It Pays To Be a Packrat–Old Letter From Mom

July 12, 2012
Note I found on Mom's door

Envelope on Mom’s door

In the post I Never Loved A Man I mentioned a note my mom left on her door after our big fight. I fled the apartment and we ended up staying with a friend of Mike’s named Rita. I have always tended to save letters and papers and I still have it.

2 page letter from Mom

Letter my mom left for me

She passed away in 1990 so I have the legal right to copy it. I just like to be able to back up some of my words with evidence where I can. The post about Fascinating Womanhood will come soon.


Enter The Dragon

June 26, 2012
Red Dragon

Chinese Dragon

When I returned from my trip to see my family, I was relieved to be away from all of their drama. Mahasraya was happy to see me and we had a honeymoon period. He had given up on growing psychedelic mushrooms and we had the use of the bedroom. He slept in there alone because otherwise Lakshmana’s crying would keep him awake. He was working for the temple, guarding at night, so we still had the same graveyard schedule as before, waking up in the early afternoon.

Now that he had his own income from guarding, the stipend they paid all householders who worked for ISKCON, he enrolled in a Wing Chun martial arts class with the already well known Sifu Douglas Wong. MY AFDC money was what we used for all household expenses.

I was his practice dummy to help him with the various strikes and blocks he needed to practice. We did this when he was studying Tai Chi, practicing push-hands. Often we would spar, stopping just a hair’s breadth before the actual strike. Some say this is not the best way to practice sparring because in a real fight one might not be prepared to use the amount of force needed. In any event, blocks and strikes were becoming second nature to me. I had always been interested in martial arts and wanted to learn even more. He had taught me some basic self defense skills when we first got together, which I used to block my mom’s punches.

I observed as he prepared his hands for the Iron Fist (aka Iron Palm), a way of making one’s hands denser and hardened, thus more effective at striking the opponent. He found instructions for making a concoction of vinegar with rusty nails steeped in it for a long period of time. Every day he would rub this stuff on his hands. I vaguely remember that he used some rice or something also to toughen his hands, hitting into a bowl filled with the grain. I’ve since read that original recipes with Chinese herbs have been published online as well as having been made available commercially. He was mostly trying to figure it out himself from hints he’d read. He was also into Chinese medicine and drinking Chinese herbs on a regular basis.

Mahasraya read about Bruce Lee’s One Inch Punch technique in his book, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, which Mahasraya hoped would combine with the denser fists he was developing to create a more powerful punch. I suspect this is what interested him in Sifu Wong and Wing Chun. I also enjoyed reading Bruce Lee’s book and learned a lot from it. Mahasraya had also acquired a super 8mm movie projector and would buy martial arts film with techniques and katas (a set of movements designed to make the skills automatic). His friends would come over and watch them projected onto a sheet on the wall. He was not content being, as he told everyone, a master of Tibetan martial arts. He continued to soak up as much as he could about other styles. He was delighted to learn a new kata.

Wing Chun

Wing Chun

It wasn’t long before the general stress of life with a new baby got to him. Although he enjoyed playing with Lakshmana, I believe he found the responsibility of being a father daunting and also seemed to resent my own preoccupation with our child. One of our fights, for example, was about my being busy with Lakshmana, changing a diaper, when he wanted me to cook and complained that I hadn’t already. Dealing with lack of sleep and stressed out too, I snapped at him that he was the one who taught me to cook; why was he waiting for me if he was so hungry? He threw one of my stainless steel pots across the kitchen, denting it on the bottom, and that made me so angry that I actually smacked him in the face for the first—and only—time. Of course he quickly retaliated.

We were brought back to earth quickly when Lakshmana rolled off the changing table—fortunately to land on a carpeted floor with no apparent injury. But it quickly sobered us. Mahasraya blamed me for the whole thing and ranted at me.

“Look at what you did! It’s your fault. You’re supposed to be taking care of him! Fuckin’ A!”

This was a low blow coming from the man who was willing to risk having his child taken away if he was discovered growing illegal mushrooms in our home, not to mention beating me while I was pregnant with this same child. I was furious but more concerned with comforting my crying baby. Mahasraya wandered back into the kitchen to get something to eat, slamming cupboard doors and continuing his rant, which I ignored.

I was mortified that my baby had fallen and disturbed that our fighting had distracted me to that degree. I was normally so watchful and careful of his welfare. So it didn’t help to have Mahasraya blaming me as if he had played no role in the fight.

Each fight was beginning to put cracks in my love and devotion to Mahasraya and it seemed that the pleasant times, the laughter and loving moments were occurring less and less often.

Our martial arts practice continued, although Mahasraya would often complain about how out of shape I was. For instance, I couldn’t hold my arms above my head for long. I don’t remember why I was supposed to but I didn’t have his stamina and of course I didn’t have his upper body strength. I was so sensitive already about my weight that this hit me where it hurt. Here I was walking everywhere and carrying my baby around. I was hardly a weakling!

As we were sparring one day, Mahasraya made it a point to tell me that he never teaches his students everything he knows; he always holds something back. I took that to be an oblique warning: don’t think you can use this stuff against me because I know even more and you can’t win. I guess my hitting him that one time made him realize that I might be inspired to use these techniques to defend myself from him. I had considered it, of course. Who wouldn’t? But as I pictured how it might go I realized that the fights would probably escalate to the point that we would both be seriously injured and end up in the hospital. Who would take care of Lakshmana then?

We were on this weird, parallel course where sometimes, martial arts was used to teach me how to defend myself from others, and sometimes martial arts was used against me to keep me in my place, release his stress, or for reasons I probably don’t understand even now. I began to resent Sifu Wong for teaching my husband even more ways to hurt me. I wondered why he didn’t try to screen out violent men who might misuse the arts he was teaching. Didn’t he recognize that learning these techniques was like handing out a stick of dynamite? Didn’t he know about domestic violence?

Mahasraya was responsible for misusing these powerful strikes. I’m sure every martial arts instructor gives a lecture about the ethical use and philosophical basis of this powerful knowledge. Yet it seems to me that more can be done to identify those who are prone to violence and have anger management problems. At the time I believed in shared karma, and I felt that my husband’s teachers deserved a small per cent of the karma for my beatings.

Mahasraya was hitting me more and more often and almost always on the head, several quick blows. Sometimes my head would hit the wall. I didn’t realize at the time how serious this was and how easily I could get a concussion. I believe I probably suffered more than one concussion but I never got checked out at the hospital. He would sometimes cry after hurting me and usually apologize and want to hug and kiss me. Occasionally, though, he would get defensive. “Why do you make me do this?” Sometimes he would storm around the house and yell, then start hitting. A raised voice would be enough to put me on guard. It got to the point that I was being hit every few days.

