CODA: The Heart of Listening
[INTRO] Peg: Hi. Welcome to the Ashtanga Dispatch Yoga Podcast. I’m Peg Mulqueen, your host along with Meghan Powell.
Today’s guest is an unusual one for us.
Though he’s as devoted to his Ashtanga yoga practice as anyone I know — he doesn’t teach. at least, not in the formal sense. Instead, he rising at 3 am so he can practice before he leaves for work as a tradesman.
He also isn’t on social media. So you’re more likely to find him in his utility truck at lunchtime listening to Krishna Das than posting on instagram or twitter.
But what is perhaps most unique about today’s guest is Mark Bint grew up with two parents who cannot heart. Mark is known as a CODA, a child of deaf adults. And why Meghan and I asked him to do this interview.
You see, we were putting together May’s issue of THE PATH, which is a journal that members of our community receive each month. The archetype of this issue was the Wild One with a bodily awareness that involves all the senses. And so we thought it would be interesting to know Mark’s experience of listening and self expression, growing up with two deaf parents as part of THE PATH — not the podcast.
And so it’s a good thing Mark loves Meghan because I’m not sure he knew what he was signing on for. (did I mention that Mark Bint is also Meghan’s fiancee. Both students of Dena Kingsberg, they met in her shala in Byron Bay and now live in Tasmania.)
But when I listened to Mark’s story, I knew it was bigger than just the journal. It really touched my heart. And parts that broke my heart too. And yet it was in those broken bits that Mark found his calling. Not as someone who teaches the practice, but as a person who actually lives it.
I’ll let Meg and Mark take it from here. Enjoy.
Meghan: Hey, everyone! Welcome. You may not know, but this is my fiancé, Mark, and we’ve asked Mark on this recording today to talk about something that’s very unique to him, and that is that Mark is known as what’s called a CODA. Can you explain to us what that means.
Mark: A CODA is a child of a deaf adult. I was born with two deaf adults, actually, both my parents. And yeah, they were both born completely deaf.
Meghan: And so what was that like growing up?
Mark: Super different, I think. It’s one of those things where from an early age it was normal. But I guess the older I get and up until now, it’s like, yeah, you realize it. It was a really different way to experience the world and it was unique to see how my parents experience the world as well.
Meghan: We watched a movie called, CODA, actually, and, you know, for someone like myself, I didn’t have this experience growing up with actually knowing anyone that was deaf… and for you, even your aunt is deaf as well … So for me, it was a great insight to how Mark my may have grown up. Did you notice any similarities between your upbringing and the movie?
Mark: Yeah, the movie’s epic, if you haven’t already watched it. Megs and I watched it recently and it was really emotional for me to watch it because I resonated with it so much. Just seeing how different it was. And, I think, sound — whether it’s coming from communication, or just sound in the world — can be taken for granted.
And seeing a movie that was done so well … Yeah, a lot of it rang true.
Meghan: So what do you mean “taken for granted?”
Mark: It’s probably not the case for most people, but I think just so many things that, you know — like a bird fluttering its wings, or like distant sounds of things that are happening in the world — we can kind of gloss over.
Seeing the way that my parents interact with the world and having them so focused in on direct experiences is… it’s really kind of motivating and inspiring.
And I think that really showed in the movie as well. It really highlighted those characters — the parents — and how they interacted in the world was really different.
Meghan: And really difficult… I mean, like for us. It’s so easy to have this conversation right now and to go out and because… like what I’ve noticed, I think the most for me, watching like your parents out in the world is how, like you said, how we take for granted being able to communicate and how the world isn’t set up for her to communicate with. Like just ordering a coffee or getting the bus or anything like that. Everything’s much more challenging.
Mark: And in today’s world, everyone’s busy, you know? Like, people don’t have time to confront something that’s different — like confronting challenge that’s different from the everyday sort of ease of speaking interactions, you know? When they’re forced to go… Oh, okay, like I need to write something down on paper to send a message.
You know, it’s interesting in that way. And I saw how difficult that was, and how patient my parents are. This is one of the things that really inspired me.
Meghan: I wonder, just to go off of that. was there a responsibility for you as a kid to be that, um, intermediary between, like, even from a young age, for like your parents and other people… and you were kind of that person? Was that something that happened?
Mark: Totally. Yeah. And again, like when I was young, it was just an everyday thing for me. Although, now I see it as well. Like, how much… not that they relied on me, but it just made it easier to transition from the difficulties and just to make everyday experiences easier.
And it was something that I kind of consciously did from a young age was to try and just be that bridge in communication and to make it easier for them.
