Dharma – Sacred duty. The universal law which holds all life together. Truth.
In accordance with the eight limbed path as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, Dharma can be seen as living one’s life in accordance with the Yamas and Niyamas. Svadhyaya is the fourth Niyama and can be interpreted as the study of the sacred texts as well as the study of one’s self. It can also be interpreted as the study of one’s interaction with and reaction to the circumstances one faces. This is where I am today.
My brother, Tim, has autism. He is 31. He lives at home with my parents and there is precious little in the way of supports and opportunities for someone like him in the state of Pennsylvania once they reach 21 and age out of the school system. Please don’t read this and write me helpful notes telling me anecdotal evidence of opportunity that exists. I know this system. I know it inside and out. I wrote a documentary play and self produced it seven years ago on the subject. I worked, once upon a time, in human services. And my mother is a pit bull when it comes to my brother. A small, red haired, somewhat self conscious pit bull. Supports coordinators fear her. School administrators have hated her. She had devoted much of her life to blazing new trails where there were none for Tim. She and a motley crew including a state rep, a handful of other moms and an assortment of dedicated extended family members have started not one but 2 non-profits, and created 2 school programs for older individuals with autism. When there was no where for him to go, she made a place for Tim.
He’s had jobs and lost them and he has had a few very good services and lost them. Budget cuts. The economy. An extremely underpaid support services workforce that forces anyone talented and caring to leave the industry entirely or take a management position and no longer provide direct care. I work with Tim a couple of days a week for a very crappy $10 an hour at the moment because, save for my husband and my friend, Lauren, there’s really no one else consistent who actually cares about him to do it. We three are his social life. We take him to arcades and stores, on long walks and to his art lessons. It’s not enough. He knows he’s 31 and feels too old to live at home. He wants his freedom. Yet the group homes we are continuously referred to are subpar. As in, “I would rather lay down in front of a bus and let it run me over than allow my kid brother to live in this shit hole” subpar.
He had his yearly assessment today. I sat in. I wanted them, his team of people, to know and see that struggle. To understand his needs. I also wanted my mom to have some company. My dad is an amazing person, a great father. My dad also has zero patience for bureaucratic idiocy. So I sat in. She’d never say it if she did, but I just don’t want my mom to feel alone. They asked us approximately 1000 questions, rated 1 – 3. About 12 of them were relevant. Then they asked him 30 questions. Tim has a hard time expressing himself, of course, but I did hear him say he was lonely. More accurately he gave his loneliness a rating of 3, as in he feels lonely at least once a day. My heart hurts writing this.
I have always believed that there is a reason, be it Karma or some divine plan, for each circumstance of my life. I have, over the years as I practice and study yoga more, believed that I am never in the wrong place. I have come to appreciate the opportunities for growth and purification each challenge, each circumstance and each moment offers. I have also come to feel strongly that my path to God must involve service to others. I know in my heart that part of that is in offering my service, such as it is, to my brother. He is a truly beautiful soul. And he has taught me many times over to surrender. He has also taught me in that surrender to fight and work for what is right. To never, ever give up. But today…
Today I stand here at the edge of this yawning expanse and I feel fragile. I look at my mother, this woman I admire and love so much and I see how tired she is. And I don’t want it. I don’t want to inherit that struggle. I want a miracle. A perfect place for my brother to live and for my parents to enjoy retirement with trips and nights out and a well-deserved laying down of their burdens.
A wail collects on my lips. “It’s not fair!”
It’s not. Life is not fair. And nothing is guaranteed. And I sure as hell don’t pretend to understand. Yet, with practice and more practice and more practice again I am inching towards acceptance. Not the begrudging kind, but the real kind. The kind that allows for true peace. It feels far away today. I pray for grace, as I stumble and I fall. Tomorrow, I hope, I will be a millimeter closer. I swim in the strong currents of discontent and fear towards the far shores of gratitude.
Inhale, raise my arms towards the heavens. Exhale fold, surrendering towards the earth. Again and again. A lifetime of practice.
“It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma.” Chapter 3 (Selfless Service), The Bhaghavad Gita