I was responding to a recent YouTube video by Wood Hawker, a favored content creator I follow who frequently reviews video games and occasionally talks about mental health. He was asking for suggestions as he begins building his new channel, and I said I enjoy his videos about mental health but at times they feel too long and heavy. And I realized that when I talk about mental health I fall into the same pitfall: I only talk about it when I hit the bottom, but I never talk about the real day-to-day life of living with mental illness.
So I thought, why not? When I hear how others struggle to win their daily battles, I feel like I’m not alone. I feel empowered. I feel more confident to take on the day.
But I haven’t done that myself, so today I want to change that.
This last week in class we covered sequences and series. This is a strange unit: It looks little like anything else students have seen, yet mathematically it resonates not only with many things we’ve learned, but with many things we could only dream of ever teaching in a high school class bounded by deadlines and curricular standards.
If you’ve ever counted or made a to-do list or put things in order, you know innately what a sequence is: it is merely a list of numbers, with a specific order: 1 2 3 is a different sequence than 1 3 2. Some sequences seem patternless (sunshine Monday, snowstorm Wednesday, downpours Thursday, a blizzard today) while others are so set in stone we hardly take notice: Sunday always precedes Monday, and April follows March.
Now suppose you look at that to-do list you made and count all the things you’ve got to do (that infinite list that seems to always grow two more items when you knock off the first–how hydraen life tends to be!) then you know, too, how a series differs from a sequence: simply take all the things and add them together. No more complex than that.
But what does any of this have to do with identity or politics?
In the first world, before the Immortals shattered it, there was a well formed from the corpse of a god, and those who bathed in its waters became without what was within. Their hidden truth became their physical form. Some who leapt beneath its depths believed they would be reborn beautiful and godly, only to emerge monstrous and ugly. And others, lame or little, ascended to perfection when they breached the surface.
Often I have wondered, if I were to fall within it, what form would I take.
At times I thought I would become a dragon, fearsome and flighty. Other times a mass of molten fire, a body built of flaming embers. Or I would sprout wings and feel my skin pulled taught against physical strength I’ve never possessed before. And sometimes, in my darkest of moods, I would fade from something human toward something beastly, wild and unruly, untamed and forged for pure destruction.
But there is no such well in this world to become outside what I see within.
I stumbled into yoga sometime around 15 – 20 years ago. My practice was guided almost exclusively by televised workout programs for those first few years, and then I took some classes, read some books, took more classes, and read more books. The only shortcoming of my life as a yogi has been my consistency: I might practice for a few years regularly, and then go on an unintentional hiatus for a few more. I even received a YOGA for Youth certification a few years ago, that has never actually come up as a teacher.
A staple of what I’ve learned throughout my practice is that practice alone isn’t what interests me: I’m also fascinated by the philosophy, and more than mere intrigue, I feel genuine attachment to it. Not to say it fills in the blanks of Jewish belief, but at times it seems to, and at other times it shines new light upon familiar scripture. The practice of Yoga, not merely the fitness of it, has persisted even when my exercise has not.
And when I finished reading the Sefer Yetzirah, a cornerstone of Jewish mystical thought, it seemed only natural to focus my gaze upon a cornerstone of the Yogic tradition: the Bhagavad Gita.
Have you ever opened a book to see a mirror into the depths of your soul that you have never seen before? Have you ever turned a page like turning a corner to stop and realize that no matter where you are, wherever you are, you’ve finally found the place?
That was my experience when I finally read the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation.
Remember when I posted about reading that book about vulnerability? I stopped reading it the next day. Yup. You read that right: It was too much and I gave up.
Well, at least for a little while. I needed time to mull over what I had read and let it sink in. If I want to attain lifelong growth from reading this book, I can’t read it in one sitting and expect my life to change immediately. No, it takes more time than that.
So after that first excursion, I decided that two of the nonfiction books I’m reading this year I’m going to read often in small bursts: First is the Sefer Yetzirah, which I’ve been reading one verse at a time, because unpacking each verse when it’s literally steeped in thousands of years of mystical philosophy demands a slow yet attentive reading schedule, and second is Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. The vulnerability book.
Imagine this. You’re sitting in the middle an an auditorium, an amphitheater, felted seat cushions pressing into your bottom and back. Before you, enshrined in a single spot light amid a sea of delicate shadows, the MC takes a bow as he finishes his opening remarks and then takes his place at the podium downstage left.
He brings his lips close to the microphone; he smiles. Video cameras catch the contours of his face, his perfectly coiffed hair, and project his visage onto giant screens.
“Are you ready to meet the contestants?”
The crowd replies with cheering and clapping, at the edge of every seat in anticipation.
One by one the contestants come forth. A few from the US–New Jersey, Philadelphia, three different cities in California–and from Europe in Italy and France, Sweden and the Netherlands; two hail from Latin America, introduced in the MC’s flawless Spanish and Portuguese. One contestant has even come from as far as Israel.
Except instead of women, the contestants are men. And instead of dresses and swimsuits, they’re wearing jock straps and leather harnesses. This isn’t the Miss Universe Pageant. This is the 40th annual International Mr. Leather Competition.