Metamorphosis and Sadness


I promise a more thorough accounting of my shoulder injury: what happened and what’s wrong. Suffice it to say that yesterday I received some very bad news, and that I appear to be in this for the long haul. I will not be popping handstands, arm balances, urdhva dhanurāsana, or any other poses requiring weight-bearing any time soon.

There are two things that I would share right now, a selection from Thomas Merton’s The Way of Chuang Tzu (New York: New Directions, 1965), and an excerpt from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.” The former popped into my head when I considered the extravagant mess that is my shoulder, and the latter popped up when I read today’s entry from Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows’s A Year with Rilke (New York: Harper Collins, 2009). Readers will forgive Merton’s somewhat freewheeling interpretation of Chuang Tzu, or Taoism through the lens of Catholic monasticism. It’s what I had available.

Metamorphosis 

Four men got in a discussion. Each one said:
“Who knows how
To have the Void for his head
To have Life as his backbone
And Death for his tail?
He shall be my friend!”

At this they all looked at one another
Saw they agreed,
Burst out laughing
And became friends.

Then one of them fell ill
And another went to see him.
“Great is the Maker,” said the sick one,
“Who has made me as I am!

“I am so doubled up
My guts are over my head;
Upon my navel
I rest my cheek;
My shoulders stand out
Beyond my neck;
My crown is an ulcer
Surveying the sky;
My body is chaos
But my mind is in order.”
He dragged himself to the well,
Saw his reflection, and declared,
“What a mess
He has made of me!”

His friend asked:
“Are you discouraged?”

“Not at all! Why should I be?
If He takes me apart
And makes a rooster
Of my left shoulder
I shall announce the dawn.
If He makes a crossbow
Of my right shoulder
I shall procure roast duck.
If my buttocks turn into wheels
And if my spirit is a horse
I will hitch myself up and ride around
In my own wagon!

“There is a time for putting together
And another time for taking apart.
He who understands
This course of events
Takes each new state
In its proper time
With neither sorrow nor joy.
The ancients said: ‘The hanged man
Cannot cut himself down.’
But in due time Nature is stronger
Than all is ropes and bonds.
It was always so.
Where is there a reason
To be discouraged?”
[vi. 9.] (62-64)

I will confess that I am taking this new state with sorrow, however, though finding pockets of joy in the support of friends and teachers. Seeking solace in Rilke, I was quite surprised to find something more, and entirely appropriate:

“FEBRUARY 21

To Trust Our Sadness

Consider whether great changes have not happened deep inside your being in times when you were sad. The only sadnesses that are unhealthy and dangerous are those we carry around in public in order to drown them out. Like illnesses that are treated superficially, they only recede for a while and then break out more severely. Untreated they gather strength inside us and become the rejected, lost, and unlived life that we may die of. If only we could see a little farther than our knowledge reaches and a little beyond the borders of our intuition, we might perhaps bear our sorrows more trustingly than we do our joys.

For they are the moments when something new enters us, something unknown. Our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, they take a step back, a stillness arises, and the new thing, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.

Borgeby gärd, Sweden, August 12, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet”

Excerpt From: Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows. “A Year with Rilke.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/azUFv.l

At the center of each passage, however, is the ineffable, the Great Mystery. For that is what I find at the center of my experience thus far. May I keep this at the center of my experience, to learn from, and thus to teach it. For now, I’m off to procure roast duck.

About Richard Hudak

I am Senior Adjunct Faculty in Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and I have been a practitioner of Anusara™ yoga. I have completed 200 hours of teacher training within its diaspora community, consistent with its philosophy and alignment principles.
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