Thursday, August 19, 2010

Karma, Dharma, and The Miracle Worker

Almost against my will, I was drawn into the movie The Miracle Worker a few days ago.  I flipped it on out of curiosity - what did Patty Duke look like at that time?  Anne Bancroft?  I already knew the story, of course, so that wasn't the draw.  (In case you don't, it is story of Anne Sullivan's struggle to teach the blind and deaf Helen Keller how to communicate.)

But I became fascinated with the process of resistance and learning - and I recognized it in myself.  Helen had lived her first however many years with certain rules, e.g., she could walk around the table, take food off anyone's plate and eat it.  When Anne took over her education, suddenly that was not permitted anymore.  Helen resisted that change with - ah - alarming vigor.  But sometimes changes come whether we want them or not.

As I watched, I saw the concepts of karma and dharma (as they are understood in the Sweet Medicine SunDance paradigm) dramatically played out.  Briefly, there are certain lessons we must learn in our time here.  When we are still in the process of learning these specific lessons, we are said to be in karma.  One of the key features of these lessons is this: if we don't get the lesson in one form, it will come to us in another, more forceful form, then another yet more forceful, and so on, until we finally get it.  Once we learn all of those specific things, we move into dharma, where we choose what we desire to learn.  In dharma we may succeed or fail at our learning, but we are at choice - no longer forced to "get it."

I saw this in The Miracle Worker as Annie tried, over and over, in many different ways, some gentle and some quite rough, to teach Helen that the hand movements (sign language) meant specific things in her life.  Imagine the difficulty of conveying this concept to someone who can neither see nor hear, has no idea of language - imagine the difficulty of grasping that concept without the visual and verbal prompts most of us had!  It's really quite a big leap. 

It must have seemed to Helen through most of that that some outside force was arbitrarily forcing her to do things that made no sense, and preventing her from having what she wanted and needed to live.  And yet, as soon as she got that one concept, that one lesson, a whole new world was opened up to her.  In this world, she could ask for what she wanted - we see her demanding the signs for ground, mother, I forget what all - but clearly at that point she had taken significant control over what she was learning, what she wanted to learn. 

Sometimes, there's just that one click, that one little thing, that takes us from totally resisting change to understanding the meaning and direction of it, and what it means for us, and the willingness (even eagerness) to go with it.  For myself, I pray that I may just notice when I am resisting change, and look for the piece, the concept, the different perspective, that will let me see the possibilities it brings and how to move into it.