On May 19, 2013, Beth and I (along with our twelve awesome classmates) completed what began when we handed in our applications in December 2012: our 200-hour Illuminated Journey Yoga Teacher Training at Yogamaya New York. Graduating was a culmination of the last six months of our lives, during which we committed to a highly intensive and strenuous program, in the midst of our already busy lives and demanding careers.
Much like the last several months, the final weekend of this journey was a whirlwind, featuring our exam (and lengthy grading session), group projects, and graduation ceremony. By the end of the three days, my eyes had glazed over and I was experiencing a mix of emotions – one moment proud, elated, and relieved, the next moment bewildered, dazed, and confused. What in the world just happened??
When I got home Sunday night, I tuned into the latest episode of AMC’s period drama, Mad Men, an always strikingly-relevant depiction of life in advertising during the tumultuous late 1960’s. This week’s episode (read: spoilers ahead) takes place in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy’s shocking assassinations.
Parallel to the tragedies unfolding on the national stage, many of the characters are experiencing or remembering losses in their personal lives – from a relationship ending to abandoning a child to Vietnam War or illness-related deaths. Our main focus, however, is to follow Don Draper (the show’s central, tortured anti-hero) through a drug-induced, trippy, dreamlike romp through his past, present, and sought-after future, following the breakup of an emotionally-charged extramarital affair.
After the funeral of one of the agency’s creative stakeholders, we meet an unfamiliar face: a hippied-out, free love-peddling flower child who distracts the ad men (and women) from their work on Chevy by doing I-Ching readings (an ancient Chinese divination system).
When she unexpectedly turns up in Don’s office, offering to “get it on,” and guesses that his unspoken I-Ching question was “does someone love me?” (that’s everyone’s question), she approaches him with a stethoscope she grabbed from another floor and says, in a breathy whisper:
Hippie: (with stethoscope to Don’s heart) “I think it’s broken.”
Don: (pausing in disbelief) “You can hear that?”
Hippie: “No, I can’t hear anything. I think it’s broken (referring to stethoscope).”
A look of profound confusion and realization crawls across Don’s face. For perhaps the first time ever, he realizes not only that he has a heart (he’s had one all along, but we’ll save The Wizard of Oz reference for another time), but that it’s aching.
While the pain of his heartbreak is being felt in the present, Don is remembering a painful experience from his childhood. We (the audience) are implicitly asked to consider the idea that the pain Don is feeling in the present is intricately connected to something he bottled up in the past. From this perspective, his current heartbreak represents an outlet for a painful experience he did not allow himself to feel at that time. As (I am told) they might say in Alcoholics Anonymous, his floodgates are opening, and there’s no going back.
Before I decided to do Teacher Training, I went through a series of personal experiences that triggered my floodgates to open, unleashing a wave of unprocessed emotion. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where it came from; I did not have a particularly painful childhood and I considered myself a healthy, well-adjusted, successful adult. For some unknown reason, though, whatever stuff I had not looked at previously was coming up for review in a new form.
While purging all of that stuck emotion was often confusing and uncomfortable, I have since realized that it was tremendously heart-opening. Whereas, before, I was unconsciously negotiating around, intellectualizing, or denying many of my emotions, now, I feel everything.
I was reminded of this when I turned on the news this evening and welled up with tears listening to the tragic stories of the Oklahoma tornado victims. Not unlike Don Draper’s heyday in the late sixties, we are living through time of great upheaval and change, if manifesting in wildly different ways than we could have imagined back then. Even if I was not up to my eyeballs in a post-Teacher Training haze, I’d probably still be thinking (as many of you may be) what the fuck is going on in the world right now and what are we supposed to do about it?
As the second-to-last final project, two of my classmates, Stefanie and Bridget, had us do a meditation inspired by the Kundalini Yoga tradition. The mediation involved saying the words: “I am you” while holding the hands or forearms (or hand to heart if you really wanted to go for it) of the person opposite you and looking into his or her eyes for thirty seconds. Before we began, Stefanie (an Aquarius and fellow astrology buff) reminded us that we are in the Age of Aquarius, a time when, through practices like yoga, a quiet peace movement is spreading like wildfire.
Not unlike the experience of the sixties (as portrayed fictionally by Mad Men), a lot of us are waking up (literally and figuratively) to the distinct feeling that we are in the midst of a trippy, dreamlike state because of all the unbelievably fucked up things happening in the world. And similar to the hippie counterculture of the sixties, many of us feel like peace and love are still the answers. However, it is 2013, and the peace movement cannot and should not look like it did then. What does it look like now?
To me, it looks like breaking our hearts open and break[ing] on through (a phrase made even more poignant with this week’s passing of legendary 1960’s rock band The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek). It looks like allowing ourselves to feel so much that feeling becomes normal and we wonder what it was ever like before. To me it looks less like the Civil Rights Movement and Woodstock (monumental as they were) and more like using technology in creative ways to make our voices heard, and forming small, quiet but powerful peace movements like the one we created in Teacher Training and will now spiral outwards.
What we have now that we didn’t have in 1968 is the reality that I can feel your pain whether you are in Thailand or Oklahoma or Boston or North Korea or Syria. I can turn on my television or my computer or my smartphone and I can see you writhing in pain the instant tragedy strikes. When you suffer, I suffer. I am you.
It may not be the sixties and I’m no Don Draper (more like a Peggy Olson with Ken Cosgrove’s job). It is 2013, I have a heart (and a laptop), and I’m not afraid to use it.
What do you think? Share your ideas with us in the comments while you jam out to this rockin’ 1966 Doors tune. And if so inspired, spread the word.