I was so desperate to stop this that when Mahasraya wouldn’t listen to me I talked to his friend Keshava. I hoped that the respect Mahasraya had for Kesava would make him more open to understanding how I felt. Kesava’s ex-wife told me that Kesava had battered her and so we had a frank talk about wife-beating. He expressed that he was deeply sorry for having hurt his ex-wife, L-P. dasi, whom he acknowledged was a very advanced devotee. He was glad she was happily re-married.

Unfortunately, his focus was to tell me to alter my speech and behavior. He was willing to talk to Mahasraya, for which I was and still am grateful, but like many people in the 1970s the belief was if women behaved above reproach that would solve the problem. So apparently I wasn’t to try to talk to Mahasraya about the violence because that would cause him to hit me again. What a catch-22! I shouldn’t ever mention that I was getting so desperate I might leave him, then. Kesava told me, without a hint of irony, that I should emulate Muslim ladies and whenever we disagreed I should say, “You are right, I am wrong, it must be the will of God.”

There is no way I could ever say that without being sarcastic.

My frustration increased after talking to Kesava. His ex-wife had made it clear that some days he would beat her for leaving too late for the morning program at the temple, and other days she’d get ready quickly and he’d hit her for preceding him to the program–once knocking her down stairs. So if we women are supposed to keep ourselves safe by adjusting our behavior, you can see the problem here. The goal post keeps changing on a whim. One might conclude that the problem isn’t our behavior at all!

Hearing from Kesava about his behavior just made Mahasraya angry and led to more beatings. He was always concerned about how he appeared to other people and didn’t want anyone to know about what he did when we were alone. That’s why he was so careful to only hit me in places covered by my saris or blouses and long skirts. I often had a bruise or two on my upper arms, for instance, because all my blouses and t-shirts had sleeves that covered them.

During this period of time a devotee loaned us a TV. His name was Jagaman and he was a teenager who wasn’t allowed to have a TV. I seem to remember that he lived in the brahmancari ashram. He wanted to store the TV with us and then come and watch it once in awhile. He liked Saturday morning cartoons, for instance. This was fine with Mahasraya. We caught up on reruns of the show Kung Fu with David Carradine, a show Mahasraya loved and told me about. I grew to love The Incredible Hulk, myself. I would catch in on TV when Mahasraya was at work.

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk (TV)

I’d watch Bill Bixby’s character deal with bullies and bad guys by turning into the Hulk and I was overcome with a desire to do the same–just once. I believed if Mahasraya knew what it was like to be terrified and overcome by someone stronger he would never want to make me feel that way again. Beneath my fear and anxiety an anger was building, a rage and bitterness that was beginning to crowd out the love I felt. It was a confusing mix of emotions to deal with as I tried to figure out a way to get through to my husband.

My neighbor from the Spanish apartments, Sri Prada, moved across the street from us so we were neighbors once again. I confided in her about the abuse as I had Mitravinda and Kesava’s ex-wife L-P. dasi To my surprise, Sri Prada confided in me that her husband Ramai also hit her. Like my own husband he seemed like such a nice guy and it was hard to imagine him behaving that way. What was going on here?

Copies of the book Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin were being passed around the devotee community from woman to woman. Andelin was a Mormon lady and her book was supposed to help us in our quest to be proper chaste Vedic women, since it was written from a conservative Christian viewpoint. It was all about how a devout and chaste wife should serve her husband and could use her feminine gifts to guide her husband for the good of the family. I looked at this book like a person dying in the desert might look at a glass of water. I felt it was my last chance to make my marriage work. I became engrossed, reading it cover to cover and returning to key passages. Maybe this would help us inspire our husbands to treat us better. Maybe I would learn what I’d missed, being raised by the uppity and independent women in my family, something that could inspire my husband to be the gentle person I’d first met, the kind and thoughtful man I fell in love with.

Next: applying everything I learned to try to save my marriage.


Books for Living and Dying

June 22, 2012
chamomile blossoms

Chamomile

Illness and Relationships:

Beyond Chaos: One Man’s Journey Alongside His Chronically Ill Wife
by Gregg Piburn

My husband, who is not remotely into self help books, found this book very validating and supportive of his feelings on the other end of illness, and I found the candor refreshing and gained a lot of insight into my husband’s experience. Initially we had experienced some trouble feeling free to share our negative feelings about my illness but this book really helped.

The Couple’s Comfort Book: A Creative Guide for Renewing Passion, Pleasure and Commitment by Jennifer Louden

Louden has a chapter particularly dealing with crisis and illness, Nurturing During Crisis and Loss, and lists some other books as resources for such situations. The entire book, however, will provide ways to continue to nurture the relationship and can serve as a resource guide.

Stories From The Heart published by the National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease, available through womenheart.org

An anthology of women and their families dealing with heart disease. I wrote one of the pieces in the Recovery section and it is presented with my first name as the heading.

All In My Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable, and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache by Paula Kamen

This is my migraine and chronic daily headache resource. Paula Kamen is a journalist who has suffered from migraines and chronic headaches for over a decade and has suffered through all of the conventional and alternative therapies available without a cure. She shares the latest research with us amid a witty cultural analysis of why we women are often told it’s “all in your head.” (I heard this about my gallbladder attacks until they finally saw the gallstones on x-ray.)

Lotus in the Fire: The Healing Power of Zen by Jim Bedard

This book is an amazing account by a man that held his spiritual center throughout the searing pain and suffering of his treatment for leukemia.

Abuse:

The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond by Patricia Evans
I knew when I left my abusive first husband that the verbal abuse had done more lasting damage than the physical abuse. For anyone who wonders whether they are in a verbally abusive relationship or wants to know how to deal with it, this is an amazing resource. It really breaks down the verbal abuser’s strategies, so that when you are wondering if a particular phrase was verbally abusive, you’ll have a resource that tells you how and why it is. It also lays out the ways a verbal abuser denies or downplays his or her words. It strips away their camouflage so that one can see them for what they are.

Death and Dying:

Winona’s Web: A Novel of Discovery by Priscilla Cogan…Fiction. A psychotherapist treats a Native American woman who has decided that she is ready to die soon–by natural causes. The therapist ends up learning from her about the purpose of life and what may lie beyond. A very affirming book, most comforting when I was in the hospital.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

A child’s book that explores death from the perspective of a little girl who meets a group of immortals and has to decide if she will join them or not.

