16 Oct Death and Radiation
The other morning I woke up a little early in order to go to Yoga. As I walked up to the studio my neighbor from across the street was paying for parking, which was a surprise because I had never seen her there. Then, as I signed in, the people behind me introduced themselves. Turned out that they saw my name and are friends of my brother. It’s a small town and a small world.
This was an intermediate level class and I am decidedly still a beginner. It was hard today, really hard. I was huffing, puffing, and trying to push hard enough to hold the poses but not so hard that I wasn’t present- a dental floss tightrope. During one pose (I don’t know their names yet) I stretched a little more than I could and fell back on my ass, almost crushing my figurative, and literal neighbor. It was chilly outside but I sweat so much I had to wipe down my mat at the end. As usual, I felt about 80 percent better after the class than I did before.
I started doing yoga not only when I needed it, but also when I was finally ready for it. For a long time, I focused a great deal on getting my emotional self centered enough to get out of being stuck in a physical mindset. By the time I started this practice I was ready to find a greater balance between the two, and for me that’s what yoga is about.
In this yoga series the instructor takes one pose per month and really pushes it, asking us to hold it a little longer each week. This month is Hanuman, the monkey pose, which is essentially a split. I’m not great at splits yet, but we did a number of other poses to get loosened up for it, and I was certainly much more capable than I was in the last class.
Each class the last pose is Shavasana, or corpse pose. We typically hold that for 5 to 10 minutes. If one is doing it mindfully it is actually kind of difficult because it’s really a meditation pose in which the goal is to remain mindfully relaxed. Some days I get so relaxed I kind of pass out. Today was a little different. One goal of Shavasana is to still the mind, but today I was graced with a series of thoughts and images and I let them flow.
One month ago my mother died at around 11:20 at night. I had travelled for 20 hours straight in order to get home in time to be with her and arrived only hours before she passed. The next morning (three weeks earlier) I went to this same Tuesday morning yoga class because I knew I needed it to help ground me. It has continued to help me throughout this month, as well as this difficult year. On this day, her passing was very present with me throughout the class. As I leaned into some poses I found myself silently sobbing, and rather than resist those sobs I tried to embrace them in order to let some of that sadness release. I’m not great at sadness so I saw this as an opportunity to help lift some of the fog of grief that has been rolling in on me. We had a wake and a memorial within a week of my mother’s death. We also had two other memorials coming up that weekend so both the pressure of dealing with those memorials, and the emotional weight of them, was very present.
When it came time for shavasana at the end of class I took a deep breath and tried to bring my attention to my breath. Instead, I was struck with a memory of the final image of “Radiation”, a film we completed in 1999. In the last scene of that film the protagonist walks into the ocean, frustrated and fully clothed. The move is metaphorical, but we are led to believe that he has swum off to his death. The camera pans down and we watch the waves hit the shore as the credits begin to roll. As I lay there in corpse pose I thought about my conception of death at the time we made the film. I was 28 years old, and so recently married, that the shoot was essentially our honeymoon. At the time I had not experienced many people close to me dying and I didn’t have a solid sense of that kind of loss or grief. As I continued to try and focus on my breath I contrasted that memory to my experience as a 50 year old, wherein my contemporaries are dropping like flies and I recently held my mother’s hand as she left this Earth. My 20’s and 30’s were spent going to weddings and baby showers. My 50’s and 60’s look like they will be heavy on the funerals.
While the death in our film “Radiation” was largely metaphorical, it was also quite personal. For me it was the death of a phase of my life. I had spent the previous 10 years playing in rock bands, primarily my main band Sleepyhead, but it felt like it was time to move on. Further, the character’s death represented a kind of dying of a scene. The actor was essentially playing some version of himself, and he did it with great gusto.
A few years earlier we had made a film called “Half-Cocked” that had gotten seen by people within our music scene, but not too widely beyond that. We were very satisfied with the film but a little frustrated that the film world had not given it any attention. “Radiation” was our follow up, made while we toured in Spain with “Half-Cocked”- showing it mostly at rock clubs. Like “Half-Cocked” the film was made with almost no money and the process was brutal. By the end we were so exhausted and sick that my wife and I got stuck in bed for two days in a windowless hotel room in Madrid, unable to take care of each other, and desperately ill.
“Radiation” got invited to Sundance, and we then got to take it all over the world. However, it never got seen outside of the festival circuit. Here’s a link to rent it for 60% off (the cheapest we can make it on Vimeo on Demand). I hope you might consider checking it out- it’s pretty damn good.
As I pulled myself back into the world at the end of Yoga I wondered why that image had come to me so strongly. In some sense, I am once again in a state of transition. It’s the 20th anniversary of that film, and I am looking backwards and forwards as I think about the next phase of my life. Part of my work moving forward is going back to lift up some of the work that got left behind. “Radiation” was a bit too mainstream for the underground and too underground for the mainstream. There are some things about it that aren’t perfect, and it wasn’t as inventive as “Half-Cocked”, but I think it’s more relevant now than it was then.