So much has happened this week. The Egyptian populace erupted in a fight for their rights as Egyptian citizens and we mourned those who lost their lives in the 1986 Challenger explosion. Talk about extremes.
I remember only the good about my travels through Egypt. I have had the privilege of traveling twice in my lifetime to this incredible and fascinating country (once in 1963 and once in 1980). The Egyptian people and their magnificent history hold a special place in my heart. When I visited Egypt on both occasions, I was taken with their spirit and energy. Egypt wanted to rise again to greatness, and when bore witness to country with great potential. After all, it is surrounded by feats of greatness and monuments built to bear witness to that greatness. I was absolutely charmed one evening as a group of Jewish women, my self included, broke bread with a Muslim family in 1980. The conversation was intelligent and caring. My experiences in Egypt were truly inspirational.
As I watched the Egyptians take to the streets and document their rising up against a government that had violated their human rights and kept them in poverty and failed to raise the standard of living for its people, I was angry and saddened. A proud and graceful nation was mired in poverty and inequality. They didn’t deserve their leader’s ineptitude and corruption. They once built the pyramids and moments to their kings and queens. They developed a civilization that was so far ahead of its time in learning and culture that its waste of intelligence and creativity is bordering on criminal.
And I remember the Challenger exploding on January 28th, 1986. I was attending American Film Institute that year as a Producing Fellow. I was shooting my second film at my rented house. The crew and myself were setting up food in the kitchen for the day and my little TV was on. Everyone was excitedly anticipating the shooting schedule for the day, but we all made time to see the Challenger lift off. We stood around the TV, and when that moment came, we were mesmerized by the trajectory of the missile and its long trails of white smoke. Then in something like less than a minute later, we witnessed an exploding ball of fire. It was intense, made more so by the backdrop of azure sky. None of us were sure what was happening. Most of us thought it was part of what came off as a rocket ship hit a certain altitude. But the explosion meant that the Challenger was literally disintegrating in front of our eyes.
As I watched the film again on Friday, I was still rooting for the Challenger to launch into space and still in denial that in less than seconds the Challenger was going to disintegrate. I held my breath just as I held my breath that January morning in my kitchen. Knowing the outcome of that space mission didn’t make it any easier to watch on Friday and didn’t less the impact or sadness. It was as real today as it was 25 years ago. I stood straight up and walked out of my living room. I wanted it to go away but it was never going to go away.
By now, you all are well aware that I am a yoga teacher. I practice meditation and yoga many times a day with my class and by myself (well, not flow yoga so much but the meditation). Last Thursday in class, as I was vamping my bon mots to an attentive group of yoga practicioners, I quipped:
“Do you know the secret of a happy life?”
Everyone looked up at me like I had completely lost my mind.
“A straight spine! And let’s not forget an open heart.”
Everyone laughed because by now my students absolutely knew what I was talking about. A spine that is straight is a happy spine. It is a spine that is unobstructed by resistance, by negativity, by imbalance and a straight spine will bring good health for a lifetime. A straight spine indicates that the core of our bodies, the spiritual position in our bodies, is directly connected to the sacrum – the lowest part of the spine just below the lower lumbar. And in the parlance of yoga, that area is the kundalini – the source of energy in our being. The kundalini is the source of our happiness, of our passion, and of our balance.
An open heart. We’ll that’s a fine and nobel concept but to keep our hearts open takes an abundance of consciousness and a dearth of ego. Our hearts represents a generosity of spirit, forgiveness, compassion and gratitude. That’s what I have now for the Egyptian people. It’s their turn to create a better life for themselves. That’s what I have for all those who worked so diligently and died so unexpectedly to create our space program
And we need our balance today to be emotionally healthy and happy, to practice forgiveness and gratitude daily. I cannot live without this; I cannot be happy without this feeling that my spine represents my my good health and my heart represented my joy. It is the secret of a happy life.
Our Egyptian friends are making the great fight for some semblance of democracy after so many decades of authoritarian rule that most Egyptians cannot endure any more violations of their rights as human being. Our memory of one of the most difficult periods in our American history fills us with so much sadness that it is almost beyond bearing. And I don’t think there is a week that goes by that I don’t remember the tragedy of 9/11 and the untold loss of life and suffering.
How do we live with our sadness and disappointment and wishes for everyone to have a joyful life? I remember after 9/11, when I was taking yoga teacher training, that our master teacher reflected that only we as individual beings can take care of ourselves. We can balance the joy and pain, the yin and the yang, the opposing forces of energy in our life being if we are conscious of the balance of our energies and if we daily extend our generosity of spirit to all who are taking care of themselves.