The story so far: After six months of virtual communication with no face-to-face cues or physical contact, Billy, the musician I’d befriended on Facebook, leaped out of cyberspace and landed on my doorstep. By the time he materialized in the flesh, it felt as if we were old friends, with none of the awkwardness one sometimes feels on a “first date.” After a pleasant evening where I welcomed him into my yoga room and fed him a nourishing vegan dinner, Billy headed off to a local retreat center where he had arranged to stay for four nights.
Part Four and Five describe his first five days in Ojai, during which he gives my elderly bedridden parents two spectacular piano concerts and, after his other possibilities for affordable accommodations fell through, I invite him to stay at my house.
Saturday, Day Six (Full Moon, Summer Solstice Weekend)
I was both relieved and disappointed that Billy didn’t try to kiss me as we relaxed under the stars and almost full moon on my cement table, his first night at my house. I fell asleep in my own bed, with Billy’s enchanting flute compositions floating out of the CD player on my dresser, just as I’d done many nights before when he was thousands of miles away, a virtual fantasy, and not a real life flesh-and-blood giant, gently snoring a few feet away.
I rose at dawn, tiptoed around the house quiet as a mouse, ate a chunk of watermelon, and brewed triple the amount of coffee I usually make so it would be ready for Billy when he woke up.
I should explain that there is only a half wall between the kitchen and where Billy slept so I refrained from running the orange juicer. And, since I didn’t want to disturb him by doing my yoga practice a few feet from his bed, I left the house early to practice at the studio before my 8 a.m. class.
When I came home midmorning, the first thing that hit me was the smell of incense. Fortunately, it was a scent I liked-–not the kind that gives me a headache or makes my eyes burn. Of course I noticed right away that he’d perched the incense sticks on top of my best Manduka cork yoga block in such a way that the incense ash was falling on the block. I feared the pile of hot ash might scorch the block so I nicely said that it would be better for the ash to fall on a saucer. Since he was occupied on his laptop, I handed him a saucer. To his credit, he moved the burning incense, now perched on a saucer, on top of a yoga chair, which I also didn’t like but decided not to make an issue of it.
When I went into the kitchen, I right away noticed he’d washed the dishes from the night before—so that scored points. And I noticed he’d filled up the water dispenser—more points. But then I noticed that the top to the three-gallon water bottle was missing. After checking all the usual places —kitchen counter, dish drainer, drawers, cupboards—all the places he might have set it, I asked him, (trying not to sound like a nag), “What did you do with the top to the water bottle?” He looked up from his laptop unconcerned and said something like, “Oh, it’ll turn up.”
After looking again in all the usual places, I grew suspicious and started rummaging through the overflowing trash and recycling cans that sit near the sink. I then inquired, “Do you think maybe you threw the top in the trash?” Again he glanced up and I think he said, “I doubt it.” So I took matters in my own hands and dug around in the trash. No luck. Then I had the bright idea to take the recycle can outside to the large bin that I share with my neighbors and toss each item, one or two at a time, so as not to risk dumping the water bottle top into the big bin where it would be lost forever. Sure enough, when I finished that process, there was the missing water bottle top. I went jubilant back in the house. “I found the lid,” I shouted. “I just saved $6. That’s what these bottles cost.”
When I went back into the kitchen, he said something about the coffee being bitter. I was a little bit taken aback and I might have sounded just slightly defensive and said something like, “I made the coffee early—maybe it was bitter by the time you drank it after sitting in the pot.”
A little later, Billy left to play the piano at the home of a musician he’d befriended (also on Facebook, I later found out), a widow I hadn’t met yet. Shortly thereafter, when I went to clean the coffee maker, I noticed that the filter was filled to the brim, practically exploding with coffee grounds. I also noticed that my Altura organic coffee stash was almost gone. He’d brewed a second batch of coffee while I was teaching and used up what for me is a week’s worth of coffee in one gulp! I couldn’t even remove the filter without coffee grounds spilling out–I had to unplug the coffee maker and turn it upside down over the open trash can.