The Radiant Coat: Myths and Stories About the Crossing Between Life and Death An audiocassette and CD by Clarrisa Pinkola Estes from Sounds True Recordings, 735 Walnut St, Boulder CO 80302

(All of her work is excellent) Again, very comforting. If I were dying, I’d want to listen to this again. A very positive view of death.

Death: The Final Stage of Growth edited by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, MD
A collection of essays about death from a pioneer in the field. Very hopeful.

Time To Say Goodbye: A Guide To Empowerment During Illness and Aging by Barbara Olive, RN

How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter by Sherwin B Nuland

Dr. Nuland gives us a comprehensive look at the physical experience of death from a variety of common causes. I found it comforting to be better prepared for what I might feel at the time of death.

Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber
by Ken Wilber, Shambala Books

This book chronicles the experience of Treya and Ken when she is diagnosed early in their relationship with cancer, her successful battle with it and her recurrence and later death. Ken Wilber is a prominent Buddhist writer and the book includes both their experience and his spiritual focus, in a manner that is accessible to people of all faiths.

Advice on Dying by His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Tibetan Buddhism has a particular viewpoint on death and preparing for it that I think we all can learn from.

The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over by Starhawk and M. Macha NightMare.

This book has some really beautiful poetry that can be appreciated in a non-denominational, universal way. One of the phrases I remember vividly is “You go from love into love.”

Talking About Death Won’t Kill You by Virginia Morris

I found this in a bookstore on sale and really loved it. It opened my eyes to the dilemma people face when they confront various medical situations of their loved ones with only the vague instruction, “I don’t want to be on machines.” Sometimes those “machines” are needed in a short term situation such as systemic infection. Morris gives a great deal of insight as to how these medical scenarios may play out and some of the specific guidelines you should give your next of kin or what to ask your doctor about in terms of your illness. She also encourages us to define what we believe a “good” death would be and have good communication with doctors and family about our wishes in those regards as well. I really found this book helpful in trying to decide for myself at what point I want to stop medical interventions.

She also co-authored a book on taking care of aging parents: How to Care for Aging Parents by Virginia Morris and Robert M. Butler.

Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life by Megory Anderson

I finally realized I had to buy this when I had renewed it at the library for the 5th time. Megory Anderson’s book is useful both for the people who are dying and most especially for family members and friends who are trying to ease their way and support them in finding a way to experience a conscious and meaningful death experience. Doing so will also help with the grief process that follows. Her book is nondenominational and the last chapter contains quotes from various religious scriptures.

I also got a copy of a really wonderful document called Five Wishes, a medical directive that also has room for spiritual and other wishes in addition to the legal directive about medical care. You can get a copy by calling 1-888-594-7437 or by going to Aging With Dignity’s website (agingwithdignity.org). I highly recommend it, especially for those of you with ill parents or grandparents. It is the best and most comprehensive advanced directive document I have seen, and really helps one think about one’s wishes very clearly.

Grief:

How To Survive The Loss of a Love by Melba Colgrove, PH.D., Harold H. Bloomfied, M.D., and Peter McWilliams
Continuously in print since 1976, this is a classic grief book recommended by the American Psychological Association to their clients. It is soothing to read and broken up into small segments that are easier to handle when you’re grieving than long blocks of text. This book is like having a friend take your hand and guide you through the rough terrain of grieving. I keep a copy to hand out to friends and everyone who has used it really loved it.

Life After Loss: Conquering Grief and Finding Hope by Raymond Moody Jr., M.D., and Dianne Arcangel

Living Through Personal Crisis (Mass Market Paperback)
by Ann Kaiser Stearns
Another classic—this one helped me get through the process of grieving my mother’s death (and therefore it is not one of those unfinished grieving processes).

To Begin Again: The Journey Toward Comfort, Strength, and Faith in Difficult Times by Naomi Levy
Written by a rabbi who lost her father in a senseless holdup when she was fifteen, and informed by her work with her congregation and her deep personal faith, this book is sensitively written and powerfully examines how difficult it can be to hold on to faith when we’re suffering. Accessible to all denominations.

The Art of Condolence: What to Write, What to Say, What to Do At a Time of Loss by Leonard M. Zunin, M.D. and Hilary Stanton Zunin
I found this in the library and devoured it. I am the kind of person who loves to send cards and really try to say just the right thing—I don’t let cards speak for me but rather prefer to add my own words. This book was invaluable and even covered special situations such as suicide or death by AIDS and the social stigma that surrounds them. If you want to comfort someone but fear to say the wrong thing, this book is for you.

Depression and Anxiety:

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns
The classic book on cognitive therapy and depression, has good information on medications in addition to strategies for coping with depression. There’s a related workbook that I haven’t checked out yet. If CBT isn’t sufficient there’s a newer therapy that combines it with a Zen-mindfulness approach called DBT or dialectical behavioral therapy. People with borderline personality disorder are finding it much more useful for their particular needs though anyone can benefit from it.

Out Of The Blues: Strategies That Work to Get You Through The Down Times by Jay Cleve, PH.D.
A handbook of short and long term coping skills to manage depression.

Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
by Normal E. Rosenthal, M.D.
In addition to information about seasonal depression research and how to manage and treat seasonal depression, there’s an interesting chapter about artistic and literary creation as it relates to mood disorders. Writers and artists will find it fascinating.

Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering
by Vidyamala Burch
Vidyamala Burch lives with chronic pain herself, which lends her words great credibility. As I live with chronic pain it is difficult to have people in general or even doctors try to tell me about pain. Ms. Burch KNOWS PAIN, just like we do, and she can help. You can also get CDs of guided visualizations that I haven’t heard yet but others have said they are better than Kabat-Zinn’s. (see below re: Zinn) Her CD is entitled: Body Scan: Managing Pain, Illness and Stress with Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Another: Kindly Awareness CD, which is described as: “The Kindly Awareness meditations on this double CD help cultivate a warm, gentle feeling of emotional engagement and kindness toward ourselves and others. Using the rhythm of the breath we create a restful, spacious awareness in which we can lessen the tendency to push away pain or rush restlessly after new short-lived pleasures. Kindly Awareness can be practiced by anyone, and is particularly helpful for people living with chronic stress, as well as those wanting greater ease and wellbeing in their life.”

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by John Kabat-Zinn, PH.D.
This is an immensely useful resource for de-stressing and attending to the mind-body connection in a way that optimizes the potential for healing or coping when full health is no longer possible. There are a number of exercises in meditation and accompanying tapes and cds are available. In some areas classes are available that follow the ideas of Kabat-Zinn’s book. Insurance companies sometimes offer discounts.

