MEMO to my spirit self
By Louis Cortese
To: My Spirit Self From: My corporeal self Date: April 20, 2012 Subject: Aging
I’m writing to you about this subject in an attempt to reconcile our divergent views with it.
I’m aware that these concerns are the type you usually disregard as silly and inconsequential, but to me they seem far more reaching and closer to within your scope of ministrations than you might think.
The other day I was having lunch at a sandwich shop with my son Tom who, at the age of thirty-two, is exactly thirty years younger than I. He was sitting directly opposite me. On the wall behind him hung a large mirror. Midway through our lunch, I happened to get a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. It hit me like a blow to the midsection. The image of myself that sits in my mind’s eye has very little resemblance to the one I saw in the mirror. The stark contrast between Tom, who bears a very close resemblance to me at that age, and the older degenerated image in the mirror made for even a bigger shock.
In the last four or five years the signs of aging have begun to sprout all over my face and neck. It began with the area beneath my eyes, formerly a smooth surface now having mutated to a plowed field of loose vertical ridges. Next to undergo a transfiguration were my eyelids as they began to swell and undulate over my eyes. This was quickly followed by the emergence of what is commonly known as jowls, where the once taut skin around the jawbones augments into hanging protuberances. Next to make their debut were the parenthesis-like lines on both sides of my mouth, sculpted deep into my now languid skin. And finally, the coup de grace to any semblance of youth was, at first, the gradual unveiling but now prominently evident turkey neck.
I know you’re going to tell me that all this is surface-cosmetics and it has no impact on my true nature, “which resides inside my heart,” or some such new agey mumbo-jumbo. Just bear with me, because this is more relevant to the larger existential questions than you might think.
I don’t think I am being shallow with my concerns over the devastation that aging has brought upon my face. It does have extensive ramifications on how I am perceived by others and consequently how I perceive myself, which directly effects my spiritual well being. I know you don’t think it should, but it does, goddamn it!
Thank goodness my body is still in good shape. It’s fit, taut and with good muscle tone. My yoga practice definitely has a lot to do with that. I have been dabbling in yoga almost all of my adult life and diligently practicing it for the last fifteen years. I go back and forth, though, questioning the merits of doing it. Sometimes I think I am driven to it out of pure vanity, and other times I think there is a deeper, metaphysical purpose. Maybe it’s a combination of both forces at work, similar to my aging concerns. In other words, it may be OK to be motivated by conceit if the tangential or even accidental results of those actions are of a more worthy significance.
Spirit Self, you haven’t really given me any indication of how you feel about yoga — whether it is a path that is valid in your eyes or something that is strictly within my worldly purview — hence my confusion continues about its value.
I often think about contemporaries of mine who have devoted their entire lives to yoga — people like Richard Freeman, David Swenson and John Shumacher. Their livelihood is and has always been teaching yoga, and at the same time they are entrenched in a typical American lifestyle: married, kids, grandkids, a mortgage etc. I wonder if they ever have any doubts about the meaningfulness of their practice and their careers? If they’ve gotten tired of traveling and attending the year-round yoga conferences and workshops? I sometimes imagine that they’re like the Star Trek actors who regarded the Trekies flooding the Star Trek conventions with disdain, but did it anyway because the money was good. Does John Shumacher ever say to himself, “I have grandkids for god’s sake, I’ve been doing this yoga teaching job for over forty years, I’m tired, I want to retire and move to Florida. I never want to be in another yoga studio dressed in silly yoga shorts, ever again. Gimme a break.”
I can only speak to my own experience with you, in which there has been an achievement element to it that has always been an underlying irritant to me. After fifteen years of effort, I am now able to put my body into certain positions beyond the grasp of ordinary people. But then I ask myself: “So what?” As we say here in New York City, “That and $2.25 will get you on a subway.” After all this effort, and all these achievements, I am still growing older.
This is where you come in, Spirit, and it’s why I’ve written you this memo, to help me unravel this conundrum.
In my lifetime, I’ve always placed such high regard on my worldly self. I’ve been vain about my looks and I’ve practiced yoga with one eye toward its fitness benefits (or perhaps, unwittingly, both eyes). Now I’ve come to realize that the beauty of youth is subject to the corrosive actions of time, no matter how much yoga one does. So, I ask you, has it been a lifetime wasted, chasing physical perfection under the guise of self-realization? Have all those sun salutations in the pursuit of spiritual light been for naught? I’m asking you directly, Spirit, have you been touched at all by my corporeal pursuits, or has it all been a pointless sacrifice to vanity?
About Louis Cortese
Lou , in his life, has been a precocious young boy in an anachronistic town in the mountains of Sicily, an immigrant at the age of 8 arriving by way of an ocean liner to the shores of the west side of Manhattan, a guido from the Bronx, a hippy, a Zen Buddhist, a businessman, a yogi and a conventional family man with three sons and two grandchildren, among other things, none of which describes his true self and all of which in the aggregate do not give a full account of him. If his story is not he, then what is? He’s still looking.