Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Grief and Spring

Grief cycles through our lives over and over. Or it should. We are asked to process all manner of grief during the course of a lifetime. There are deaths, divorces, job losses… What is the timetable for grief? How long should it take for it to run it’s course?

Every Spring, around this time, I am reminded of my daughter Meghan. In truth I am reminded of her daily, but especially this time of year as this was the time she went into the hospital and eventually died as a result of a routine procedure to evaluate her congenital heart disease. The familiar sadness overtakes me on these beautiful Spring days when the azaleas start to bloom. We had white ones by our front door and their fragrance comes back to me as I reflect on that day.  I remember that she ate frosted flakes very early that morning before we left. I recall putting a white flower in her hair that morning before we drove to the hospital. I remember that I took the wrong exit on my way to her appointment. So many memories seem frozen in time. Especially the last goodbye. 

While all of this is probably going to be with me for the remainder of my life, I am also aware that joy is present as well. Now, after so many years, I can remember the happiness that we felt on that drive together, singing and talking and laughing about wrong turns. I come across photos and kindergarten artwork and I can smile. The grief has processed but still there is a sad remembrance that visits me during this season of rebirth and renewal.

It’s kind of not fair, I think. Just as the weather is turning beautiful, here is this rising up of grief again. 

And yet, there is joy. There really is; as we plan a wedding and rejoice over new babies being born, as we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and graduations and sobriety and small seemingly unimportant everyday miracles. 

The coexistence of joy and sorrow is life. 

We come closer to our true nature when we accept this truth. Our true nature is that silent witness that observes the cycles of grief and joy. Our true nature knows what we need to gracefully flow through each passage of life.  Our true nature IS joy.

Christian mystic Thomas Merton writes:

 “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…I have no program for this seeing.  It is only given.  But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

This makes it sound so glorious, no? In the throes of grief, I have longed for this precious awareness.

And yet it is right here in the heart of each of us. We need just to be still enough to notice.

In grieving my daughter I have come across many profound teachings. Many stand out, but one, in particular, author Caroline Myss on “woundology” and how we can get stuck in our grief and our wounds in almost an addictive way. She writes:

“We are not meant to stay wounded. We are supposed to move through our tragedies and challenges and to help each other move through the many painful episodes of our lives. By remaining stuck in the power of our wounds, we block our own transformation. We overlook the greater gifts inherent in our wounds--the strength to overcome them and the lessons that we are meant to receive through them. Wounds are the means through which we enter the hearts of other people. They are meant to teach us to become compassionate and wise.”

Compassionate and wise sounds good. But how do we mine for those gifts when we are so broken, so terribly sad?

From the yoga sutras of Patanjali we learn that yoga is the removing of the fluctuations of the mind. (Yogas chitta vritti nirodha). Yoga is the stilling of the mind until it rests in a state of total and utter tranquility – so that one experiences life as it is – as reality. We experience life through the clearest of lenses – lenses not colored by thoughts of good or bad, or mine or yours or even joy or suffering. When the fluctuations of the mind are totally removed, we are at one with everything. We have no separation from our inner divinity or the divine.

This is all good but we are human and we love, and so we grieve.
But to heal we must look to our true nature, our divinity, our source of that love, both human AND divine.

We can get still, we can move the best we can through cycles of grief as nature shows us ever changing seasons. And we can study and have compassion for ourselves and others. But most of all we can do our best to allow both sorrow and joy to remind us of our true divine nature until it blossoms forth, it’s fragrance wafting out from us to other grieving souls.


For more about my grief journey: www.backtohappybook.com

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Rest and Relaxation and Transitions

I slept until 11:30 this morning. (Please don’t judge me!) I cannot remember the last time I slept so late. I am used to my kids staying in bed longer than I thought was necessary, but not me.  I am usually bright eyed and bushy-tailed, arising with or before the sun. When I sat up in bed and looked at the clock I was shocked. My husband was long gone. All of my plans for the morning were shot. I thought, how in the world did that happen? But then I thought damn, I feel really well rested!

My body must have needed the extra rest. How often do we chastise ourselves for staying in bed a little longer or turning out the lights a little earlier than usual? Probably more often than not. Maybe our teens have the right idea after all.

When I looked back on my week I realized a lot had been crammed into a short amount of time. I had been on a week-long, fun-filled, action packed vacation to Arizona where I mountain biked, hiked and adjusted to a three hour time difference. Then I traveled home from the West Coast on Wednesday and jumped right back into my regular schedule starting Wednesday evening. Thursday I had a class to teach, Friday a lunch meeting and another two classes all on top of catching up with mail, bill paying, watering neglected house plants, etc. You get the idea. You know how it goes. 

Expanding out from there, I had just finished a major project; a film that was an amazing experience but required me to be up and out at dawn many days, prepared to perform a role that was demanding and at times difficult and very emotional. Looking at the bigger picture, we had just entered Spring, coming off a mostly mild Winter on the East Coast. Mild maybe, but still, changes of seasons are rites to be respected.

In a sense all changes are meant to be respected. But how often do we honor the many changes that happen in our lives? We blow through moves and divorces and job losses like they’re nothing, keeping up the frantic pace we’re used to, only to crash weeks later and wonder why.

I can’t help but feel that nature doesn't much like abrupt change. Think about the late snowfall we had on the East Coast which followed an unnaturally warm spell, causing trees and flowers to start blooming early, only to be shocked back into the cold the following week. In D.C. we worried about the Cherry Blossoms and whether their peak bloom date would be affected by the strange weather. But they did bloom and they are magnificent, despite everything they have been through.

I am just going to cut myself some slack for this morning’s indulgence. I hope you will do the same as we transition into this 2017 Spring. We’ve been through a lot these last several months. We all need to be kinder to ourselves during these times of change, whatever they may be. We will practice this ease of transition in yoga this week. 

Please join me for a yoga/meditation class when you can. We start tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM with Mindful Mondays at the North Laurel 50 Plus Center. It’s a sweet 45 minute meditation and yoga practice that will start your week with a gentle nudge and a sweet dose of mindfulness. Tuesdays we have Nightcap Yoga at Maple Lawn at 7:15 PM in the yoga room. Thursday I teach Yoga for Parkinson’s at 6:30 PM at the Florence Bain Center in Columbia. This is a donation based class and everyone is welcome. We have a sweet group of people who would love for you to join them whether you have Parkinson’s or are a caregiver. Friday evening I teach at 6:15 PM at St Matthews Orthodox Methodist Church in Columbia. We start with boot camp for 30 minutes and then go right into yoga for 45 minutes. It’s a fun combination and a great group of people. For more information and directions, see my website.

Happy Spring! and Namaste,