Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Monday, 18 May 2015

Not Separate From All That Is

Michael Stone translates, Ahimsa, the first yama in Ashtanga Yoga as, “Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is.” Other people translate it as “non-violence.”

On Friday, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the young men responsible for the Boston marathon bombings was sentenced to lethal injections. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, his older brother and accomplice in the crime is already dead. He was shot in the man hunt. At the time of the bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was 19, and his brother was 26.

When I first heard the news, I felt really uncomfortable about it. My second feeling was relief that I’m not American, and so somehow I hold zero responsibility for how the trial turned out. As though all the other Americans are responsible. The logic was ambiguous.

I don’t know how it feels to lose my legs or someone I love because of something someone else did. I have a deep, unyielding fear of losing my legs. In the past, my politics have ended with potty training and pubic hair. But nineteen years old seems really young.
When I was fifteen years old, I spent about a month in an adolescent psych ward. It was run by a monstrous psychiatrist named Dr. Roberts. My mother brought me to Dr. Roberts because I used to eat packages of Ex-lax to complement my extensive exercise routine and other questionable weight-loss strategies. Ex-lax tastes like the most mediocre chocolate bar you have ever consumed. The other down sides to laxatives is that they don’t tend to make you very skinny, and they can really fuck up your electrolytes. Plus shitting your pants on the treadmill kind of disrupts your workout objectives.

Anyways, after checking my blood and heart rate, Dr. Roberts screamed at my mother that laxatives were extremely dangerous. She’d discovered that I had an arrhythmia and she wanted me hospitalized immediately.

At first I wasn’t even allowed out of bed. To this, I did not behave gracefully. I screamed and cried for three days straight, begging them to let me out. The muscles I’d developed from my multiple-hour exercise routine shrank from hysteria, anxiety and bedrest. I was convinced that I didn’t belong in the hospital. I had nothing in common with the other crazy teenagers on the ward. My first roommate was this sickly, yellowy looking 14-year-old girl from Sharbot Lake.

“I see dead people,” she told me.  One of my first out-of-bed privileges was going to school with the other patients. (I almost said inmates.) School was the kitchen table, about 100 metres down the hall from my room. Mary, the cheerful nurse with long horse-like hair, flowy skirts and bright red lipstick pushed my wheelchair into the kitchen. Altogether there were five of us. Me, Jenn, Curtis, Nathalie, and Steve. My roommate who saw dead people didn’t come.  Everyone was supposed to try and get caught up on the homework they’d missed while they were in the psych ward. We opened our books and pretended to concentrate. Besides being paralyzed with anxiety, depression or lethargy, I think we were also terrified that our psychiatrist would come charging down the hall on her two-inch heels.

Almost everyone had scars running up and down their arms. I did too. Most people used razors. My scars came from scratching my forearms over and over again until the skin broke. While I was scratching, I would repeat the ABC’s. Usually I would stop after five rounds.

“My God,” Dr. Roberts had told me. “It looks like you’ve dragged cigarette butts up and down your arms.” Her voice was filled with horror and disgust.

My school courses were gym, chemistry and grade 12 English. I feel like there should have been one more course, but I can’t remember. I spent most of the school hour alternating between writing in my journal and staring at everyone else. Nathalie quietly read The Hobbit. Jenn cut out photos for a scrapbook she was making. With neon markers, she drew cloud shapes around the inspirational quotes she’d transcribed. “Happiness does not depend upon who you are and what you have. It depends solely upon what you think.” She’d written this beside a photo of herself and her dog, now dead.  Steve didn’t have any books to open. He just stared into space, nodding his head back and forth.  Curt shook his legs vigorously until the table vibrated. He was scribbling something in his notebook.

“How are you doing, Curtis?” Mary asked in her happy sing-song voice. Curtis had written poem. “Why are we here?” it was called.

“Well, Curtis, that’s an excellent question,” said Mary. “Artists, scientists, writers have been pondering over that very question for centuries.” I had huge purple bruises in the crease of my right elbow from when Mary had tried to take my blood. Otherwise, she was a rather lovely woman.

“I hate this place so much,” Curtis told me after our school session was finished. He had recently been on a two-day pass. “It was such a relief to get out of here. I’ll never be suicidal again.” I hope that worked out for him.

When Dr. Roberts finally set me free, I too promised that I would refrain from purging and obsessing about my weight forever more.  This sort of worked for almost a week.
Being a teenager takes a long time. Everyone always says that time flies. I don’t feel like time flies. Even when there is too much to do, time doesn’t fly. I am twenty-nine years old and still there are many days when I think, “I am going to be myself forever. It is going to be a long life.”

While I was in the psych ward, I got to go home for a weekend. My parents and I watched the movie, “Ordinary People.” It is about a formerly suicidal young man who spent a long time in the psych ward. He was really sad because his brother died in a boating accident and he felt guilty he survived. It is quite a sad movie and an odd choice for the time. Watching it with my parents was awkward. I wanted to tell them I wasn’t as sad or as crazy as the guy in the movie. In fact, he did not seem that crazy. Just sad. Over the weekend, all I wanted to do was lie in bed and read The Diviners by Margaret Lawrence. My parents were worried about me. I seemed way more down than before I went to the psych ward. And all my muscles had shrunk so I looked sort of sick.
What does all this have to do with the Boston bombings? With lethal injections, or life sentences?

Lucky for me, I have made no commitment to coherence.

Ahimsa means recognizing that I am not separate from all that is. We may as well end with sex.

Last summer, the Boatman and I enjoyed a period of particularly impeccable sex. Some people write excellent poems about sex. Other poems are not so excellent. During the season of impeccable sex, I remember getting to the part that people always put in poems. And I felt like finally I’d arrived at something so precious and universal.  I cried, maybe because all this time, I never believed I was worthy of this level of joy. But that’s not true.
These were the words in my head: “This joy, this ecstasy, this isn’t just for everybody else. It’s also for me.” At the same time, this joy, this ecstasy, it’s not just for me. It’s also for everybody else.

Not just for me. Also for everybody else.
The End.

Michael Stone

Twitter: @mypelvicfloor
Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
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