One of the greatest people who came into my life at a time of extreme need was a total accident. In November of 1988, I was forced to take a medical leave from The Lyric Opera of Chicago. This was mandated by a total breakdown, physically and mentally, which had intensified over several months. The precipitating event that caused me to take the medical leave was when that I found that it was impossible to get through the entirety of the Don Giovanni solo without having to stop. In fairness, I didn’t think my assistant could play the solo better than I could, but it was better for everyone that there would be no doubt that it was not going to stop in the middle of a performance. Additionally, I sought medical help for the weakness and tension in my right arm. Because of this, I was given enough drugs to fill a pharmacy, and I had withdrawal symptoms as well as a bad right arm to contend with.
Many years before this happened, I had taken yoga classes for $1 or $2 a class in 1971. So, I looked up the Integral Yoga Institute in the phone book and called to see whether they were still giving classes. The gentleman at the other end of the line suggested that I come in and see him to get checked out as to whether my injuries would prevent me from doing any of the asanas (yoga postures). It was in this way that I met Vishnu Jayson.
At our first meeting, Vishnu showed me what he called a “Standing Bend”. But then, he asked me what this was all about, how this had happened, and why I thought yoga could do anything to alleviate my problem. In all honesty, I did not feel I needed to be psychoanalyzed and somewhat resented the intrusion. Nevertheless, I was perfectly honest about the fact that I was severely injured physically and psychologically and worried about how I was going to make my way in the world if I couldn’t play the cello professionally.
It was then that Vishnu explained his philosophy: “Every difficulty that you face in life is put in front of you in order for you to evolve to a higher place. Life’s challenge is to force you to move through the difficulty in order for this evolution of the soul to take place.” Like all devotees of yoga, Vishnu believed in reincarnation and the ultimate liberation of the soul.
During the next several months, I consulted with Vishnu two or three times a week for $35.00 a session. I thought he was worth way more, but he considered that “a fair price” for an hour of his time. These sessions, in which I could express all my fears, doubts, and hopes, served as an anchor while I did every manner of physical therapy and reinvention of my cello technique. Additionally, I took a medical leave from the American Ballet Theatre. Many times, my wife June would go off to a performance of the American Ballet Theatre at 7:00pm and come back at 11:00pm, finding me still at my various stretches and lifts.
As I regained my strength and flexibility, I concentrated in my sessions with Vishnu about how to deal with an ambitious assistant interested in getting my job after my Imminent collapse and other political issues. Vishnu constantly reminded me to do my very best to prepare, but to leave the results in the hands of God.
Because of my willingness to embrace Vishnu’s philosophy, I was able to come back to the opera for the 35th anniversary and successfully play the big cello solo in Tosca on the opening night and have total confidence in the subsequent performances of der Rosenkavalier. The gift of Vishnu was my willingness to accept whatever is and make the best of it. I felt it was enough that I got back to the opera and could sit in my chair and logically aspire to be able to play the big cello solos at the level I had established over my career. I was willing for it to not happen, but I was also willing to be there as a reality check.
I continued to consult with Vishnu until his death five years later. It was surprising to me that someone who took such good care of his body would die of a bacterial infection that was resistant to antibiotics.
It was a great privilege to have had so much of Vishnu’s remaining time, and when he died, I felt that it was now, to whatever degree possible, my job to be there, to be Vishnu for other people. I don’t know how to fully capture the essence of Vishnu. But at that time, he was the difference between success and failure in my life.