I spoke to the director who seemed perturbed that she would have to pay me when Andrew had been kinder and had volunteered, but I held firm and she hired me on anyway. (One of the things that Kim, my Reiki Master and good friend taught me is that there is nothing wrong to expect payment (or an exchange) for the work that we do. That this ‘woo woo’ thinking of needing to give away our talents isn’t valid and that the universe works on an exchange system and giving value to the work that we do is not wrong. I endorse this belief to this day. Volunteering is a lovely thing, but it needs to come from within.)
Teaching at the Wellness Place was one of the most enriching things I have done. It also was a difficult job. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to offer the students what they were looking for and that my teaching would be too intense. It was the hardest and most humbling class that I have taught. I wasn’t a gentle teacher by nature and liked to move somewhat quickly from pose to pose. Even when my teaching transitioned to holding poses for longer periods, I worried that this was too challenging. (It takes a gifted teacher to teach gently with depth and substance.)
The essence of the class comprised three students, Annette,Runai and Jenna. They would come week after week and after awhile we got to know each other. One week I focused on Reiki and attuned them and we practiced on each other. For a time when the building was being renovated we ended up going to my house for class.
They were a delightful group to work with, both fragile and hardy at the same time. Annette was a very thin and finicky woman. She was in her 70’s and after her diagnosis she made it her life mission to battle cancer. “Fight it” was her purpose for living. She was diligent about embarking on all that was healthy, so committed to battling cancer. Her spouse a genteel man was about her same age, he had a beard and carried a worried look, he used to drive her to and from class. Annette was a stanch supporter of all that she believed in and luckily I was one of the people she supported. She would show up week after week to my class. By nature, my usual classes were rigorous—more extreme to yang or yin—long holds or arm balances with floppy mindful ends to class. Neither is easy to be in, for many yin is even more difficult than yang. It was a challenge for me to teach people who were in a delicate state, both in body and mind and to scale back what I taught. To teach to those angry, those scared, those raw. Those strong, because they didnt have a choice to be any other way. It was deeply humbled by the experience. I was nervous before each class even a year or two after starting there.
Annette sadly succumbed to cancer after the first year—before she died she keep a journal that her husband sent to us. The journal was a lesson in mindfulness—as her body started to shutdown her mind became more in tuned to its sharpened but declining senses. Her last entry shared the noises she heard, the birds outside her window, the cars passing by, the sounds of her husband’s footsteps, and the feel of her bones while the smells of death approached. Poignant, pure and raw her final words were a teaching in how to live richly and not wait until the curtain starts to slowly close.
Runai, a Japanese woman whose name means beauty and power was and is one of my biggest inspiration in how ‘you can do anything’ with fortitude. She was very small as was Annette, and too willing to do just about anything to live. She has 4th stage lung cancer and was a non smoker. She, like the rest of the women, was willing to integrate Western practices like chemo, radiation and surgery with holistic care. The group was open to Reiki, aromatherapy, and nutrition and even experimental treatments but they were also staunch believers in allopathic medicine. Runai was married to a man from Germany who she met there over 40 years before. They were an intellectual match, he a brilliant scientist, who spoke 4 languages. Soon after moving to America though her husband had a debilitating stroke. No longer able to speak or walk their relationship changed dramatically. She became the primary caregiver for him and their daughter. By the time I met her, her daughter was grown albeit still somewhat dependent on her and she continued to take care of her spouse, whose health continued to decline. Weighing in less than a 100 lbs. Runai did almost all of the custodial care for him as she continued to cook his special meals from his homeland. Her need to live was altruistic and based on duty, which in part was stereotypic to her culture—she exemplified stoicism. Runai’s purpose for living was to serve. Who would take care of him when she was gone, she would wonder.
Her husband had grown more demanding and cantankerous over the years and the only self care that she allowed was the weekly haven found in our Friday morning yoga class. Runai so cherished the class that one week when we had a snow storm that shut down the city she called me and said that she might not be able to make class that day, as the plow hadn't come on her street. So Incredulous was I that she would even consider that class was still on that day. Runai died shortly after I moved to Cleveland. Another teacher Diane had taken over the class by then and she and Jenna notified me of her death. I still think of Runai from time to time and remember that the will is stronger than the body and all things are possible.
Jenna was the youngest of the students, alittle older than I. Jenna was a loyal friend, a devoted mother and a survivor. A practical hippie her story I suspect runs deep. From Alaska, she is one tough woman as all the women I met there were. She would say in class that she would weep when she saw the trucks stuff with pigs that would drive by our town. I did not understand the full impact of factory farming back then. Not the way that I do now. My memory of Jenna is a tough woman with a soft heart.
A few years after I left Philly, while living in Cleveland as a graduate nursing student at Case Western, I was able to do a clinical at the Gathering Place a similar type community. My role was one of counseling rather than yoga teacher, but the threads of inspiration, hope and in some ways redemption were the same. I would wonder, ‘do amazing people get cancer or can cancer turn people into amazing people?’ Hope, strength, fortitude can be found in the depth of dis-ease. The impact of cancer on its victims and survivors is a redeeming thread that gets some through and now helps me to understand the importance of living in in the now.
Here is a link to one published by EJ. They asked for me to 'dig deeper' to what it really meant to teach to these ladies, and I am glad I did as I found wonderful pearls of wisdom once I reflected inward...