a mediation yogi master who, using a guided imagery meditation creates an exercise to separate our perception of bodily self from our true sense of self as a stress coping technique. In basics it is a pretty simple exercise: remembering and comparing our present self to the images and feelings from five years ago, then back to our teens, then back to our ten year old self, and then to even the earliest memory we have of ourselves. In each time comparison it is easy to see that we can no longer identify as being exactly that person in the memories. In fact, we can't even identify with those same bodies that we had. Seriously, even being thirty-four years young, I can attest to that...!
So everything changes, in fact within just a year we replace most of our cells completely, so as a basis on which to form our "true self" image our bodies are not necessarily the best canvas.
However, when doing this exercise (for fun...of course..) I realized that even though the memories of myself can not be the basis which makes up the true me, there is something that does. In every instance of my life remembered, there is a feeling of a true me, not me based on my body at the time, but one that is outside, pulling away, part of me, but at the same time not. Not defined by my body, my brain, my genes, or by the changes of time. There is something about the newborn that was me, that is still me, thirty-four years later. The yogi in his clip called it finding the true "I Am," which almost takes the role of a witness to all the turmoil and chaos and changes created by time swirling around each person, and what is yet somehow un-touched and un-changed by it. Because I am an Orthodox Christian, and not a yogi, (though sometimes I reeeaaally wish I could do those backbends and handstands,) I can call this "I Am" the soul.
The soul is the true timeless image of who we are, and what defines us. The soul is where we love and where we care about others, the soul is where we keep our unique wisdom, our special creativity and our very own likeness of God. It is the soul that stays constant in an ever changing reality.
So every time I pull my heart towards openness, I think about opening my soul. It is hard work, this pulling away from stress, from temptations, from fear...but it is the only thing that can define us, that can shelter us, and most importantly, save us.
Leo is a yogi of the heart soul. He can't do back bends or handstands, but he won't say no to a spot of summersaulting. He has never let his body define him, nor his brain either! In fact, Leo is such a kung fu master of the soul that he continues to work amazing feats despite all the heavy forces against him.
Since this fall Leo's had an increased level of seizures and in addition developed weather related migraines which were so severe that he would be pretty much incapacitated for the day. After a bunch of unsuccessful treatments and medications, Leo was pretty much getting to the bottom of the barrel of what the doctors had to offer. Recently, as a last ditch effort, I started him on a new medicine that in addition to helping stop seizures is also given to help with high altitude sickness. My observations of Leo's migraine episodes seem to directly correlate with barometric pressure changes. My hypothesis is that because of Leo's profound hydrocephalus, his blood vessels can not adapt as quickly to changing pressures inside, or more importantly, outside as the rest of us can. When there is a barometric change our normal blood vessels will expand or contract immediately to keep the equilibrium in our brains, however it is my belief that Leo's can't adapt to these environmental changes very well, so the result is severe pressure headaches such as can be experienced in altitude sickness. The doctors agree with me on this, mostly because they haven't got any better explanation for his symptoms. Yay me!
Anyway I started giving Leo this new med with absolutely zero hope that it would do a single blessed thing except cause toxic side-effects. Can you believe my astonishment when after the very first day of taking the medicine Leo didn't have a single seizure? I played it cool and didn't let myself believe that this medicine was actually working. Once burnt, twice shy and all that..though in this case it has been more like four or five times burnt... I played it cool for another couple days where there was only one, I repeat, only one seizure per day. Then a storm front came through and that's when I couldn't be cool and unconvinced anymore. I know when the migraines begin because Leo starts fussing and clutching his head where on his forehead the veins get all bulgy and pronounced, and the barometer graph on my iphone gets all jagged and spiky. At this point he would throw up and pass out in sequence for several hours. But that didn't happen! Leo whined a little, slept for even less and then got up and started playing with our new kitten. Now I truly was, "All astonishment" and filled with such a painful and tender hope that his recent trend of troubles could be finally at an end. It has been over a month now on this new medication and though he has had some break through seizures mostly in the early mornings before his breakfast of medicines, and though he has continued to have some migraine like symptoms with every storm front, they have been much lighter and easier to bear than before.
It is incredible how a such a relatively small break in his sufferings caused such a total shift in his development and well being.
The kid started speaking in sentences, he started taking interest in everything around him, he started doing all the activities in school, and best of all, he is laughing again! Wether or not the laughter is a side-effect of the pill (brain drugs can make for some funky emotions) or if he is finally feeling like he has something to be happy about, the laughter has been like a balm to this mom's sore and beat-up heart. After dropping him off at school in the mornings now, I find myself driving away with a smile on my face, which is the direct opposite to before when I would drive away tearfully praying that he (and I) would make it through just one more day without falling apart with any hope of repair.
I feel like he has been given a chance to breathe, a opportunity to fill his lungs and to stretch out with his heart and let shine out, a stream of himself; of his true soul. And it's such a lovely bright thing, something so different and so strong compared to the weakness of his body, of the imperfect and sick body he was given at birth that you would never think that one could belong to the other. But I suppose that is one of the incredible and remarkable characteristics of being alive in this mysterious world.
In this short clip you can hear Leo yelling that he's sledding like a trailer and goodbye mama. It's pretty much too cute for words. It was his first time sledding with his big sister.
The new kitty loves car rides and perching on Leo's carseat is her favorite spot.
Chipper after another great day at school even though we are getting a noreaster tomorrow! Yay new med!