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The Dance of Lila


Summer delivered waves of joy as our nuptials approached and our families came together. Two daughters traveled home from overseas, one son graduated high school and a loving circle of friends gathered to help usher in our union. In the garden, cherry tomatoes seemed to multiply by the hour, their tiny stalks bowing wearily toward the ground. The smells of henna paste and incense infused the busy days of pre-wedding activity and dozens of colorful saris were hung from the sky, transforming our backyard into a sanctuary of bohemian celebration. Thousands of discrete moments pressed together in alchemy, welcoming the new and dissolving the old.

The natural response to an event of this magnitude is a combination of appreciation, humility and gratitude. I recognize the blessings of good health, comfortable living conditions and meaningful friendships. I see how a strong relationship transforms habitual, wound-based behavior into insight and optimism. I continue to recognize these things today, long after the wedding, along with hope for a fulfilling, purposeful life in togetherness. I carry immense gratitude for my family and the support of close friends, and feel an ever-lingering humility for the tenderness of the human heart. These points of light uplift our spirits and weight our perspectives toward faith when the world caves in around us. We feel supported, content, even happy. But the hidden truth is that the enjoyable experiences only rise to the surface because the ugly ones push them there.

As seekers, we are encouraged to peek underneath the shiny, pretty rocks that rest on the surface. This process often exposes a less pleasing view:  cold sticky mud, squirming worms, potato bugs curling up to armor themselves. These elements represent our resistance, our fear, our defensiveness -- things we spend copious resources trying to avoid (as the industries of fitness, diet products, alcohol and plastic surgery elucidate). Pry the rocks up and we find those icky bits that remain invisible under the sheen of the surface. If we are willing to get our hands dirty, we will tap into that rich, unlimited potential that teems with the wisdom of past experience. The first glance might make us squeamish, but getting beneath the public veneer is the secret to a more potent future.

So was the case with our sweet summer nuptials. After the sacred invocations and scattering of rose petals, after exchanging vows and taking prasad, after ushering our children off to their respective adventures, the trenches were full and waiting to be dug. Two lifetimes coming together requires space -- both physical and psychological -- and so began an extraction process that covered three generations, from my father's service in the Navy to children's graduations -- three kids in five years.

As the households merged, boxes multiplied until we had to forge a hallway between the stacks just to pass through. I wanted to build a fort and eat graham cracker sandwiches, but there was no avoiding the task of culling and clearly no way around it, only through. I started with hundreds of photos. Being adopted, I felt no personal connection to most of the faces, despite the statistically unlikely intersection that somehow makes us family. I had no compunction about tossing that first batch, but considering my parents' current decline while looking at pictures of their vibrant, carefree youth gave me pause. My memories became entangled with theirs as my mind flooded with living images:  an ice chest full of Heidelberg that saved my pinky finger after it was slammed in the door of our 1969 Ford Torino, forest adventures hunting Chanterelles or edible shamrocks, walks along the river in search of beavers constructing their dams, loading heavy chunks of basalt from the Cascade foothills for my dad's masonry projects. Each new stack brought more complicated feelings, until I realized it was most efficient just to stick with resentment at having to choose which story lines of my parents' life would be remembered . . . and which ones would be lost.

This continued for days. The more personal the material to be sorted, the more difficult the process became. Anything inscribed with the word mommy left me feeling raw and achy inside. Not that I want my daughters to remain small children, but that visceral maternal connection persists -- undiluted by time, age, or geographic distance. I dug through countless certificates, ribbons, trophies, stuffed animals, jewelry, race t-shirts and photographs. Things got even messier in the realm of the pre-divorce family, which exhumed old layers of guilt and sadness. I prayed -- retroactively -- for minimal harm in my anger and indignation, and the chance to amend where I'd messed up. The process dragged on until every item -- boxes of books, 24 years of homework, old CDs, American Girl dolls, 37 kinds of Lip Smackers -- had been touched . . . objects that once had meaning now prostrated to the future. My husband supported me in his own inimitable way, checking in occasionally as I cried my way through the copious stacks. No one can do the work for you, but it's nice to have a cup of tea delivered when you're hunched over a big plastic storage bin with mascara running down your face.

Like an excavation project, the big stuff waits beneath the surface until we have the equipment and capacity to deal with it. With the ground freshly overturned, we see larger patterns which have kept the smaller ones in place and -- if we're lucky -- we can choose to resolve, discard or integrate the new insight. Reckoning with ourselves in this way punctures the power of desire and aversion because we know what we are dealing with. Whether we like it or not, subconscious patterns play themselves out in our lives. If we see them, we have power. If we don't, we remain unwitting victims, constantly chasing the symptoms of a dissatisfied life. Self-reconciliation is the most intimate, beautiful and painful thing we may ever know.

Yoga calls this dance LilaLila (lee-la) represents the play of the cosmos and functions on all scales from the grand to the minuscule. If we avail ourselves to her, Lila shows us how light reveals darkness, how our present started in the past, how to braid frayed ends into a fresh beginning. Lila helps make our pain purposeful and confronts the assumption that every feeling is an event. She has no attachment to our happiness and no agenda for our suffering. She is Shakti, without color and without form, and she will grab whatever tools are needed to help us see the truth.

Now, with the households nearly merged, I'm finally tending to wedding thank-you notes. And even though she's not technically on my list, I know enough to make an offering to Lila. God knows she'll find me anyway.

With great respect and love,

Lakshmi

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