Meghan: One thing that I think is really interesting, like talking about communication is watching you communicate with your mom and just how alive it is to watch you and your mother — whether in person or even over a video, like over face time — and how dynamic it is. And expressive. I think, I’m not. As I’m becoming used to communicating with your mom, like I’m not very expressive in my facial expressions… or, am I?
Mark: But you are, I think. And I’m sure Peg would attest to how expressive you are. And I was saying that to Peg when she was here recently. How much of a connection that you both have in the way. That so much can be said with no words between you and your mom because you wear it on your face and in your eyes.
And that’s the thing I find having that experience and kind of being aware of facial expressions because that is… with hearing impairment or someone that can’t hear, the communication is signing and using your hands.
But also it’s body language. You know, facial expression is a huge thing. So to blend those two things together is crucial in being able to hold and share that communication, you know, in a conversation.
Meghan: Yeah. Well, it’s funny because Mom and I were recently, actually, just this morning, talking about… sort of talking about Mark coming on and sharing a bit of his experience and something that we noticed…
What happened: Mark and I are right now in the midst of planning for our wedding and mom came to visit. Peg came to visit here and mom and I had a bit of a disagreement with some things and it was more of a miscommunication, but it became, you know, it was a bit rough between mother and daughter. And it was one afternoon and Mark came home from work and, I mean, it was it was rare. It is incredibly rare, but it was a significant, sort of, butting of heads. And well, Mark came home from work and he immediately walked into the door and he actually didn’t even step into the house.
He just goes, “Whoa. What’s going on here?”
Mark: (laughing) Did I?
Meghan: And you didn’t even like you didn’t even come in! You just go, Oh, this feels… I think you said you could cut through the tension with a knife. And he didn’t even walk in.He just sat outside. You know, it’s funny, I don’t really know if everyone actually would have noticed. We just we didn’t even say anything. You just came in and immediately felt it. And I, we kind of thought it’s rare for someone to really be able to immediately pick up on those cues right off the bat. I mean, you hadn’t even walked in the door. You just felt it. And you didn’t even step in and… Yeah, like maybe that’s a part of because of your upbringing, being able to immediately feel like that body language and that energy. Yeah. Do you think?
Mark: I think so, yeah. I think that was a huge element of my upbringing was… it’s kind of a hard one to explain, but, I think when you’re with something for so long, it becomes a part of your every day. And you know, a part of your life.
You kind of experience that layer of reality. And for me, we didn’t really talk much at home. You know, we spoke and expressed ourselves through sign language and expression. But there also wasn’t the TV wasn’t playing. The radio wasn’t playing. There wasn’t like a constant kind of backdrop of different types of information, things that you can get caught up on.
And so it was kind of like: you’re there. And like we learn with meditation or, you know, like pulling the senses away — it heightens other areas internally.
So I think that definitely was that aspect. And I’m really grateful for that.
And I noticed that with mom as well. With mom and dad because, obviously, it’s for them, it’s a hundredfold because they are the ones that can’t hear, you know? And with mom especially. She loves music. But her connection with sound is feel. Like she feels things. And she can feel like the next door neighbor screaming.
She feels sound. And she just feels different things that sometimes we don’t even hear, and it’s pretty cool to see.
Meghan: So she’s feeling the vibration?
Mark: Yeah. And she can feel when someone’s angry. You can lose track of that sensibility, but when they’re the things that you need, then yeah, they’re very much a reality in their experience. More so. Which is really cool.
Meghan: She’s very sensitive. I remember being in a cafe when we when she came to visit and she was sitting up against, it was a concrete, I think, in this cafe. Sunday sustainable. Um, and I remember she put her hands over her ears and I said to Mark can she here a little bit? Because there, there’s a scale, right?
Meghan: Can you explain that a little bit?
Mark: Yeah. So you can be born, I think to be born profoundly deaf or to be profoundly deaf, it’s 0 to 12% of of hearing. And then in that area you you can’t have any sort of implantation and or any hearing. And so… it just… it won’t work, any amplification. And then after that from 12 upwards, you can get a cochlear, you can wear hearing aids. And mom and dad both are actually zero.
Yeah, so they have no sound amplification. And my auntie, my mom’s sister is also profoundly deaf… I’m sorry, she’s not profoundly deaf. She’s just over 12%. I think she’s around 20% and she wears hearing aids but that only gives her vibrations as well.
Yeah, actually no sound — like no specific sound.
Meghan: Yeah…. And I remember your mom covering her ears and I thought, hmm… Can she, can she hear? Like I don’t really understand because, you know, that would definitely mean like….
