By Katharine Kaufman //
My father taught me how to move with wind and water. He taught me to read the direction of the wind by turning my cheek, appreciate the lines of the sail and cleats and tiller. He said, watch out, you’re luffing. Luffing is when the sail is not taught; there is bagginess in the bottom triangle of the sail. If the wind was steady, and sea calm, and if it wasn’t too cold, and the current didn’t drag the boat; that was the best thing. Sometimes we’d sing about the drunken sailor as we bailed water with a cut out clorox bottle, watched out for buoys, looked ahead for reefs, shallow places, looked at the sails, horizon, water, my family’s barefeet.
When I first learned about Yoga and Mediation I thought when teachers said return to what is happening now, that it was their present moment I should have. That the present was more magical, fancy, mysterious then what my present had to offer. I wanted Richard Freeman’s present moment, Barbara Dilley’s or Kobun Chino’s. It took a ton of sitting and crying and dealing with shame and disbelief and self- loathing to understand, that this here, is it—all at once fantastic and awful, bittersweet. Blink, it’s gone, and blink, so are we. So am I.
1997. Mysore, South India. I ride my three- speed up a few hills in the middle of a hot day. At the end there is a quiet stretch, slightly down hill, shaded by overhanging trees. I sing Jia Bhagavad as I ride. I roll up the bottoms of my baggy yellow silk pants with little flowers and a light white cotton shirt with long sleeves made for me by Krishna, the tailor in town, and my Vics cap from Boulder. (Later I would ride on the back of Krishna’s motorcycle to my house, where I made him tea and he cried that he wanted a wife—an American wife would be alright).
I pull my little rug out of my backpack and sit down in a concrete shady area beside Acharya’s house. I think he called it the shed. Acharya’s wife hands me cup of kashya tea— turmeric, sugar and milk and other spices and we talk about the new baby in the family. Acharya spreads out a few sheets of paper and there are notes and circles on them. He touches his pen to the paper many times like he’s counting. This is my first Vedic Astrology reading. When you left the ocean for the hill station in 1978 you lost your father’s love, he says. I clamp my jaw down and write hard in my little notebook, Move to Colorado. Lost father’s love.. He explained that he meant I had left my father and his ocean for the mountains so my father could live his own life. It’s natural, he said. It should be like that. Oh.
At the end of the four hours in two parts, I watched the ants crowd around my cup and climb together to the rim. What did I think of the reading? Acharya said. I felt validated. He didn’t understand the use of the term. He said validation is like a stamp you get on your visa; a human can’t be validated. He tucked his right fingers in and hit the palm of his other hand, like a stamp. I mean, I feel like I am supposed to be here, I belong here. I said. You are here. That’s proof of belonging. He said. Acharya didn’t recognize my self- hating projects, which lead me to the self- improvement project.
My father and I shared a similar appreciation for things that others might pass by. Today the dogs are walking happily beside me on loose leashes, and no one is coming the other direction, and Jake does not lay down and eat geese poop and Chloe is not rubbing her neck in horse poop. The sun is almost gone behind the layers of clouds right above the mountains. I begin to smile and laugh. Somehow I made it through this winter. I talk to the dogs in quiet amazed disbelief that life could be so rich. I flash in this vision, memory of my father in a similar expression. I am my father and I’m not. I say hello father in my heart.
After the Vedic reading on the way home I stop to get a popsicle. In the reading Acharya had said I would always have a good vehicle. I look at my sturdy orange bike and think what a good bike it is. He said that my friendship circle was large but there was no one in my partner circle. I asked could I take one from my friendship circle and put them in the other circle? No, it doesn’t work that way. This is my path. I have more energy for practice, he said. My path is deviated, Yoga and Zen. It will take me longer and I will have to work hard to understand the true nature of reality. I sit and eat this popsicle with Indian families eating their popsicles. One by one they touch the forehead of a cow near to us, and each had the same blissful expression after the touch. They all look at me, and gesture to go to the cow. I walk to the skinny cow with her giant horns, and stroke what I guess is her forehead. No body questions my place here or my existence, not even me.
~ o ~
About the Author
Katharine Kaufman is priest ordained in the Soto Zen lineage and teaches meditation, writing workshops, Yoga, and contemplative dance in Boulder County and at Shambhala Mountain Center. She taught for many years at The Yoga Workshop and Studio Be in Boulder. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University. She holds MFAs in Performance/Choreography and Writing/Poetics.