The Worrywart’s Companion: Twenty-One Ways to Soothe Yourself and Worry Smart by Beverly Potter
I admit, I am a chronic worrier and can catastrophize with the best of ‘em. This book has really helped me recognize when I’m going overboard and need to get back in balance and gave me strategies to do so. Now if only I could get some people I know to read it…

Women and Self-Esteem: Understanding and Improving the Way We Think and Feel About Ourselves by Linda Tschirhart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan
Available in paperback at Amazon, copyright 1984
Everything you needed to know about self-esteem but nobody taught you.

Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life by Jennifer Louden
My Bible on self-nurturing! I was already pretty good at it but this book took it to new levels. I wish she would write one for men—or maybe her husband would.

Note: Nathaniel Branden has also done a lot of writing on the subject of self-esteem and is considered by some the expert on the subject. Men who wish to improve their self-esteem might find his books useful. I recall that I read one when I first started working on self-esteem and it was very good. I can’t remember which book it was now.

Journal Writing, Storytelling, and Ritual:


Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest
by Christina Baldwin
Baldwin is not pushing any particular brand of spiritual path here, rather she is encouraging us to try out different journaling techniques and meditations to accompany us on our spiritual journey, whatever form that may take.

Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story by Christina Baldwin
This book reminds me of the cultural practice of “talk-story” portrayed by Maxine Hong Kingston in her book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Every culture uses stories to make sense of events and life passages. Baldwin makes this practice accessible to each of us so that our stories can be shared, understood, and provide lessons for others. Such stories can bridge the cultural, religious and political differences that divide us, and Baldwin provides examples of how it does just that.

Rituals For Our Times: Celebrating, Healing, and Changing Our Lives and Our Relationships by Evan Imber-Black, PH.D., and Janine Roberts, ED.D.
I discovered this book as a single parent and I am so glad I had it as a resource right when I needed it. It enabled me to think consciously about the rituals of our little nuclear family and helped me create some meaningful ones as well as find ways to discuss them with my children for feedback. There are some unique examples of rituals given in the book, including one for a blended family and another for a woman who needed to find a way to let go of a former mate and celebrate the independence of her new life. The authors also cover how a death in the family can interrupt the rituals, particularly when the family matriarch dies and she was the one who did all the hosting and cooking. They give some guidance for establishing new rituals that enable the family to cope with and honor their loss and reconnect in a new way.

Dancing Up the Moon: A Woman’s Guide to Creating Traditions That Bring Sacredness to Daily Life by Robin Heerens Lysne
This book gave me lots of ideas for creating personal rituals. Where the book above gave me more background on the psychological and cultural aspects of ritual, this book brought it to the personal level and gave many examples of rituals for passages that our culture doesn’t have a ritual for, guidance on how to create rituals, examples of ritual elements, and so on. I’ve referred to it many times over the years and loaned it out to people going through experiences that they wished to create a ritual for.

Body Image:

Transforming Body Image: Love the Body You Have by Marcia Hutchinson
This is the classic in the field of body image and has many useful visualizations and exercises designed to foster acceptance and self love.

Fat Chicks Rule! How To Survive in a Thin-Centric World by Lara Frater
Everything you need to know to live a full life instead of putting life on hold until you are thin.
Miscellaneous:

The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford
In trying to run from and deny our “negative” qualities like selfishness or laziness, we give them more power and enable them to manifest in ways that are unexpected and not always under our conscious control. Ford’s work paves the way to self-acceptance and integration of all our traits, not just the ones we’ve been taught to label as positive or desirable. Sometimes, these so-called negative traits are just the ones we need to find our full potential.

The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler
I absolutely love this book, and everyone I show it to falls in love with it too. J. Ruth Gendler had the idea to take qualities such as anger, complacency, joy, and contentment and write about them as if they were people. In so doing, she has captured their essence in a poetic and powerful way. I don’t usually seek autographs but I am honored to have an autographed copy. Gendler is also a visual artist and has illustrated her own work.


The Invitation
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Her poem, The Invitation, has been shared in emails, on the radio, and read aloud at gatherings. In this book she expands on each section to examine how we can meet pain and fear and live a fiercely authentic life.

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff
by Richard Carlson, PH.D.
I may disagree with the subtitle, but the essential idea is that most of the things we stress about are small things and if we simply think differently about them we won’t give in to the stress. Along the way he examines issues like perfectionism and other things that hold us back.


Not For Packrats Only: How to Clean Up, Clear Out, and Dejunk Your Life Forever!
By Don Aslett
As a confirmed packrat from a family of packrats, I found this book really useful for decluttering and turn to it again and again when I relapse and am surrounded by too much stuff. He takes a look at everything related to clutter, including the emotional reasons we hang on to stuff, and then gives us strategies to overcome those reasons. I found it really useful to know that I could simply take a picture of some sentimental possessions and keep the picture. A good companion to the show “Clean Sweep” which also deals with the emotional component of clutter.

Growing Old Disgracefully: New Ideas for Getting the Most Out of Life by The Hen Co-op
My friend and former boss, Maxine Myers, helped write this book that turns the notion of a “graceful” old age on its head. How like her! I unfortunately loaned out my autographed copy and never got it back but I recall that she wrote that I was well on my way to a disgraceful old age. If you ever wanted to let go of society’s notion of how old women are supposed to be and act, read this book!

The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
We all have a choice whether to harden and clench our hearts against fear and loss or whether to soften and open ourselves to love even if it means the risk of more loss. Chodron shows us how to do the latter. Chodron also produced an excellent audiotape on Tonglen Meditation.

The Path of Prayer: Reflections on Prayer and True Stories of How it Affects Our Lives by Sophy Burnham
Sophy Burnham examines the universal meaning of prayer from a variety of faiths and personal experiences, looking at the structure of prayers, different kinds of prayer, and how prayer connects us to the divine (or our higher selves for those who are not believers). This is one of the books I take to the hospital and re-read with joy. This is not just a book about “gimme” prayers, rest assured. It is far deeper than that.

Laurel’s Kitchen Caring: Recipes for Everyday Home Caregiving by Laurel Robertson with Carol Lee Flinders & Brian Ruppenthal, R.D.
Sooner or later all of us will either care for a loved one at home or be cared for, when we are ill or recovering from illness. This is a wonderful resource for those times with love and common sense shining through the recipes and advice about how to coax someone with no appetite to eat, how to handle chronic nausea, what foods are suitable for particular illnesses or recoveries, and so much more.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, PH.D.
This is a classic book on assertiveness with all the techniques and great examples. This is the book that helped me stand up to my emotionally abusive family. It contains an assertiveness bill of rights that I found revolutionary


Smiling Faces

June 21, 2012
My grandpa holding Lakshmana

My grandpa holding Lakshmana

Aunt Gin had a serious look on her face and I thought, “Uh oh. What now?”