I thought to myself, “No wonder he said the coffee was bitter. The pot I left him was probably perfect but the batch he made was ten times as strong as I usually make it.” I felt exonerated! Vindicated!
It was only the first day of his stay at my house and I was aware that it hadn’t even been 24 hours but already little annoyances were popping up. But I was committed to making him comfortable and feeling as at-home in my humble abode as possible.
That day the temperature soared—it would be a week before the weather cooled off again. I noticed he’d hung a red yoga blanket in the doorless doorway between the kitchen and the back of the house, where I slept. At first I liked that he’d taken the initiative to do that. His explanation that this barrier would help contain the cold air coming from the air conditioner, made sense. I also liked all the other things he described that he could do to keep the house cool.
But later in the day, as my uninsulated block house grew hotter, I realized that the hanging door blanket that helped contain the cool air in the yoga room also kept the cool air from circulating in the back of the house, where I slept. Plus, without air flow, the kitchen seemed more stiffling. So I kept flinging the yoga blanket curtain open, and, of course, he kept flinging it back down.
Speaking of flinging, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that I’d begun to notice that Billy never flung the toilet seat back down. This puzzled me as he’d been married or had lived with several women before. I decided early on that if the women he’d lived with couldn’t train him all those years, my chances of that changing now that he was almost seventy, were very slim.
When Billy returned a couple of hours later, fortified from his piano playing, he was in good spirits. I decided not to mention the coffee—at least not right then.
I forgot to mention that Billy had been invited to a fancy fundraiser that night. Knowing he’d be leaving the house again in a few hours made it easier for me to feel relaxed about having his large presence suddenly taking over my small space.
I turned up the air conditioner (my first summer with the newly installed unit) and rested with Billy on the yoga bolsters. Aside from the aforementioned slightly annoying annoyances, the energy between us felt harmonious.
As I write this, I realize that I forgot to mention that during the week, when Billy slept at the retreat center, we practiced Restorative Yoga several times and, on a few occasions, I massaged his feet, especially after he told me more about how his diabetic condition affected his feet.
I joked to my close women friends, who naturally wondered what was going on between us, that we were practicing “safe sex”: yoga and foot massage.
Over the past six months of our Facebook chats and phone conversations, Billy often expressed his respect and admiration for how long I’d been practicing and teaching yoga.
He seemed impressed that I’d studied the same subject for such a long length of time—almost 50 years—if you count the first books on yoga philosophy that I read at the Krotona Library as a teenager.
Since we were the same age (67 and 68) we had a lot of history in common. He told me how he first heard Krishnamurti speak in the 1980s—and I shared with him my anecdotes about first hearing K speak in the Oak Grove in 1965 (while I was a student at Happy Valley School), and a few years later in Saanen, Switzerland.
In retrospect, the conversations about yoga and Krishnamurti also helped cultivate a friendly bond between us and, if I cut myself some slack, helps to explain why I felt comfortable to invite him into my home, even though I’d only known him in person for five days.
Billy was familiar with the yoga of BKS Iyengar and his classic treatise, Light On Yoga. Since he was planning to come to my group classes the following week, and since he’d expressed interest in taking lessons for the past six months, plus the revelations about his health issues, that Saturday afternoon I thought I better teach him some Iyengar Yoga Basics and introduce him to the wall ropes, before he had to leave again for his evening shindig.
He seemed eager to have his first lesson with me so I placed his yoga mat along the wall that has three sets of wall ropes. I explained that we’d be doing Standing Poses at the wall. I showed him how to stand near the wall, with his feet about four feet apart, and placed a chair and block nearby. I then proceeded to demonstrate how to use the wall for alignment and support.
I noticed that the moment I put on my teacher hat, there was a shift in the dynamics between us. I was the teacher telling Billy, the student, what to do. He willingly cooperated, wanting to show me he was in good shape. He followed my instructions, turning the right foot out and left foot in, reaching his top arm up to the upper ropes to help open his chest and shoulders, keeping his back near the wall as he stretched into the classic Triangle Pose, first to the right and then to the left. But about fifteen minutes into the lesson, after the challenging weight bearing Warrior II Pose and Extended Lateral Angle Pose, he admitted, “This isn’t easy for me. I don’t like taking orders.“
I laughingly told him that there’s no competition in yoga. That he needed to listen to the feedback his body was constantly giving him and not worry about impressing me with how well he could do the poses.