Mark: And I always thought that too. Even still now, I’m 35 and sometimes I’m like, is she joking — like can she actually hear? And no she can’t.
Meghan: But it’s more of what that sort of signifies.
Mark: Yeah. Right.
Meghan: But it was the vibration and that was overwhelming to the senses. But I do notice when you speak to your mom — sorry when you sign to your mom — you can’t be doing anything else but sign.
Mark: Yeah, totally.
Meghan: And so you’re like you’re fully engaged in that communication with her, you know? That’s really fascinating.
Mark: That is cool. I think that’s one of my favorite things with Auslan is that you have to be engaged because you don’t want to miss anything. So you can’t ‘sort of’ be doing something and talking to someone who’s in another room. It’s all in the moment, you know? Things like that just doesn’t happen. And yeah, I think that also is something that I’ve learned to love.
You know, I think that’s what kind of led me to the yoga path is having experienced this particular type of life, it made me want to express and connect with people more. And for people to connect with each other. Because you see it so much from going down to the shop or, saying g’day to someone on the side of the street … it’s becoming less and less that people are giving their time to share in relationships, you know? We’re all too busy.
And so that’s really important to everything.
Meghan: It is because I can talk to you to be on my phone at the same time. And not fully engaged there. [laughing] You know?
Mark: Well, life happens.
Meghan: Let’s go back to your mom. I think something that you had said, and I might not get this like fully right, but your mom and your Auntie Catherine were kind of told not to sign. Is that right?
Meghan: And to not really communicate in the way that they have to be able to communicate — which is sign language. And what happened from that? Like why were they not allowed to communicate? What was the history there? And then what came out of that?
Mark: So I’m going to assume people don’t know sort of anything, but sort of pre-1980s, there was a lot of people born deaf through medical side effects. One of them and the main medical condition was German Measles.
And so if the mother had German Measles at conception or during pregnancy, their child would be born with hearing difficulties. Actually my dad was born deaf through that. His mom had German Measles and mum’s born deaf genetically. Because her sister’s deaf. And then after the 1980s, obviously science and medicine were able to find a vaccine…[unidentifiable low talking…]
Meghan: I mean it was it a vaccine? it may or may not have been a vaccine that helped German measles. We’ll get back to you on that.
Mark: And so actually mom was sent to a boarding school when she was quite young. She was I think, six years old when she went to boarding school and her youngest sister went years later. It was actually a school for the “deaf and dumb” which, you know, society used in those days. Something I feel really strongly against because I think it kind of it just categorizes people and it’s just such a blanket thing to to put on people. But that’s what it was called. And because of that, it was an integrated school with people with hearing disabilities as well as kids with different learning disabilities.
Yeah, they weren’t actually allowed to sign. From six years old, they were told to have their hands beside their waist and to not speak. Until they had speech classes where a speech pathologist would come in and they would try and teach them how to talk.
And for anyone that has any idea what talking to someone that’s deaf is like, some can talk really well and some can’t. But it’s not, I mean — that’s not how they were born, to use their voice.
That was really sad to find that out. So it wasn’t until — when Catherine, my Aunty Catherine, went to school, she and mom have their own kind of communication and they would sort of sign. Although at the time, they didn’t actually know that. It was just their particular created sign language, which was cool.
So they would do that in private. And then, when they went into a public setting, it was back to, you know what they were told. And that was a reality through school. And because it was a boarding school through life up to — mom left school when she was 16 and then she came home. She then started to develop a community of Deaf friends in which they started signing. And then she discovered Auslan, which is the Australian version of sign language. Australian sign language. And then Auslan evolved and started to become in the public.
So yeah, Mum always says, it wasn’t till she was 16, 17, 18 that she actually started to embrace who she was, as a person — that’s when she really came alive. And I think that’s the case for a lot of Deaf people, you know? My dad was the same. He went to actually the neighboring boarding school to Mum. And you know, hands by the side. And it was pretty traumatizing for them to experience that way of life. And I think because of those hardships, it really just, I mean it just… you know, they’re so beautiful. Because of that, they embrace who they are. And I think you see that with the community as well, which is really beautiful.
Meghan: I think what amazes me is how patient she is and passionate about Auslan.
Meghan: Yeah. I mean, I love your mother because well, for me, I know very few signs, and she is incredibly patient as I spell out every single word because I want to learn, but I don’t know any of the words and so, or any of the signs, and so I’m spelling everything out. And I imagine in her head she’s like oh dear lord… And she spells everything for me.