“I know your mom talked to you about your grandpa,” she began.

Oh no. I knew where this was going. Mom had talked to me but I had tried to forget what she’d said. I just assumed it was more of her drama. It couldn’t be true.

“Maybe you didn’t believe her,” she continued. “I know you don’t always get along. But I can tell you that everything she told you the other day is true. From the day your grandpa came to live with us he tried to get us to have sex with him.”

The ugly words came spilling out and I wanted to stop up my ears. I couldn’t match these words with the grandpa I knew. I couldn’t imagine him ever doing such a thing. He’d never done anything to me, that I knew for sure.

As if reading my mind, Aunt Gin continued, “We didn’t think he’d never do anything to you because he saw you as his granddaughter from the time you were born.”

“So then why,” I thought, “are you both telling me?” I remembered the pictures of Grandpa in the bathtub with me back when I was a toddler. Why would mom let those pictures be taken, then? Why would she chance leaving me alone with him, if all of this is true?

“Even now, if he goes to give me a kiss he tries to give me tongue,” she continued, planting that nauseating image in my head for all time. This couldn’t be happening, these things couldn’t be true. Not my grandpa!

“For years he’s told me that one day, he’s gonna get me.” Aunt Gin looked at me and frowned. “I know this must be a shock for you.”

I wanted to ask why they were telling me, and why now? There wasn’t anything I could do about it. My baby was a boy and therefore safe, right? We lived all the way in California. So why even tell me? But why did anybody in my family do anything? I was tired of trying to understand.

“We never told your grandma because it would destroy her. We’ve protected her all these years.”

In hindsight, I can’t imagine that he tried without success to molest his stepdaughters. Adults who want to do this and have that much access to children generally succeed. Since they hadn’t told, he had years to try. But that horrible thought didn’t occur to me then. I was in such shock that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I also didn’t know much about child sexual abuse back then.

I don’t remember how this conversation ended or even what I managed to say in response. I was in shock and just remember these statements, words that rocked my world. Grandpa was like a father to me. I idolized him all of my life. I followed him around on the farm, even up to the roof of the barn. We walked out to the pasture, each with our own walking sticks, to bring in the cows. I watched him build things and dig holes for the fence posts. He took me to the cattle auction and we always got a hamburger afterward. He was Grandpa. He was known to be a good man, a World War II veteran, and by this time mayor of Wayland, MO. He told funny stories and was kind to everyone he met. I don’t think he ever spoke a cross word to me.

How could this man that I knew so well do the things my mom and my aunt were telling me that he’d done? How could I imagine my grandpa talking this way—to his own stepdaughters? They were eleven and nine when he and Grandma got together.

It’s like we were talking about two different people entirely. I couldn’t bring the two images together to form one person.

But by this time, I had to believe what I was hearing because I couldn’t imagine both of them lying to me. There was no motive I could see and my aunt had never lied to me about something so serious. She might lie to keep Christmas secrets, perhaps, or tell little white lies, but not something vicious like this! And unlike my mom, she wasn’t the type of person to make up things or exaggerate things for attention.

I remember I felt nauseated when she drove me back to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house. I didn’t know how to act around him as I absorbed this information. I felt awkward and exposed. I was a nursing mother in a small cabin with nowhere private to nurse my child. Our mattress was in the living room, a few feet from Grandpa’s chair. Now I felt self-conscious nursing Lakshmana in front of Grandpa. Did he look at me differently now that I was an adult? Had he been restraining himself all of these years? I felt sad for Grandma, too, not knowing that her own girls were in danger, bravely trying to keep this secret that would blow apart her marriage. Now the secret was mine, an unwanted burden at a time when I just wanted to find joy in my beautiful little boy.

I tried my best to act normal for the next few days. I must have succeeded because no one seemed to notice anything wrong.

One evening Lakshmana developed a fever. He was fussy and the fever began to rise quickly. After talking it over we decided to take him to the hospital. Once they saw him and examined him, they told me he had an ear infection and needed to be admitted. By that time his fever was up to 103°F. Because I was breastfeeding they told me I could stay with him and they’d move a recliner into his room so I could get some rest.

Grandma got some quarters so I could use the pay phone to tell Mahasraya what was happening. Predictably, he was unhappy that I was resorting to Western or “allopathic” medicine. But even he admitted that where I was, without medicinal herbs or a “natural” doctor, I had no choice. I had emphasized what the doctor told me about a high fever being dangerous. We didn’t always agree on this subject so I was careful to state the dangers and make my case for going to the hospital.

I barely got any sleep on the recliner for the next two nights until the antibiotics kicked in. At times his fever went so high they gave him ice baths to get it down quickly. Sometimes they were reluctant to let me hold him because my body heat would reinforce his own, but they wanted me to nurse him for the benefit to his immune system. They were surprised a breast fed baby was even this sick.

He got so hot at times that it was uncomfortable to touch him and I felt the heat of his mouth like a burning ember at my breast. He was in pain and crying in a way that broke my heart. The highest his temperature went was, briefly, 105°F. The nurses told me that babies can tolerate a higher fever than adults can, though they were clearly concerned.

One morning his temperature began to go down and he even looked cheerful. I was so relieved, and happy to go call his dad to let him know. I didn’t realize how scared I was until it was over. Grandma came and we took some pictures.

In the hospital

Lakshmana in the hospital

Soon we were leaving the hospital behind and headed to Grandma’s. It was almost time to go back home, in fact. Grandma had been busy while we were at the hospital—she’d made me some long skirts and matching blouses like she knew I wore when I didn’t wear a sari. They were really nice. Not for the first time I envied her sewing ability. I’d flunked sewing in home economics class.

I’d almost put the issue with Grandpa out of my mind while I was focused on Lakshmana’s fever, but here he was, acting the same as always, and I was confronted by the surreal nature of our lives as everyone who knew this secret pretended so well not to—and Grandpa pretended so well that he could never think of such things, much less act on them. I wanted to go home.

Soon we were on our way and I tried to put as much of this awkward trip behind me as I could. I had other things to think about and I couldn’t do anything about Grandpa or Dad or my frustrating relationship with Mom. I shoved them all to the back of my mind and looked forward to seeing Mahasraya. Home seemed almost peaceful.

Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within
Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
They don’t tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof

–The Undisputed Truth, in Smiling Faces Sometimes


Cat’s In The Cradle

June 21, 2012
Lakshmana at Grandma & Grandpa's Cabin

Lakshmana at Grandma & Grandpa’s Cabin

Lakshmana and I had a long trip to reach our family. First we took TWA to St. Louis and then we had a two hour layover before we connected with a propeller jet that took us to Quincy, IL. Grandma met us at Quincy and drove us to Wayland where she and Grandpa had a log cabin behind their antique shop. Just down the street her sister, Dorothy, and brother-in-law, Wayne, had their own antique shop. On the sides of barns around the area one could see the sign “Two antique shops in Wayland.” Above my grandparents’ shop was a one bedroom apartment where my mother lived. When my mom came back from her trip to see me in L.A. she urgently needed a place to live so she ended up there. Previously my cousin Teresa and her husband lived there but they had purchased a home nearby.

Knowing that I slept on the floor my grandparents had put a mattress in the living room for our use. I put my stuff nearby and listened as Grandma started to worry about dinner.

“I just don’t know what I’m going to feed you.” This was a common refrain no matter how many years I had been a vegetarian. It never varied and always carried a subtle dig that I was a bother and that I should just be like the rest of the family.

I told her not to worry; I had brought some things and could supplement them with vegetables from their garden or pantry. I cooked for myself although I offered to share.

Grandma took one look and said, “It looks like someone already ate it.”

If I remember correctly it was a lentils-and-rice dish. No messier than her pots of beans, but since I made it and I belonged to “that crazy religion” it must be awful. I got the same negative reaction to my blackberry herb tea.

I had already heard Grandma complain about how she had nearly passed out on the plane ride to Arizona where she had to meet my mom and drive her back. Mom saw some horrible accident and just broke down emotionally after viewing a mangled body. She called Grandma and told her she couldn’t drive back. I had long been pulled between them in their ongoing war, first on one side, then on the other. I had mostly sympathized with Grandma when I was having my own problems with Mom. It took several more years for me to begin to see Grandma’s part in their tortured relationship. At this point, however, I was outraged that Grandma had to risk her health and drive Mom home from a trip I thought she should never have made in the first place.

Somewhere along the way I heard Grandma’s most common complaint.

“I just worry all the time about you and your mom and your aunt Gin.” She would go over to the Serenity prayer plaques she had collected on one wall. “I just try to remember to accept the things I can’t change,” she continued, while making it obvious to everyone concerned that she did no such thing. “I don’t know why the Lord gives me so much to bear.” Obviously we were all supposed to feel very, very bad for making her worry so much.

I used to try to argue that I was just fine but I knew that would lead to an argument about my “crazy religion.” Previously I had pointed out that because of my religion I wasn’t using drugs or alcohol, behaving promiscuously, and so on. Shouldn’t she be glad I wasn’t doing those things? But that backfired as I had to hear that by rejecting “our Lord Jesus Christ” I was going to hell. I would protest that I had nothing against Christ, but that fell on deaf ears.

Grandma knew almost nothing about my religion, but that didn’t stop her from passing judgment. She also wouldn’t let me tell her anything. “I don’t want to know nothing about that crazy religion,” she would say.

When it came to baby food I had to put my foot down.

“Lakshmana can only have fruits and vegetables,” I said. “We have a ceremony at six months to introduce grains into his diet for the first time.”

I passed that warning on to Aunt Dorothy when we went over to visit. Their home was a part of the antique shop at that time. However, while I was distracted someone gave him a cracker and he already had some in his mouth before I realized. Half the cracker was gone so obviously Lakshmana swallowed some. I was so upset that his Annaprashan ceremony was ruined. It was akin to ruining someone’s christening ceremony or baptism. No one in my family took it seriously, of course. My religion had no meaning for them and my feelings about this moved them even less. After all, I was a brainwashed zombie in their eyes so my thoughts and feelings were dismissed as meaningless.

I was already beginning to regret coming to visit.

I had a packed schedule of visits planned, and first up after Grandma’s was Aunt Gin. Of all my relatives I got along with her the best. Grandma dropped me off the next day. Aunt Gin was happy to see me and we had a good time catching up. My grandpa Glen (my biological grandpa) had passed away recently and we went to visit his grave and bring flowers. She told me all about what happened because she was working as a nurse in the emergency room when he was brought in. An ulcer he didn’t even know he had punctured and he was bleeding internally. She said she knew from his low blood pressure that he wasn’t likely to survive. It was a huge shock.

“Your mom wrote him a letter a few weeks before he died, telling him off for everything he did that made her unhappy. That was the last he heard from her.” Aunt Gin sounded disappointed.

I thought to myself that after all I’d heard about his beatings, I couldn’t really blame her. It was just bad timing. How could my mom know that was going to happen?

“It’s too bad they didn’t get a chance to work it out before he died,” I said.

The conversation turned to my dad, not someone I wanted to talk about.

“So I heard from your dad that you’re going to see him while you’re here,” Aunt Gin said.

“Not exactly. I just told him that to get him off the phone.” My dad had called me after getting the phone number from my family. He saw Lakshmana’s birth announcement in the local paper. What a surprise that phone call was—first time I’d heard from him in years. Of course I felt like he only wanted to talk to me because I’d given birth to his first grandchild—a grandson. It didn’t make me feel like he cared about me at all. So I didn’t really want to see him.

“Don’t make your mother’s mistake,” Aunt Gin said. “You have a chance to see your dad while he’s still alive and you should take it.”

“It’s too late for me. He’s a stranger.” I didn’t even want to talk about him.

“I hope you don’t regret it,” she replied.

We moved on to other members of the family. But a few hours later, who should drive up but my dad, George McPherson. My heart sank. Obviously Aunt Gin was in on this. I couldn’t understand why—it’s not like he kept in touch with my family over the years. Maybe losing her own father was making her want to meddle with mine.

Feeling resigned I watched as she invited him in and he of course wanted to give me a hug like we had a relationship or something. He always did this when he saw me—acted like he always loved me and wanted to be around me, always giving me a big hug. Where this feeling was the rest of the time he was busy ignoring me, I’ll never know. It’s given me a life-long loathing for hypocrisy. I won’t so much as write “love” at the end of a letter unless I really feel it.

Having endured the awkward hug and the embarrassment of being caught in the act of ducking our proposed visit, I was pretty much forced to go home with him so he could visit with us and see Lakshmana. I don’t pretend to remember the conversation—it was so awkward that I have mercifully forgotten. Just imagine the most stilted, unnatural conversation with an incompatible stranger you’re supposed to be related to. We had a bit of a drive over the Mississippi to Hamilton, where he lived with his fourth wife. I’m ashamed to say I’ve totally forgotten her name, so let’s call her Helen. Why Helen? Because some guy on TV just mentioned Helen Mirren.

