I've long aspired to be a yogi. My first introduction to yoga was in 1973, when I lived in NYC's Chelsea neighborhood (the same nabe Joni Mitchell sang about, in the same era).
I discovered Integral Yoga on 13th Street, where their natural food store served as the bulk supply source for wheat germ and oat bran and such for our modest apartment collective of 3 souls making our respective marks on the Big Apple. The guys with whom I shared that Chelsea loft were doctoral students at The New School (where I became a doctoral student 35 years later!). In 1973, I was in art school, venturing off to the Brooklyn Museum daily to commune with clay, studying ceramics in the shadow of the museum's world class collections of Sung Dynasty Chinese pottery, and next door to the Botanical Gardens, where we students snuck out to collect fallen bamboo from the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden to polish into pottery tools.
My roommates and I were thrown together by fate, and by posters with hang tags of phone numbers posted in shops and on local bulletin boards, long before Craig's List or apps for that. My two room-mates and I considered ourselves progressive and enlightened as we embraced a macrobiotic lifestyle, into which I sifted bags of grains and seeds from the Integral Yoga market to balance our ambitiously healthy, and very chewy, diet.
I found a new home at my first Integral Yoga class in the fall of ‘73. I enjoyed chanting in Sanskrit at the start and end of class. A giant portrait of Swami Satchidananda smiled knowingly over us as we undertook poses which stretched my limbs in welcome ways, with deep, disciplined breathing that quieted my raging 22 year-old spirit, intent on taking New York City by storm. The yoga classes became an island of calm in my busy week of school and my crazy afterschool job working for the venetian blind company on the first floor of our commercial loft building in Chelsea. My religious employers from Boro Park made my life miserable: they tried to make me lie to customers who were impatiently waiting for their blinds to be picked up for cleaning; they treated me poorly; they never seemed to bathe. But it was a job, and it fit my over-committed schedule, so I toughed it out. Yes, back in the day, venetian blinds were a home decor thing, and the company came, took them down, brought them to a factory to clean, and then returned to put them back up. How our economy has changed. That anachronistic process - early service economy! - was the basis of my part-time income in the early 1970s.
I stayed with yoga, even though I wasn’t particularly skilled. I loved that mastery was more about breath than achieving a pose’s form. The pic above captures my lifetime aspiration to center myself on the yoga mat and beyond, as I stretch into Virabhadrasana, Warrior II, at a beautiful upstate overlook on the site of the long gone Catskill Mountain House hotel.
Over time, I’ve been lucky to practice in many different studios around town, from the Fierce Club to the Vanderbilt YMCA. My yogis became my rabbis - teachers and friends - as Sadie, Brian, Kristin, and Madeline each guided me to deepen my foundation and find more joyful, more aligned expression. And in a serendipitous loop of life, I've recently attended several yoga classes with Vince, one of those intrepid roommates from Chelsea in 1973, who now joins me in an appreciation of yoga's stretches and pranayama, the breath work of yoga.
Today, I am a Humble Warrior, transitioning from Warrior I by clasping hands behind the back and bending forward to achieve a graceful bow, while floating extended arms and clasped hands skyward. Humble Warrior is a pose of surrender, with a deep hip and shoulder opener that helps achieve this elegant bend.
Humble Warrior is my pose for this new phase of my journey.
Earlier this week, I met with my oncologist, with the report of my most recent CT scan in hand. I also had the prior scan from NYU in April, and marked it up with comparisons. I knew before I entered the office; there was marked disease progression, and evidence of moderate ascites (fluid) in my lungs and abdomen, additional signs of disease moving forward. My oncologist sat and looked at me. "There are things we can try, but they will, at best, delay the process. And you will have to deal with the side effects." The weight in his voice, and the sadness in his eyes confirmed what I have sensed in recent weeks. The chemo I was on was not effective; I've become chemo resistant. I even gave a clinical trial a shot in late 2017, but it did not yield hoped-for results. (Apparently, I was too different from the mice who achieved impressive results on the experimental regimen.)
The conversation marked the end of my collaboration with this oncologist, who became my quarterback when I moved to New Jersey. He had been at NYU and Yale; he brought state-of-the-art knowledge of treatment of pancreatic cancer to my case. He flattered me, initially, because I have been a notable outlier. My clinical picture was dire from the start, and I gave this nasty disease a real run for its money. I liked him and trusted him. But, at the visit this week, it was clear that we are out of options, or at least treatment options that offer quality of life while maintaining the attack.
And, so, I become a humble warrior as I move from active treatment to the realms of palliative care and hospice.
These are loaded words, but for me, in my pose of respectful surrender, they are welcome. I can wholeheartedly embrace the goals of comfort care, and ease with the process. The Blue Meanies will win my body, but they do not have my spirit. I have much to do - to try to give back to those who have been so generous to me during this journey. I know the circle of my focus will continue to get smaller, as will my energy and ability to engage and participate in life. Please be patient if it takes time to get back to you. I haven't been much for talking on the phone. I am so grateful for your gift of time and attention! I am being sustained by that good energy. Thank you for making me part of your life. I am honored to take your friendship and our memories with me on this new stage of my journey. I hope to walk this challenging path with grace and dignity.
I expect that I will receive very good care. I found a lovely palliative care physician very near to Emma's home, where I now live in NJ. Dr. Kaura will work with me, and with my daughters, to help navigate what is ahead.
I am blessed in many ways, and come to this last part of the journey in relatively good health (!), meaning that I've been lucky to be stable, having avoided hospitalizations and the need for acute medical intervention, even as I battled through two very potent chemo cocktails and the clinical trial - this stuff ISN'T for sissies!
This humble warrior hopes to keep paddling my inflatable kayak as I look to new horizons just around the riverbend. These days, I still stretch a bit, and still practice pranayama to help cool and clear the soul. The gift of centering from my years of practice remains with me, even as my limbs can do only the most modified of poses. (Think: bed yoga)
When I raise my eyes from the downward gaze to greet the world, I see and feel the warming, loving presence of friends and family.
Thank you for being with me thus far. I hope to be able to find time and capacity to write again. There are so many stories! Hope to share a few more on these pages.
I have been blessed with a very good life - a tapestry of rich and royal hue. With a heart full of gratitude, I am,
Your Humble Warrior