But your mom is an incredible communicator because even in like, I have a like I, I struggle to know what she’s trying to say to me and I struggle to be able to communicate but what I’m trying to say and … and yet because of her, like her movements and her embodiment in the way like her facial expressions and just how expressive she is, we can communicate so much just like that.
Well, it’s just incredible. Yeah. That’s something I find really amazing. And beautiful.
Mark: That’s just patience that she’s had to embrace. And I think, like, she loves, you know, she loves and dad loves when people have the patience to to try. It doesn’t matter how, how long it takes. So, you know, you just the fact that people try it means a lot.
And I think that’s something that myself, I carry in my everyday interactions as well because I see the same, you know, like I was saying, the pain and frustration that that can cause when people don’t have the time. And, you know, I see my parents wanting to share in because we all we all want relationships.
You know, we all want to be heard. We all want to be understood. And and so having seen that, I carry you know, I carry that with me. It doesn’t matter who it is, I’m trying, you know, to give people time.
Meghan: I couldn’t imagine being, like, told not to communicate and being forced to communicate in a way that is like, I don’t know if unnatural is the right word, but that that’s not the way that your mom was born to communicate.
Yeah. Yeah… And how it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around how horrible that is.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah, totally. Because it, it I mean, for someone that’s born deaf, they have they have a completely different language function. Like, it’s not in spoken English. It’s not with the vowels and nouns. It’s completely different.
And so yet to be to be taught something that you don’t even have the functions to understand. But yeah, I’m sure would be pretty gnarly.
Meghan: That’s one way to put it…
I wonder how like how you grew up… So for me my first word spoken was “no”. Which you can probably imagine. [laughing] And so but how is that… your parents signing… What did you learn first: signing or spoken English or do you remember
Mark: Signing. For sure. Yeah.
Meghan: Did you have a first sign? Do you know?
Mark: I can’t really remember. … Remember that truthfully. But I do remember…
I think what I’ve told you… we’ve spoken about, is that as a kid, like, for me to be in front of this camera is huge. For me as a kid, I was so nervous talking to people because it, it wasn’t normal for me.
You know, at home, I would use sign and everything would be silent. And there would be no TV, you know, there would be no radio, and it would be sign and then silence. So when I went to school, when I was six and seven, the first year you couldn’t get anything out of me.
And I just wouldn’t talk at all to anyone. And I was so quiet and um, yeah, so I forget where I was going with this.
Meghan: Wherever you want.
Mark: Yeah. And I, you know, lost my train of thought.
But, yeah, I think I found it. The one thing I found fascinating was, you know, when I started to meet a lot of different people, different kids, like, at school, you know, I noticed that, sometimes when you’re six, seven, and eight at school, a lot of the topics of conversation are pretty, you know, they could be…
Mark: And it’s very imaginative, you know, it’s, it’s what the kids are experiencing. But then as you get a little bit older about it, it’s, you know what, what your parents are talking about at home. Oh, my, my parents said this, you know, and that’s sort of what’s happening in the world, you know, so something could happen.
I remember actually when September 11th happened, actually when I was a kid and um, I remember going to school and it was just, I mean, people were just talking everywhere. And I, I hadn’t even heard about it. And that was huge because it was such a massive, massive thing that happened. That was kind of the first time where I thought, like, my life is different. Like, I don’t have, just that access. And I think now, I think that’s a good thing in some ways because… yeah, I mean, how much do we… how much information do we need? What do you think?
Meghan: I think we’re constantly bombarded with information. Definitely. But what, I wonder…
Mark: I think I went off track. [laughing]
Meghan: You said that was the moment that, you know, like, it kind of registered that your life was different and like that you hadn’t actually…. It is a very different upbringing. I mean, incredibly different then what I would say is, like, quote unquote, maybe normal or what we might think of as normal. I mean, it’s certainly different from mine. And and it leads you to very unique experiences that a lot of people don’t have I think even even especially just as you being a child of Deaf adults and how that’s different.
One last thing… I think. And then we can….
Meghan: You worked with kids as well. And that have… because we are talking about having a lot of information. And there was one thing that I remember you saying about kids with the cochlear implants and how it actually it can be really difficult for them for the kids because there’s actually like a frequency because — you can explain it better than I can — But there are different frequencies and because that they’re implanted and they’re picking up like radio frequencies, they also have like maybe sounds that aren’t necessarily able to be really physically heard. But how that but it still comes in, it’s still being transmitted and how that causes frustration because there’s a lot of information there.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah. And discomfort. I worked at a high school interpreting for Deaf kids and I was working at a high school in Queensland. And there were 13 deaf kids and they had sort of different ranging levels of hearing. Some of the kids had one cochlear. Some of the kids had two cochlear ears on both sides and then there was some kids that had hearing aids.