Helen turned out to be a godsend for me because we hit it off instantly and it saved me from being alone with my father. She was interested in astrology and so we launched into a conversation over dinner. My dad contented himself with paying attention to my son and that suited me just fine.

After dinner Dad was scheduled to be at a baseball game. He was very involved in the local baseball scene and had official duties of some kind—I wasn’t paying attention. He asked me if I’d like to go along and I declined, instead spending a quiet evening with my baby. Helen also had someplace to be. Obviously my visit was timed very well for them.

Later my dad got home and I drank some tea and suffered through another awkward conversation.

Suddenly he shocked me by directly addressing the elephant in the room.

“I know I haven’t been a good father,” he said.

There was a huge lump in my throat. I was trying not to cry, not in front of this stranger. I wanted to ask the question that had been haunting me for years but I couldn’t speak. My throat was still clogged with unshed tears. My brain screamed for me, “Why?” But no one heard.

The horrible moment passed when I didn’t respond, looking down at my son’s head, and my dad changed the subject. Looking back I’m surprised there wasn’t an “I’m sorry” or “I know my absence must have hurt you” or an excuse of some kind.

Soon I said I was tired and should put my son to bed and escaped to the guest room. The next morning nothing was mentioned and Helen was there to smooth it all over and take the only picture (I believe) that exists of my father and me.

Me with my dad and son

Me with my dad George and son Lakshmana

Soon it was time for me to go. I said I wanted to call someone I knew locally to come and get me. I called my 8th grade science teacher, an old friend, and he came right away. Soon I had escaped the visit and was catching up with my friend, who I’ll call Felix. He drove me back to my aunt’s house where I let myself in and showed him a picture of my husband since he’d never met him. Aunt Gin wasn’t home so after Felix left I had some quiet time to think about things. What a relief to have that visit behind me.

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

–Harry and Sandy Chapin

Man in the Moon


“I’m Going To Call Him George”

June 21, 2012
Lakshmana at 4 months

Lakshmana at 4 months

The morning after I gave birth to my son, reality set in. I was so bruised inside I could hardly walk. I couldn’t get up from the floor using my own muscles without extreme pain so Mahasraya pulled me up as a dead weight. (I can’t say he never did anything nice for me!) That evening Srilekha and Mitravinda came over bearing food and supplies and I had to crawl over to the door to let them in. They did my laundry for me and brought me some hot food. This food was a godsend. They also gave me advice on the care of the umbilical cord stub and nursing, diaper changing and so on.

I was so amazed that I had received this miraculous gift of a beautiful son. I had feared that my illness and the meager food supply of the last few months would harm him, but my little boy was perfect. I named him Lakshmana. I had been reading the Ramayana and I knew his older half brother had been named Ramchandra. Since Lord Rama and Lakshmana were half brothers, I felt that it was appropriate to name Lakshmana in relation to his brother Rama, named Matt by his mother.

I called my family to tell them all about Lakshmana’s birth. Although his name was two simple syllables (with a silent A on the end), Grandma decided it was too difficult to pronounce.

“I’m going to call him George,” she said.

Shocked and offended, I knew I had to draw the line right away.

“That’s not the name we gave him,” I replied. “Lakshmana is just two syllables. It isn’t that hard.”

“George is a good name. It would make your Uncle George happy.” It was as if she didn’t even hear me. George was also the name of my estranged father. I knew I had to be firm.

“You can call him George if you want but we won’t be coming to visit you if you can’t use the name we gave him.” Manipulation: the only language my family understood.

“How do you say that name?” Grandma asked, defeated. I repeated it a few times until she got it.

We discussed the details of my trip back to see the family. She had decided it was better to send me a ticket to come there so everyone could see him rather than her coming to see us. Her travel agency told her babies could fly for free up to a certain age. We decided when he was four months old I could make the trip and stay for a couple of weeks.

I had a difficult time recovering. I was white as a sheet and ten days following the birth I hadn’t stopped bleeding. I went to the pay phone nearby and called Aunt Gin, who was a nurse. She told me I should see a doctor as soon as possible. We didn’t have a doctor so we went to the ER, the same place I’d gone before. Mahasraya carried Lakshmana in his arms the whole way since we didn’t yet have a stroller. At the hospital we said he was “a friend” since I wasn’t supposed to be with my baby’s father while I was on welfare. I was examined and they decided to admit me and give me pitocin overnight to help my uterus clamp down. I saw the obstetrician who had done my prenatal exam and told him that the baby came too fast to get to the hospital—a transparent lie since he knew some devotee women were doing home births.

Lakshmana wasn’t allowed to stay with me because he hadn’t been born in that hospital, so Mahasraya took him home. I couldn’t imagine how he was going to cope and I was in shock at being away from my baby so soon and against my will. I had to express my milk, which seemed impossible with the little hand pump they gave me. I had little success and my breasts soon became hard as rock, engorged with milk.

My room mate had just had a mastectomy and I thought it was cruel to put me in the same room while she was mourning the loss of her breast. Here I was, huge and engorged with milk. The doctor was impatient with her grief and told her that she could have it worse—there are people who’ve lost their sight! As young as I was, I knew there was something wrong with this comparison. The suffering of others didn’t make her suffering any less painful. Despite the different phases of life we were in, we got along well and talked for quite awhile.

By the next morning my bleeding had stopped and I was allowed to go home. Mahasraya arrived by car with Revati and they took me home. Lakshmana had been given goat’s milk on the advice of a natural doctor Mahasraya had recently met named Steve. I was not to nurse him for another night in order to be sure the medication was out of my system. I continued to try to express my milk with little luck. I couldn’t wait to be able to relieve the awful pressure. It took a couple of days to get back to normal and I narrowly escaped an infection as one breast became red and painful in some areas. I applied moist heat as the nursing book advised and it improved.

Steve advised me to use protein powder to help regain my strength. Lakshmana lost a bit of weight at first but as I felt better and better my milk improved and he started gaining. Soon he was a roly-poly four-month-old, laughing and enjoying his teething toys. It was time to take him to visit my family.

Grandma lived in Wayland, Missouri and Mom was staying in the apartment above their antique store. We got tickets to St. Louis on TWA and a connecting flight to Quincy, IL on a prop jet. It was my first visit as an adult and I wondered how things would go. I hadn’t seen my mother since her sudden visit during the previous year. Still, I had a beautiful new baby to show off. That had to count for something. This time, I reminded myself, I was home on my own terms. No one could make me stay against my will. That thought calmed me as the plane brought me closer to my difficult family.