I take initiating people into yoga very seriously—yet it’s my nature to be playful and lighthearted. Laughter releases tension, helps us to let go of our defenses, and open up.
Even prior to this first formal lesson, I‘d become aware that Billy was a man of many faces, many masks. As I write this, I remember now that he’d joked about being like a gangster —I’d glimpsed that there was a rough edge, a volatile temper, a rascal, lurking inside this master musician/ composer. He would pick up the flute and play haunting, mystical, meditation music but in the next breath he seemed to enjoy berating anyone who did not live up to his high standards. He often referred to the people who paraded through his life as an “asshole.” I’d even joked on occasion that his description of the human race was “a bunch of assholes” or better yet, “a bunch of assholes full of shit.” Like most human beings, as you get to know them behind their public persona, he was full of contradictions. He claimed to come from a refined, cultured background (his mother was also an accomplished pianist) but he could be vulgar and crude—from my perspective he seemed almost like a musician with mafia roots.
All this was swirling beneath the surface of my consciousness as I observed Billy’s physical expression in the Standing Poses —the expression and response of his whole overweight but still fairly strong body, and also his facial features.
His years at the piano had made him aware of posture and he brought to yoga a high level of body awareness. I told him how many talented musicians, notably the violinist Yehudi Menuhin (who wrote the foreword to Light On Yoga) had turned to yoga for health issues like insomnia. During the lesson we spoke of the connections between yoga and music.
After the Standing Poses and Hanging Downward Dog Pose, Billy wanted to hang completely upside down again—like we had briefly done his second day in Ojai. This time, we were both much more prepared, and he hung himself upside down almost like a pro. Again, his response to reversing the downward flow of gravity was positive. As he inverted, I became aware that he had become very still. He hung quietly for several minutes. A few times I heard him say, “Thank you . . . thank you . . . “ When he indicated it felt long enough, I guided his hands to climb up the upper ropes, hoist himself upright, and step back down to the ground.
To be on the safe side, I instructed him to rest in Child’s Pose, as I always do with students unaccustomed to inverting for long periods of time. After several minutes in Child’s Pose (a position similar to prostration and surrender) I then suggested a long stay in Downward Facing Dog Pose to round out the lesson.
I could see he was getting tired and even with the air conditioner the room was getting warm. So then I put him in Supported Legs Up the Wall Pose, Viparita Karani, with his bottom and rib cage supported by a big bolster—a powerful combination backbend (heart opener) and inverted pose.
Something happened between us as he deeply relaxed in Viparita Karani that I may not have the words to describe. While I was the teacher and he the student, whether he felt it or not, among all the other things going on beneath the surface, there was a play of masculine and feminine energy.
I was the teacher but also a woman. I have not been in intimate contact with any man for many years. I felt a powerful force—some might call this the Kundalini energy or shakti. I could feel his cells, his nervous system relax. His face grew softer and softer and his masks fell away—as our faces do in death when the ego dissolves and everything we identify with falls away.
I felt his vulnerability. The tough guy gangster act was gone. For just a fleeting moment, I felt I had a glimpse into his soul.
I sat kneeling behind his head, (as I often do with students) and placed my hands on the back of his neck, near the base of his skull, ever so gently lengthening his neck. I saw tears seeping out of the corner of his eyes, down his cheeks. Then I instinctively placed my fingertips on his forehead, near the center of his brow, the space some refer to as the third eye. I heard him murmur, “Yes, yes. . . that’s it. Yes . . . “ So I kept my fingertips gently on his forehead, feeling the energy flow, the current between us . . .
I then removed my hands and moved out of his aura, to another part of the room, giving him time to just be.
After awhile, I think he fell asleep and I relaxed on the backbender, absorbing the magnitude and mystery of it all.
Soon it was time to get back to earth and “reality.” When he left in the late afternoon for his party, the dogs and I went to the river bottom.