By Marcee Murray King
The story I like to tell myself is that my mother loved me just enough in her own twisted way that she gave full custody of me to my father at the age of 2 1/2 years old because she knew that she couldn’t take care of me.
With alcohol use disorder and a prescription drug addict, I think she had been popping Valium since the day it hit the market. She knew that I would be safer with my father.
That’s the story I tell myself.
The reality is she was selfish. She wanted to party, to be free, to not be tied down by a 2 1/2 year old. But that’s okay. Water under the bridge. All she did was forgiven before she died a few years back, and I was left grateful for the dark gifts she gave me. The dark gifts are the things that helped facet that diamond-in-the-rough that I was into brightness.
But then there are the things I was always grateful for that came from her: My sense of adventure; my love of travel; my artistic side; my love of cooking amazing food for others.
And my love of yoga—she woke that up in me.
In the custody agreement, my mother was granted visitation every Tuesday evening and every other weekend. I don’t know if it was a formal agreement, or that is just what my father granted her, seeing that it was 1965 and he had full custody of a child, something rare in those days. She frequently took me to my grandparents on our weekends together, and those were the best weekends whether she was there the whole weekend or gone for large chunks of it leaving me with them.
Weekends alone with her were usually dark—I have very little memory of those. I often dissociated on those weekends, still disconnected for a day or two after I returned home. She was frequently late for the week night visits, and oftentimes she just didn’t get me, calling in “sick” at the last minute or just not showing up at all. Frequent disappointment, left standing at the window, looking for her to drive up.
All that waiting.
But one Tuesday was different; I was six or seven years old. She picked me up and said we were going to a yoga class. It was held at Salem Lutheran Church in Peoria, IL. Why that is such an important detail of the memory is beyond me. I don’t really remember the space—I think it was a basement area with a stage that had a light turned on…maybe the teacher was here, on the stage. I remember the darkness of the rest of the space. I don’t remember the practice—I just remember the feeling.
It was like I had waited my whole very short life for that one moment to happen. And that started my life-long desire to know yoga, to be immersed in yoga, to live yoga.
You have to remember that I was just a child. This was back in the 70’s, but somehow in those years something woke up in me. I was a strange little child with a strange childhood. I wasn’t like the other kids. And now this thing was awake in me. Many have said that it must be because of a past life or lives. I don’t believe in past lives—but I don’t not believe in past lives either. I think it doesn’t matter, really. Yet, truthfully, the only way I can describe this is that my soul had a memory of all of this.
Shoulder stands and Plow pose were my favorites while watching TV. Cobbler’s pose or Bound Angle Pose, folded forward all the way down, forehead resting on the backs of my forearms was another daily favorite. Hero pose (which I can still do at 58 most days, I am happily surprised to say) was truly my favorite way to sit on the ground. I sometimes liked to lie flat on my back once I got into this position.
Crow pose, either with my head on the ground or off the ground, was also loved. Ah, and head stands! I loved those! I washed dishes in an extreme tree pose, and frankly, having my foot tucked up like that, was one of my favorite ways to stand. There were so many poses I did, and I thought of it as doing “my yoga.” Other than that one class, though, I had had no training in it. These poses, and many others, rose from me as easily as breathing.
India. That was THE place I wanted to travel.
I had to go there when I grew up. I wanted my nose pierced like the women in India, and swore I would do it if I ever found a way. This was a child in the 70’s, back when folks just didn’t have their noses pierced in America. But I swore I would do it, given a chance.
This became my hidden world. Besides doing asanas, I began meditating on my own at around 12 years old. I set up an altar with rocks and crystals, an incense burner of Buddha my mother passed my way instead of to a thrift store and would sit in front of it burning incense and doing my own meditation. I pondered my existence. Am I real? How do I know I am real? What if I am no more than the dream of a 30 year old woman in a coma, and when she wakes up—poof!—I vanish? But the more persistent idea I played with, embraced, was the idea that I was nothing more than God’s dream.
In my early twenties I tried a couple of yoga classes when I found them, but quit, sadly disappointed. The classes felt flat. They weren’t for every body…only for the bendy (like me) and didn’t feel inclusive. There was no mystery, no spirituality. It was doing a set of exercises.
I wanted the soul of yoga. The spirituality that IS yoga. Not just a bunch of exercise moves. I wanted this desperately. And because it was so important to me, I deliberately didn’t study it. I didn’t want to read anything because, frankly, I didn’t want to read flakey crap. I didn’t want to read something that turned me off. My soul was seeking right knowledge, and I knew some day I would find it.
And then there was the time when I was about 25 years old at a Grateful Dead show. I was walking down an aisle, looking at jewelry, and there was someone with an ear piercing gun, piercing ears…and noses. My whole life I swore if I ever had the chance I would do it. It was safe to say that, because no one had their noses pierced back then. Now, here was someone who would give me what I always wanted. I walked on by. I had a job in a social work agency that as a case manager and I knew they would not like it. To me, it felt like if I did it, I would be changing my life forever.
The next day I went back and had her pierce my nose. In its own weird little way, it did change my life forever.
