Memoir 2.2

The second part of Sandford’s Waking, which he calls “Initiation,” focuses on his transition from the hospital to rehab, and then from rehab to his life afterwards before he encounters yoga. This section is marked by a series of negative healing stories and difficult times that come in a myriad of different forms; physical, mental, emotional, and relational. Each situation, however, provides a nugget of insight that ultimately leads to his discovery of yoga and the possibility of a mind-body connection. The journey is a difficult one, however, full of pain, death, and silence that leave the heart aching.

Reading this section made me think of one of the major teachings of yoga and of Hinduism: detachment. Sanford’s experience in this book is an exaggerated illustration of the different forms of detachment one can experience, both for good and bad. His mind escapes from his body in order to insulate him from unendurable pain. His mind is literally detached from his lower body by a severed spinal cord. And most importantly, his doctors tell him that his injury prohibits any connection with his lower half and tell him that to succeed and overcome he must completely detach from his lower body and go “into his arms,” in order to live a relatively normal life.

The distinction between the doctor’s healing story of detachment and yogic detachment is multi-faceted, and springs from a difference in basic assumptions about the body, mind, and holistic person. In the medical profession, and indeed in much of Western philosophy and worldview, the body and mind are distinctly separated; at times even at war with each other. In the West many times we strive to overcome the flesh and limits of our bodies, and we praise and admire people who have overcome these kinds of limitations. In yoga, however, the mind, body and spirit are all interconnected. None of them are good or bad, but they all have the capacity to negatively or positively impact the other. From the yogic perspective then, detachment between the body and the mind is not a good thing, it is going against the true nature of our being. Yogic detachment is not one of detachment from the mind and body therefore, so much as a detachment from results. The doctor’s discouraged Sanford from believing or acknowledging his phantom feelings because they were afraid he would get unrealistic expectations about the results; the possibility of walking again. Sanford begins to discover that healing is possible aside from physical results. A powerful example of this is when he uses his neck and back muscles to twitch his foot:

“Was it healing when I was moving my foot even though I was “cheating’? Yes, yes, yes. Was it a beginning step in my process of mind-body reintegration? Yes, yes, yes. Anything I do to reconnect my presence to my paralyzed body is a form of healing. So what if I used my back and neck muscles to move my foot? I was making a connection to my body below the point of my injury. … This marked the beginning of perhaps my most important realization–that there is healing other than healing to walk again. … I mean that healing is still possible for my mind-body relationship, and it doesn’t mean that I will walk again.” (107-108)

The results are not what is important in the long run, it is the connection. This realization can vastly influence our yoga practice. When I first started doing yoga, I was doing it for a specific result: to become more flexible. But as I have continued to practice, that yearning for a result started to fade to the background as I realized that yoga was as much about understanding and connecting with my body as much as physical fitness. I experienced a paradigm shift similar to Sandford’s, granted on a much smaller scale. But the enhanced connection and understanding of my body has become infinitely more valuable to me than the flexibility I strove for. I am as flexible as I ever hoped to be going into yoga, but now I understand that detachment from results that lets me appreciate my progress without the primary goal of my practice. This is a valuable lesson, and Sanford expresses it with an eloquence and honesty that does justice to it’s importance.


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