There was also a kid, which I thought was really fascinating that he could hear — but that the language he could actually hear. The language part of his brain — there was a missing link and he wasn’t actually able to speak. He wasn’t actually able to communicate and translate what he was hearing to spoken language. So he actually used sign language and yeah, he was really, really cool. He was one of my favorites.
Meghan: We don’t have favorites! [Laughing]
Mark: I mean, [signing] I’m sorry! Other kids, if you’re watching…
Yeah, we went surfing. I took him surfing quite a lot. He was a really interested surfer. But for anyone that doesn’t know as well, cochlear implants are given to people that have hearing over 12%. If you choose like, you know, if you want cochlear then you can get some implantation that … I’m not so sure exactly the science behind it, but it amplifies the sound and frequencies but also they’re so sensitive that things can throw out the vibrations. And just like your phone speakers, sometimes it can really send like … I could hear the different sounds buzzing in their head, and that was quite loud. Yeah, like I could see the pain that some of the kids were going through with things like that.
Sometimes kids would just, you know, rip them out of their head. And I mean I’m not, you know — obviously it’s a huge decision for the people that want to get them and their families involved. And I know it’s a huge debate within the deaf community. And it’s a huge topic.
But for me, it was kind of… it was sad. Yeah, it was sad to see some of the kids, you know, and how they were, just that little part similar to my parents as well.
And it’s such a hard thing to call because obviously, you know, parents want nothing but the best for the kids. So if they’re born with any type of disability, they want to try the best that they can to ensure that the kid has the best life. And I’m sure that’s the case in every case with kids that have cochlear. It’s still a little bit similar to what my parents went through. And, you know… “No, you can hear… like you should hear”… because hearing is “normal” Instead of embracing who they are and what they have.
The side effect is that there is a lot of pain and frustration. And that’s physically, energetically. And there’s also the other elements of not feeling like that psychological element of not feeling themselves and being told to be something that they’re not. So there’s that byproduct of that which you see is kids as well. And so I worked with kids that were in their early teens…13, 14. And they were right at that stage in life where, you know, they were becoming men and women and going through adolescence. And you know, learning about themselves and for them to be sort of, kind of boxed in — it was hard to see. Just really confronting. And something that I’m passionate about…
Meghan: Well, thank you for speaking with us about your experience growing up and how that’s led you to who you are. And it’s really valuable insight.
Mark: It led me to her. [puts arm around Meghan, laughing]
Meghan: But it’s amazing for me to have this experience and to learn more and really valuable as well for learning how to communicate in different ways and, and learning more, especially about you, as my fiancé.
And thank you for watching. There are, you know, if you’re interested in learning more about sign language, there are actually different sign languages depending on the country that you’re in. There is American sign language (ASL). Australian sign language known as Auslan, British. I mean, it’s endless just like the languages. So, you know, check it out. It’s a huge, vibrant community that you might find yourself somehow a part of.
Mark: And if you see someone that you think may be deaf, say g’day!
Meghan: How would you say… how would you say g’day.
Mark: Just wave.[laughing]
Meghan: How would you say “How are you” in auslan?
Mark: The quick way would be to say… [signing] how are you? Are you good?
Meghan: [signing] So how are you?
And then what would be the more formal, I don’t know you… way.
Mark: Would be [signing] how are you?
Meghan: [signing] How are you?
Meghan: There you go. Now, you know, a little bit of sign language or a little bit auslan….If you’re not in Australia… I don’t know what the American way would be…
Meghan and Mark: Thank you.
[OUTRO] Peg: You can find the entire transcript along with the video recording from today’s episode in our show notes. Just visit ashtangadispatch.com
And while you’re there, check out The Path, a unique online practice space that includes a monthly journal and live gathering at the end of each month for members to connect and discuss. Also, Meg and I will be holding a Mountain yoga retreat in Bozeman Montana July 31st through August 4th — with a daily morning yoga practice and afternoon explorations. Come and connect with nature, yours and the wildness that is Montana.
Again, details are on the website, ashtangadispatch.com
Thanks for listening.
The Ashtanga Dispatch Yoga Podcast is is produced, edited, and hosted by Peg Mulqueen along with Meghan Powell.
The Path — a unique practice space that includes a beautiful monthly journal, ideas for home practice, and a live, online gathering to connect and support. With female archetypes as our guides, each month we will explore various aspects of the yoga practice, in a way that invokes a more feminine perspective.