Memoire 2: Waking
Waking is a very intense, yet powerful testimony to the benefits of yoga practice and philosophy, which is more obvious to a student such as myself because of the focus of our BIC course. His integration of the idea of silence and healing stories with his journey toward the practice of yoga makes his narrative personal and insightful. The introduction prepares the reader for what is to come by introducing the reader to a totally different way of considering the connection between physical and spiritual bodies and the consciousness. The introduction to the book seems to convey extremely ambiguous ideas and concepts, but when the novel is read from beginning to end, every thought is connected and the themes of his story become clear and complete.
The traumatic experience of the car crash and the physical pain Matthew endures following the accident are, of course, extremely intense parts of his story – he describes the experience as a “traumatic rupture between his mind and body.” But the physical experiences he recounts reflect something much deeper and impact his entire life in many different ways in addition to the fleeting moments of intense pain. There are a few instances where the overall themes of his story [as well as ideas influenced by the philosophy and practice of yoga] are introduced in the beginning chapters. As he is taken off of the respirator, he is aware of his breath and gains an appreciation for breathing on one’s own. Control of one’s breath is an important practice for meditation, and it is one that made the biggest impression on me at the beginning of my practice. Control is also reflected when he describes his body cast as it creates boundaries for his broken body. The halo cast is the second measure taken to stabilize Matthew’s health and his account of the event is clearly important, as it is referred to throughout his life. The halo cast experience is his first encounter with the concept of separation. Not only can he feel the physical pain of having screws drilled into his skull, but he feels his mind and his “landing into profound silence.” These first important events guide the rest of his story and offer an important observation: they are a description of the dependence we have – even if we don’t realize it until something dramatic happens to alter our views such as becoming paralyzed – on the connection with the mind and body.
The theme of connection is clear throughout the story. Matthew’s surviving family is also deeply affected by the accident and throughout their lives, they experience dreams/visions that he explains as “this longing for a connection deeper than random” that “defines the human condition.” Although the meaning of dreams and visions is unknown and inexplicable, the instances recalled seem to make some connection to the accident and are used to give his family some sense of meaning/control. Connectedness and continuity are closely related, particularly in regard to memory. The phantom feelings seem paradoxical – his body wants to remember his limbs and the mind-body relationship that still exists, but the relationship is forgotten. After his second surgery his body remembers the traumatic events leading up to and after the accident and reflects that memory through physical movements and restlessness.
As Matthew begins physical therapy and the process of physical healing, the reader can see instances that relate directly to yoga. Perhaps his experiences have prepared him for overcoming some of the initial obstacles of yoga practice because he begins his instruction with relative ease and confidence. The wheelchair is one of the first instances where he felt his cumbersome [new] body and the unnatural feeling of first encountering his disability. This is also an experience of many beginning yoga students. He is also uncomfortable with the aggressiveness that is encouraged during physical therapy, and he seeks a more balanced, smooth, tranquil emphasis – major characteristics of Iyengar yoga that help alignment and precision. He has to try to sit up gracefully, and move slowly and steadily.
The loss of his childhood and the pursuit of a “normal” life to make up for such losses reflect a sense of grief that he struggles with his entire life. He feels as if he has lost his childhood and he and his family must grieve the loss of people and ability. His teenage years offer the opportunity to regain what he lost and live a “normal” teenage life, the life he would have had. He is constantly haunted with thoughts about what his life would have been like, which is his motivation to do his best. He lives a relatively normal dating life and eventually attends college at the University of Minnesota, but achieving all of these things and living what many would call a “normal” life was unfulfilling and deceiving – there really is no way to justify that he lives a normal life when all that has happened to him and his family cannot be erased. He begins to experience more divisive feelings regarding accomplishments and feels “heavy” – definitely burdens that reflect a steady progression to the healing effects of yoga practice and philosophy. He develops a negative attitude and negative outlook on life, but he realizes that “paradoxically, this difficult period also marked the beginning of my efforts to heal the dislocation between my mind and body.”
This is the point where he changes his major to philosophy because he felt that he had something to offer and he needed a way to explore his feelings. This was most interesting to me considering the class for which I am writing this reflection, yoga and philosophy. It seems that the change to philosophy was another move that prompted his interest in yoga and the desire to reconnect with his body through the mind. After beginning graduate school, he recounts two events that were extremely important to his realization of his need for yoga. After leaving graduate school and the death of his stray cat, he decides to pursue yoga – it is so interesting how throughout his life he has reached some extraordinarily profound conclusions and throughout the story has expressed such deep thoughts, but these two simple events are what made him realize that he needed yoga. It seems that his whole life he has been preparing subconsciously for the practice and philosophy of yoga.
His physical experiences with his first practices in yoga allow the reader to realize some things that would never be known without his account. Something as simple as “taking his legs wide” really demonstrates the less obvious consequences of being paralyzed – he had not spread his legs that wide in years and he probably had never felt such openness experienced through yoga (such as when you open your chest and make your hands feel like trees). The third part of his book conveys some powerful and resonant ideas that I feel are important to point out:
“Consciousness does not abandon us. It is only denied.”
“Healing is not instantaneous. It is earned.”
The mind and body is conscious.
These are just a few ideas that I took note of while reading – they reflect the deeper realizations that came to him through the practice of yoga. He is being forced to confront his lower body, which he has been ignoring. It takes diligence and consistent focus and practice without judgment. Once he understands these concepts of practice, he makes an interesting observation about his experiences with the medical world and its limitations: “We don’t know how a potentially deepened relationship between mind and body should affect how we administer medical treatment.”
Matthew’s story is moving, and begins powerfully and ends powerfully. He writes with such personality and appreciation – he speaks with a voice of a young boy, yet at the same time with the reflective voice of a wise man. One might initially encounter this book with the initial impression that it is just another story about a traumatic experience, some sort of miracle story. But the most important themes of the book are seen in the philosophy of yoga, something that may not be realized by someone who has not studied the philosophy of yoga and its teachings. He experiences energetic feelings, connectedness, consciousness, mind and body relationship building, emphasis on alignment and precision, the release of trapped energy.
Perhaps the most important effect of Matthew’s story for me is realized when he talks about how good life must be in a normal body. But then (speaking about a girl) he thinks to himself, “what does she know, she has no idea.” Many who read this narrative may feel a sensation characterized by gratefulness and appreciation for what a paraplegic doesn’t have – the ability to control one’s body, and everything else that accompanies such a luxury. But I was moved in a different way – his reflections are expressed in a way that makes me think about his experiences differently from other trauma stories. They created a deep, self-reflective sense of motivation and inspiration rather than appreciation.