Chapter 01: A Child with a Different Perspective

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Chapter 01: A Child with a Different Perspective

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In this chapter, Ms. Sumler talks about her early realization that she had a different perspective on life than other children her age. She talks about her early affinity for nature when was a child in Connecticut, her fascination with questions about the universe and intuitive grasp of non-duality. She tells an anecdote about how her father would joke with her, inadvertently supporting her growing perspective. She then talks about discovering the Daoist koans, yoga and pranayamic breathing.

Identifier

Sumler,PSS_01_20180501

Publication Date

5-1-2018

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Personal Background; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Faith

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

We are recording. Okay. Oh, let me grab my—I always have my little official thing I put on here. So I’m Tacey Ann Rosolowski, and today is May 1st, 2018. The time is about eight minutes after 10:00 in the morning, and I am in the Historical Resources Center Reading Room with—Sat Siri is how you say it?—Sat Siri Sumler, and we’re having a conversation for the Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Project, run by the Historical Resources Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Now, if I get any of this wrong you do correct me, okay? Ms. Sumler came to MD Anderson in 2000 to work in the Integrative Medicine program. She is a Board-certified therapeutic massage therapist and bodyworker, licensed massage therapy instructor, and a certified lymphedema therapist, and also a teacher in the field of yoga, though I notice that you do a number of other things, as well, and we will be talking about all those, but so far I’m good? Okay.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

That’s good. I started here as a contractor, massage therapist contractor, about three years before I came on staff.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Oh, okay. Well, good. Well, let’s—we’ll talk about all of that, because that’s—I mean, that kind of track is really interesting. I also moved from contractor to staff status, and it’s sort of a nice way of people understanding how you have value. (laughter)  

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Okay. Well, let me start in the traditional place, and please make yourself comfortable.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

This chair’s uncomfortable. (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

It is? Oh, dear. Well, let me pause for a sec. Let me pause for a sec. (The recorder is paused briefly.) Okay, so we took care of a little glitch. So yeah, let’s start in just the traditional place: tell me where you were born, and when, and tell me a little bit about your family.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Well, I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and my family goes back—kind of old Yankees—to Rhode Island and Massachusetts from the 1600s, on both sides of the family. And I was born on April 23rd, 1958. I grew up in Connecticut until I was ten, and then we moved to Houston.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Now, what did your father or mother do that necessitated that big move?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

My father was a linotype operator, and my mom grew up—her father was a meteorologist, and she grew up in weather stations along the Eastern coast, and she did not like cold weather. Her brother—one of her brothers was—ran the photography department of NASA, and so they came to visit him, and my mom kind of loved the heat. She never complained about it once after we moved here. My dad got offered a job when they were here just visiting, and so we moved to—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

All right. Now, tell me your parents’ names.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

They were Doug and Ginger Austin.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Do you have any siblings?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I have two brothers.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

And their names?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Stephen and Doug.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

So what year did you move down to Houston?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

We moved here in 1968.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Nineteen sixty-eight, okay. So tell me about kind of your young life: your educational experience, kind of what you found... And the reason I’m asking these questions is I’m always interested in how it is that people come to gravitate towards what they end up doing in their life, how they find their purpose, if you will. So tell me a little bit about what were the high points for you, growing up. How did you come to love what—the kinds of things that you’re doing now?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Well, I think growing up in Connecticut, I just really had an affinity for nature. It’s very beautiful there. I spent a lot of time outdoors, just really in contemplation. I loved the night sky, the daytime sky, the rocks, the—just everything about being in nature, and I was a very contemplative child.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Even as a child.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Does that have a spiritual kind of dimension to you? For you?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Absolutely. I was a very spiritual child. I remember my mother—I went to Catholic school, and my mom just taking me to school, and telling them, “Pammy’s gonna ask you questions about God that you’re just not gonna know how to answer.” (laughter) And then the teacher would go, “You were right about her.”

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

What were some of the questions you asked as a little girl?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I was really intrigued with kind of the concept of what—like, kind of what was the universe about, and how did—and, like, really, what was our place in the universe. I remember in the third grade we were learning the Creed, and what the Creed meant, and the nun—my teacher told us that “Catholic” meant “universal,” and I just blurted out in the classroom, “The universe! That’s what I believe in!” (laughs) And so I was the kid that when we got dropped off at school and you were supposed to go play in the playground, I went across the street to mass, and the mass was in Latin, and there was incense, and it was—there was just this mystery, and I wanted to know what’s the mystery, what is this all about.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Did you have kind of physical dimensions of that experience, being in the presence of mystery, or...? I mean, there are emotional dimensions and kind of intellectual, but was there a physical component?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Well, I mean, I know that for myself, I would spend just a lot of time of just being aware, physically, just as a child, I would go outside in the winter and lie on the ground in the sun, and just feel the warmth of the sun from the Earth underneath me, the sun on my face, but the cold air on my skin, and just how that affected me. And it was kind of—it was like there was a transformation involved in that.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

