Saturday, May 25, 2013

On Turning Fifty-Nine -- Like a Fine Wine?

Turning fifty-nine years of age is as good a time as any to reflect on where one is at in their life.

The last half of the last decade of my life was an especially 'picaresque' one (picaresque: realistic, and often humorous details of the adventures of a roguish hero of low social degree living by his or her wits in a corrupt society).

Yep, that about sums it up. Though, as per the definition, it begs for details:

That last half of the last decade of my life started out in a rather auspicious way. I traveled to India to join Yogi Amrit Desai (Founder of Kripalu Yoga) and a small entourage of people who were taking a 'lineage tour' of the places in India that were of seminal importance toYogi Desai's formidable spiritual development. Among the places we visited were the village where Amrit Desai grew up; the Temple in Malav dedicated to his guru, Shrii Kripalvanandji; and, the final leg of the journey for me, the Temple of Kayavarohan. Kayavarohan is a very special place' so please check out the video I linked it to.

It was the last leg of the journey for me because, while we were in a brief layover in Mumbai, I telephoned my 86-year old mother. She was completely disoriented, and living alone. I was writing a book on Yogi Desai and Kripalu, and I'd done the research I needed to do, so I decided to skip the next leg of the tour and return home.

While we were in Kayavarohan, Yogi Desai was gifted with a large Shiva icon to take back to the Amrit Yoga Institute in Florida. Yogi Desai didn't want to continue traveling with the 80 pound base of the statue in tow, so he asked if I'd take it back with me and then ship it to him in Florida.


Shiva icons are made from Joytilingams -- black meteorite shards in the shape of phalluses. They are essentially Penises from Outer Space. What I was taking back with me was the base for one of these phallic icons, or it's female counterpart, Shakti. Essentially an 80-pound vagina. Yogi Desai explained to me in great (mind-blowing) detail what to tell customs agents if they asked about it.

So here I am returning to the States with an eighty-pound vagina to take care of my ailing eighty-year-old mother. (Dr. Freud, I dare you to take this one on...). Needless to say, when I got to customs in New York and was greeted by a gruff Brooklyn customs agent, I said 'It's just a freagin' rock.'

I should have expected things to get 'loopy' after that, though there was no way I could have predicted how much so.

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers, and I had to make the decision to either take care of her in her home, or give in to the prevailing cultural (and familial) whim to have her institutionalized.

I decided to keep her at home and take care of her myself with the help of local social services. This so infuriated another member of my family, an older sibling, that I was literally in and out of court every three months or so protecting my mother's right to stay in her own home, and my right to take care of her.

In the end, I was not only exhausted emotionally and physically, but rendered destitute. I no longer had a place to live and I was broke.

I then had to lean on social services again, and learn how to humbly rely on 'the kindness of strangers'. I document this experience in a memoir, 'An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net'.

So what does all this have to do with turning fifty-nine and fine wine?

I guess it's okay when you are in your thirty's and forty's, and you've practiced yoga or some other spiritual discipline, to set up shop somewhere and hang out a shingle declaring yourself a spiritual teacher. But I think that at some point in your life it's time to take down the signs and just live it.

If there is someone in your life you love who is terminally ill, don't let them be placed in a 'warehouse for the infirmed and aged'. Take care of them. There are many social problems that need addressing in our culture. If any of them affect you personally, then commit yourself to changing them. My personal experience of dementia and destitution has made me acutely aware of how inadequate our social services system is in regards to responding to people with these needs, along with seeing how difficult and painful it is to live in illness and/or poverty in our society.

Fine wine? Well, you can't even make a mediocre wine without crushing some grapes.

Please share a 'crushed-grapes' story on my Facebook Page: An Invitation to Odyssey.

Or, if you feel inclined, join my group: Advocate for Economic Fairness!


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