Diastole: Heart at Rest

“You must be funny. You must be strong. You must become amenable to total relaxation in order to withstand the emotions you must withstand.”

What I love most about my father’s words, aside from his urgent and impartial delivery, is that he invites us to relax.

In the Yoga Sutra, master Patanjali outlines the ethical disciplines not as cautionary messages but as sound advice. There is nothing punitive or cautionary about Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas. Rather, living a disciplined life increases our awareness, vitality, and clarity.

• “In the presence of nonviolence all hostilities cease.”
• “When one becomes saturated in Truth, everything that comes from the mouth is Truthful.”
• “When one treasures the life force, vitality increases.”

And so when I entered my father’s hospital room and he delivered his message, I was aware of the ubiquitous force behind his words; even in the moment, I thought, My father is channeling Patanjali!

My father was giving his advice not to caution me but to help me cope with the inevitable waves of emotion that surface on the mind and in the body. If we are to withstand the drama this life offers, we must develop three habits.

You must be funny. My father was a jokester and he rarely took things personally. He had the vision to see himself in the larger context of humanity. He was raised primarily by his mother, in poor conditions during the Great Depression. Part of their house had a dirt floor. His dog had lost an eye and a leg by the time my father adopted him. Getting by was important, and everyone was trying to get by.

You must be strong. My father taught me to box, at an early age. He also taught me to swim, to hold a headstand, and to apologize. These were formal lessons in stamina and resiliency that added up to a person’s character. You can take it, he often said to me. Allow yourself to take the punch.

You must be amenable to total relaxation. And we arrive at Yoga. Yoga is nothing if not the art of relaxation. A relaxed body is a receptive body. A relaxed body will allow energy to flow through it and out of it. A relaxed body will move swiftly, when necessary, and sleep well, when necessary. A relaxed body allows the Life Force to pulse through with clarity and insight.