Homebirth In Search Of A Home

June 21, 2012
Tapati pregnant January 1978

January 1978

We were still in the laundry room when I started having Braxton Hicks contractions more and more frequently. At about the same time my midwife, Manindra, let me know that she was moving to Hawaii and would be leaving shortly. This seemed rather sudden to me and I didn’t know what all was behind this move, but it made me anxious. I had just gotten to know her and was feeling confident about her skill. She told me that there was another midwife in the community, Revati dasi, and she could deliver my child. With that referral I went off to find Revati who, thankfully, was happy to take over my care. We had a meeting and she did an exam. She urged me to also see a doctor when my welfare and medical card came through.

Just after New Year’s Day, I got my retroactive welfare check and we found an apartment fairly quickly. It was a basic one bedroom and as a bonus had a built in bookshelf. There was no refrigerator but I had my own stove and we had heat and our own bathroom, so to me it was a palace. I’m not sure where we got it, but we had a makeshift platform bed from plywood and wooden blocks, and on that we put my foam pad from the laundry room. This would be where I’d have my baby. I was firmly in nesting mode, knowing that I had a limited time to make my new apartment into a home that was ready to receive a baby. I painted the bookshelf and a side table someone gave us, both white. I gathered my baby stuff—the women in the community had been quite generous and we also had a changing table. My family was sending packages too. Everything was finally coming together.

Mahasraya was taking over the bedroom to grow his psychedelic mushrooms, pulling up the carpet and sealing it off with plastic and duct tape, sterilizing everything, building a makeshift lab table with a plastic hood to grow the mycelium in. If everything wasn’t sterile, other things could grow in place of the mycelium he was trying to cultivate. He’d found a mail order source for the mycelium. Who knew if it was genuine or not? He got the address from an ad in High Times. I’d already objected to the idea on the grounds of not wanting to get busted and having our child taken away. I didn’t know what else there was to say. I would be having my baby in the living room.

I went to the doctor who said everything looked good and took my blood pressure and blood samples. I was still anemic and he asked me if I was taking iron—which I was. Everything looked good for the delivery. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that I was planning a home birth. This wasn’t a decision influenced by any doctrine of the Hare Krishna Movement. Devotee women were pretty evenly split on home birth versus hospital birth. I had read Suzanne Arms’ book Immaculate Deception about how modern interventions in the childbirth process often led to unnecessary C-sections and medicated births. I’d spent my entire pregnancy avoiding even over the counter medications for headaches or colds and I wasn’t going to put myself in a situation where I’d be urged to take drugs for the pain or to induce stronger contractions. I wanted my precious baby to be born free of adult-dosages of drugs, with a clear mind and body.

I barely had time to get settled before I went into labor Tuesday evening (January 10) while baking my very first loaf of bread from the Tassajara Bread Book. Mahasraya called our midwife, Revati, at the pay phone and we kept in touch through the early part of my labor. She came and checked on me but my contractions were still far apart. They started to pick up in the afternoon. I drank teas that were supposed to help with my labor but I suspect it was slow because I was still anemic. I was told not to eat solid food because it wouldn’t digest properly during labor. Revati brought an assistant named Svati with her in the early evening. Together they kept tabs on my baby’s heart rate and monitored my dilation. It had already been over 24 hours.

Near midnight on Wednesday I was fully dilated. I began what was to be a long ordeal of pushing. I pushed for nearly three hours with no progress. Revati explained that my baby was transverse, or turned in the wrong direction, and that pushing would help turn it. She also tried to massage my abdomen without success. I tried every position I could possibly get into in the hopes that gravity would help. The fetal heart rate remained strong. We all decided to continue and I followed my midwives’ lead. They said that as long as the fetal heart rate was good we were all right.

Finally my baby started through the birth canal. I continued pushing, exhausted but grimly determined. The baby seemed stuck after forty minutes of pushing and Revati reached in to find out what was holding things up. The baby had cupped its chin with one hand, wedging the head and shoulder in the birth canal. No wonder I felt like I was being split in two with every push! She managed to pull the hand down towards the opening and finally with a few more pushes my baby was free—and crying for all he was worth. It was a boy! I had a 9 pound, 22 inch son who looked more like he was a month old than like a newborn. His face was a very swollen and I took my first look at him and said, “Oh no, he looks just like my Mom!” But that was just the swelling. It didn’t matter; I was in love. We handed him over to Mahasraya, who’d ventured out from the bedroom, and I could hear Mahasraya say with awe, “He’s looking at me!”

Holding my new baby

Holding my new baby, Lakshmana

I got up to take a shower and was shaky. Revati made sure to check on me because I was in a bit of shock. I was shaking at times. I had lost some blood and I felt like I was drifting away. As I got cleaned up from the blood and feces involved in the birth, I happened to look down at my abdomen.

“Oh my God,” I thought. I had this sagging pouch that seemed to form a second belly button. I never really thought about what would happen to all that skin that had stretched and stretched and stretched to hold a 9 lb. baby! This was hideous! I had no idea how I’d ever get rid of it. Keep in mind, I was only 19 years old and feeling like my body might be ruined for life. Meanwhile my breasts had gone from a B cup to a double D. I didn’t know this new, strange body at all.

Back in my newly cleaned bed (we had wisely put clean sheets underneath plastic and newspaper and an old sheet on top that we simply threw away) I snuggled with my precious newborn and could hardly rest for all the excitement of the long labor. The first solid food I had was a grilled cheese sandwich that Mahasraya made from the bread I had baked when I went into labor. I was in bliss. I slept in brief little snatches, waking quickly if my baby moved or made even the tiniest sound, coaxing him to nurse when he seemed hungry. Like all new mothers I was ever vigilant, terrified of that silent killer, sudden infant death syndrome or crib death. My older half-brother had died while very young from a respiratory disease so I wasn’t going to let my guard down. My pad was on the floor so that there was nowhere for my baby to fall.

A few days later I wrote the following poem, influenced heavily by what I had read about hospital births as well as our beliefs about the material world and advaita philosophy, which we called “impersonalism.”

First Birth

In the midst of pain
The greatest material joy
The closest to true love
I hear his cry; my heart jumps
My little expansion
Part of a bond that seems eternal
I feel his body near mine
Firstborn from my womb
A reflection of my soul
The pain is far away
Only our love is near
As we meet and unite
The cord is cut between us
But a psychic bond remains
Absolute trust and faith
The bond grows minute-by-minute
Our bodies close together
These precious first hours
I imagine the emptiness
Of hospital separation
Impersonalism from the start
The child cries for the mother
The mother drugged and empty
Each alone and unfulfilled
They meet as strangers
Awkward at first
While we are at ease
Already one

For now, all was well with the world. I had my home and my baby and my husband all together. I had great hope for the future and relief that the worst was behind me.


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