And then I got pregnant. Had a homebirth. Got pregnant again. Had a second homebirth.
My birth mom? When I was almost 13, she got married and moved to Switzerland. I saw her a summer there, another summer in Italy. I wouldn’t go back to Europe, to England. To be alone with her was too awful. She would come back to visit once a year, see me a few times. She eventually moved back when I was 16 and spent most of the rest of her life not talking to me. Sometimes she would call me out of the blue, and sometimes connect with me for a while.
Things would always fall apart. She was absent for most of the time my children were young.
And still I did my bits of yoga. Still had that heart-felt desire. First one friend, then a second friend traveled away somewhere for month long intensives to become yoga teachers. I was so jealous, but my life was such that I couldn’t do such a thing. I waited. Someday, I would fall into yoga. Someday I would go to India.
Eventually, things fell so far apart with my mother that I was done forever. It literally came down to me taking care of her as she came home from the hospital from her first round of cancer—lung cancer. I was in charge of her medication because we didn’t trust her with it. We had just walked through the door and she was demanding the Vicodin. I wouldn’t give it to her. We fought. She yelled at me, argued with me.
I finally held the pill bottle in front of her and said, “You can take the ibuprofen first like the doctor said and wait one hour and then take the Vicodin, OR you can take the Vicodin from me right now…but if you do that, I will am walking out of the door and we are through. I will be done with you forever.” She looked me in the eyes, looked at the bottle of pills and took them out of my hand, turning away from me as she opened the bottle and began taking the pills. I left her alone and we didn’t talk again until almost the very end.
Eventually (a long story in itself) I found that moment in time when I was ready to step onto the yogic path. I was just past 50, had quit my job as a special education teacher and had finally found the perfect yoga program. Really, I was led to it. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the perfect program for me. That love of yoga that my birth mother had awakened in me was finally coming to fruition. I was finally studying yoga, was immersed in yoga. I went to sleep and woke up thinking about it.
And somehow through immersing myself in yogic studies, I realized that my deep hatred for my birth mother was draining me. I needed to stop hating her for me. But how does one forgive? I thought of my artistic side, my love of yoga, my love of travel. These were all gifts from her, but I couldn’t come up with one nice things to say about her, about something good she had done.
Over the years I had heard the stories of the abortions she had had between giving birth to me and 17 years later giving birth to my brother. She could have had an abortion back then at 19, I have no doubt, but for some reason she chose to have me. THIS was the one nice thing I could say about her—she had chosen to give birth to me. And so developed a habit, a prayer to her that I said daily, whenever I thought of it:
“Thank you for giving me life.”
It started to work, and after about about two years of praying this prayer I knew I had forgiven her, and had truly started seeing darkness as great gifts as well. Studying yogic philosophy, meditating, doing shadow work, I began to honestly be able to feel love for her.
While I didn’t want a relationship with her, I also didn’t want her to die thinking I hated her.
We hadn’t spoken in 10 years. I was pondering this and what to do about it. My children and husband said over and over to not call her, not visit, not cross than line because she was so very toxic.
Then that day came when my brother, who had also not spoken to me in years, called in January as I was driving through a snow storm to one of my yoga training weekends, telling me our birth mother had cancer again and this time it was in her brain and terminal. He thought I would want to know. I thanked him and got her phone number, called her for the first time in 10 years. We talked about the cancer.
She told me she had been a horrible mother to me. Yes, I agreed. She apologized. I told her I had already forgiven her. “Good, “ she said. “Can we just move forward and never talk about it again?” I agreed. We ended the conversation with me telling her I loved her.
I was working full time, traveling out of town three hours away monthly for trainings, doing keeping up with all my yoga studies and traveling out of town five hours away in between to take care of her. It was a strange time. Out of her three children, I was the one that she wanted to be with, that she wanted with her as she was dying. She made me promise to be there. I promised. And I was with her when she passed.
For various reasons, it took a while to settle the estate. There wasn’t much money, but enough to pay off some debt, buy a mower, put a chunk in the bank to finish siding our house—and a chunk to go to India.
The one place in the world that I always wanted to be. That deep yearning that she awoke in me back when I was six or seven that never went away. That love that was driving my life now with studies and practice. And now, her money was paying to send me to the one place I had always wanted to be.
We had arrived in Rishikesh. I was traveling with a couple of friends for two of the six weeks of my trip, and we were walking that first afternoon, trying to get to the Ganges. I can’t explain it, but I felt almost frantic trying to get there. We couldn’t find an easy path, but finally I was walking down the steps of a ghat to Ma Ganga and burst into tears of joy, crying, laughing, smiling, pouring handfuls of the water over my head. My friend, watching me, said, “You have lived here before in a past life.” I don’t know what I believe, but I do know that in that moment I agreed with her.
I felt like I had come home.
Now I have completed over 1000 hours of yoga training and am a certified yoga therapist specializing in chronic pain, trauma and the pelvic floor. That dream that awoke in me the first time I took a yoga class with my birth mother back when I was six or seven had come full circle, and I am now living that dream.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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