So talk about what is that transformation. I know it’s very hard to put into words, but I’m interested. I mean, these are important experiences, when you’re young.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I think without really having words for it at that age, for me it was beginning to realize that there was, reality and nonduality, that things weren’t—that there was more than what things appeared to be like. And then kind of another thing that was going on simultaneously with that was that my dad was just really kind of a jokester, kind of fun, the dad that had lots of games for all the neighborhood kids, and so he would play—for him—it was different games with me. I took it all very seriously. So, for instance, just driving in the car, we’d come to a stoplight, and he’d say, “You know, you have the power to change the light from green to red.” And I’d —I didn’t really think I did. And he’d say, “So I just want you to just be with the light, and then I’ll tell you when to turn your power on.” And so I didn’t know what that meant, and I didn’t know what turning my power on meant, but I just would really contemplate the light, and try to be aware. And then he’d say, “Okay, turn your power on,” and I’d be, I don’t know what that means, but just let it happen. And the right would turn red. And so, of course, eventually I learned how he played that game, but maybe—but I started applying that practice towards everything. I’d go outside and just be in relationship with the neighbor’s house, and try to feel when someone was going to walk out, if I could know or not, and then... Or with the phone, in different ways. And then I remember at one time in my teens I had some question about all this that I was asking my father, and he was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” (laughs) And I was —my mind kind of blew up where I realized, oh, that was just all kind of children’s nonsense to him, and I kind of took it into this other—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Well, it tapped into something that was—

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

—journey. (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

—hardwired in you that he maybe didn’t even understand. He didn’t understand the implications of it, but he provided a really neat kind of mirror for—an amplifier, in a sense, for your natural tendencies.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah. So that was really kind of my informal training in meditation began, then, at a very young age. And then, when I was 11 years old, we had already moved to Houston, and I found this book on Daoist koans, and so then I began practicing kind of contemplation with Daoist koans, and just reading, like, about realization of the mind, and having no idea what that meant, but just kind of opening up to a different practice.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

So tell me how that evolved. And, well, I guess the other question is how was this evolution going on paralleling or having a relationship with school? Or did it? Were they two environments? (laughter)

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah, I think so. I think kind of simultaneously, with that when I had moved to Houston—so I was—it was the summer before the fifth grade, and I remember, walk—I met a girl who lived a block from me, and we would walk home from school together. And I guess I thought I was a normal kid, and I probably talked to her about (laughter) these kind of things. And so one day she said to me, “Oh, you should meet [ ] my sister Jean. She’s weird, too.” And I was like, kind of, “What?” And her sister and I [became friends and] are friends still.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Oh, that’s interesting.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

But anyway, yeah, so I guess just kind of feeling kind of a little bit different, but as... I began just really developing an interest, then, in yoga, meditation, diet, and so there was kind of a fringe element in school that was interested in those things, but it was very small at that time.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

And what years are we talking about here?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

So this would be in the early ’70s, and so one of my first experiences with yoga was, well, my dad, in the evenings, he would go in his bedroom and watch TV, and he’d call me in there to bring him a snack, and so he called me in there and he goes, “Hey, I think you’d really like this.” And it was the beginning of Lilias, Yoga and You on PBS. And so I think that was in the—maybe around 1973 or something. And so I started—that’s when I really started getting into Pranayama breathing practice, and I started practicing every day from what I’d learned from Lilias on Channel 8. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)...

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Now, did you continue in your Catholicism, as well? I mean...

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I did. When we moved to Houston, that was kind of the end of Catholic school. So we lived in the Spring Branch school district, and my parents put us in Spring Branch schools, but I still had Catholic education. Somewhere around that time the Catholic Church moved to folk masses, and so then I was really disappointed. Everyone was very excited, and I kind of thought, “Well, where’s the...? I want the mysticism.” And so there was kind of that.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Yeah, there’s a beauty to the masses in the traditional sense that was missing. I... Yeah.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah. But I still—I mean, there were people in our church who were just very heart-centered and compassionate, practiced that also, I was very drawn to. So I think... I guess going back to the yoga, kind of yoga, so I started with the hatha yoga practice on television, and then I was also an artist, so I was an artist while I was in school.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Visual? Visual arts?  "

Chapter 01: A Child with a Different Perspective

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