In 2012, I took a year-long course, A Novel Approach to Memoir, with Sue Reynolds. My ambition was to write about the winters I spent in India taking trainings in various healing modalities. The original title was “Four Winters in India,” but when the year of writing was up, I had hundreds of pages of scenes spanning those years, and no clear “story”.
In my first winter I learned Rebalancing, the bodywork technique that continues to sustain me. I also met the man who would become my husband. The second winter I trained as a therapist in emotional release techniques as well as Tibetan Pulsing Healing, which my future husband convinced me to take. The third winter he and I both apprenticed as Tibetan Pulsing therapists and received our certification. The second and third years focused intently on the development of our relationship. Just before leaving Canada for India in 1992 for my fourth winter, I was diagnosed with cancer, so the final winter is all about my dance with cancer.
I realized at last that the reason this massive manuscript was so unwieldy was because I was trying to tell a whole bunch of stories. In the first year I learned a new trade, stumbled into dark concealed placed within my own psyche, fell in love, and healed some old wounds. It was enough material for a book. My memoir became, Touched. The title refers to how some of my friends and family viewed me “running off” to India to hang out with a guru. It also conveys my emotional response to the teachings and the deep connections I made while there. And of, course, the whole notion of learning “…how to touch and be touched, deeply,” which was the training’s tagline.
I’ve just graduated from the Humber School for Writers with mentor, Donna Morrissey. It was a year of hard questions and a lot of tough work, but I’m almost there. Writing memoir is not for sissies.
Here then, is a piece from the manuscript, where the protagonist has just completed a couple of weeks of group therapy and meditation practice. This is the first day of my Rebalancing training in Pune, India, November 1988.
A figure moves past the window to the courtyard – perhaps an Indian cleaner alerted to the swirl of nakedness within the wide sunny room. Two assistants go to opposite ends of the window and take hold of each end of the cords to draw the blinds. They walk slowly toward each other and the room darkens against the Indian morning light.
This is the first day of actual training, begun with the instruction: “Everyone take off all your clothes.” The instructor is Satyarthi, a compact American man with coal-coloured slashes in his gold-green eyes. He followed this order with a dramatic pause and a grin that showed all his teeth. “Then walk around the room looking at all the places you aren’t supposed to look.” A scattering of laughter rippled through the room. No one moved. “If you’re going to work on bodies, you can’t be afraid of them. You have to be able to look.”
A few shoulders seem to have dropped as the room darkens. But one man with a long face steps past me like wood, his arms wrapped tight around his chest, hands splayed across the constellation of pimples on his back. Our eyes meet and he shuttles away. The British woman with long empty breasts has an apology in her eyes, shoulders and arms making a cave of her chest. A tall blond woman of about twenty, her body unreal in its perfection, glides by, her chin lifted, her eyes a vacant blue. No one is really looking at breasts, penises, or the triangle of curls at the intersection of legs and pelvis. I force my eyes to those places, then swing my gaze to the face they belong to and try to broadcast a reassuring invitation, It’s okay; you can look at me. Everyone looks sorry and afraid. Then there is this one with her pretty head of yellow-brown curls with a challenge in her gaze, Go on; have a good look.
We go on like this, lurching like faulty robots, until at last, Satyarthi’s voice comes through the speakers, “Okay, stop. Close your eyes.”
An ocean of breath releases into the room, swells against the walls, riffles the blinds. The cool marble under my feet is damp with sweat; the pulse of air from the fan’s blades brushes my shoulders, buttocks. Now what? For an awful moment I imagine he’s going to ask us to touch each other. I don’t care if that’s what I’m here for; to learn how to touch people – all these sweating stinky scared people are way too close. I crack open an eye.
Directly in front of me is a doughy woman in her fifties, brazenly scanning everyone around her, a self-satisfied grin on her face. Before I can get my eye closed, she catches my gaze. I snap that eye shut and hope to hell she gets put in the other group.
The primary teachers are Satyarthi; German Kokila with baby-fine blond hair and strong curving shoulders; and American Anubuddha who is soft-spoken, fine-boned and either very meditative or aloof. The founders of this work brought their goodies from their respective trainings in Postural Integration, Cranial Sacral work and Rolfing. Some of the assistants are also translators, since we have people from Japan, Italy, Germany and Spain who need help with the English instruction. No sign of Makarand.
“You don’t need to be some sort of expert in order to be a good bodyworker,” says Satyarthi now, known as Sats.
A man with a blond beard, standing close to me, comments, “You just have to wander around naked.”
A few of us laugh.
Sats laughs too. “That can help,” he says, motioning for Amrita, one of the assistants, to come to the front of the room. “You need to care, and to take your time. To be respectful. Full of wonder.”
Stay tuned: more to come!