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There Are Beginnings At Every End

February 4, 2016

I  regularly  sit  on  the  yoga  mat  at  the  front  of  the  room  watching  over  a  room  full  of   people  in  corpse  pose.

After  all  the  beautiful  work  they  do  with  the  asana  portion  of   class,  I  ask  them  to  place  one  hand  on  their  heart  center,  and  to  accept  themselves   unconditionally.  I  hold  the  space  for  this  difficult  work.

What  does  that  mean?  What  did  it  take  to  get  me  to  this  yoga  mat  in  the  front  of  the   room?  The  short  answer  is  that  my  mom  died,  and  as  best  I  could,  I  helped  her  to  do   so.

Of  course  there  is  a  much  longer  answer.

I  have  meditated  and  practiced  yoga  for  ten  years.  I  have  watched  people  around  me   decide  to  go  through  teacher  training,  and  then  step  to  the  front  of  the  room.  Each   one  of  them  did  so  when  they  were  ready,  and  many  asked  me  why  I  hadn’t  done  the   same.  Even  though  I  knew  that  I  was  “good  at  yoga,”  and  was  even  “practicing  yoga   off  the  mat,”  I  believed  that  I  lacked  some  essential  wisdom  required  to  be  a  good   teacher.

It  was  in  October  2014  that  my  ideas  about  “yoga  off  the  mat”  and  “essential   wisdom”  began  to  coalesce.  My  mother  hid  her  symptoms  for  a  while,  but  it  was   then  that  she  began  showing  undeniable  signs  that  something  was  seriously  wrong.   She  was  diagnosed  with  brain  cancer,  an  aggressive  and  terminal  affair;   glioblastoma  multiforme.  I  wrote  about  the  emotional  roller  coaster  I  found  myself   on  in  those  early  days.

After  the  initial  shock  of  hearing  this  terrible  news,  eventually,  we  -­‐  my  mom  and   stepfather  and  I  -­‐  found  our  own  rhythm  over  the  course  of  mom’s  remaining   months,  days,  and  hours.  I  tried  to  spend  every  possible  moment  with  her,  despite   and  perhaps  also  because  of,  the  fact  that  we  hadn’t  had  the  smoothest  of   relationships  during  our  younger  years.  Everything  else  in  my  life,  including  the   documentary  film  I  had  been  working  on  for  the  three  years  prior,  took  the  back   burner.

The  activities  I  once  delighted  in,  and  even  the  old  hurts,  simply  ceased  to  matter,   and  because  my  mother  so  rarely  asked  for  anything;  I  did  what  ever  I  could  think  to   do.

For  her  I  massaged  kale,  picked  wineberries,  brought  lavender,  teas,  hair  tonics   and  lotions  meant  to  heal  the  wounds  inflicted  first  by  surgery,  and  then  by   treatment.  I  even  brought  her  sandalwood  oil  because  I  read  a  study  about  skin   smelling  it  and  healing  itself  (yes,  really!)–  I  did  any  thing  for  her  that  I  could  think   of.

I  lived  in  the  moment  by  doing.

There  is  no  prize  for  it,  but  I  was  there  to  put  away  her  summer  clothes.  I  was  there   to  help  her  find  new  clothes  when  she  gained  weight  from  the  steroids.  I  was  there   to  put  away  her  winter  clothes.  As  the  seasons  changed,  the  changes  she  went through  were  also  extreme,  not  just  physically,  but  mentally  as  well.  One  of  the  most   heart  wrenching  moments  I  experienced  with  my  mom,  was  watching  her  try  to  play   an  online  word  matching  game  through  Happy  Neuron,  something  that  I’d  read   about  too.  She  simply  could  no  longer  create  the  names  of  fruit.

So  I  stopped  doing,   because  it  wasn’t  helping. I  started  to  listen.  For  a  while  she  told  me  stories,  even  as  she  lost  her  words,  and  I   simply  listened.  She  told  me  mostly  about  her  regrets;  about  the  robbery  that  killed   her  dreams  of  creating  interactive  maps  not  long  after  she  had  gone  back  to  school   to  learn  the  skill,  details  about  her  struggles  around  the  life  and  death  of  my  brother   who  is  also  the  subject  of  my  documentary  film.  She  told  me  stories  about  her   friends  in  her  new  neighborhood,  about  her  dreams  for  the  garden,  shenanigans  she   and  her  kayaking  friends  got  into,  too.  But  there  was  no  more  time  for  her  to  create   any  more  stories,  and  so  I  simply  held  the  space  for  her  to  tell  me  the  ones  she   remembered,  with  any  words  she  found  to  tell  them.

I  cared  for  my  mom  and  loved  her  despite  and  through  all  of  the  changes,  doctors   appointments,  and  treatments,  while  somehow  maintaining  the  most  Zen-­‐like  state   I’ve  ever  existed  in.

I  found  balance  in  own  my  mind  and  body  where  grief  was  the   king  asana.

To  keep  myself  strong  enough  to  hold  space  for  my  mom  and  what  she  was   experiencing,  I  continued  to  practice  yoga,  but  lying  in  corpse  pose  at  the  end  of   class,  became  nearly  impossible  for  me.  There  was  an  abyss  looming  there  next  to   my  mat.  Instead  of  allowing  myself  to  slip  into  that  abyss,  I  became  a  triathlete.   When  I  wasn’t  with  my  mom,  or  working,  I’d  sneak  away  to  run,  or  bike,  or  kayak  for   about  an  hour,  and  I  eventually  did  all  of  these  things  in  one  day  –  a  grand  total  of  38   miles  combined  -­‐  the  Josh  Billings  Triathlon.  There  was  no  prize.

And  then,  my  mom  died.

The  final  decline  of  her  physical  form  from  the  brain   cancer,  first  caused  her  to  stop  eating  and  drinking,  and  eventually  she  also  stopped   breathing.  I  was  there,  holding  her  hand,  when  she  died.  The  devastation  I  felt   initially  still  seems  unfathomable,  and  yet  even  then,  I  knew  some  part  of  her  wasn’t   gone.

One  day  as  I  sifted  through  the  things  that  still  didn’t  really  matter  to  me,  bills  and   such,  I  found  a  paper  from  one  of  mom’s  cognition  tests  at  Johns  Hopkins  Hospital.   On  this  paper  were  the  words,  “close  your  eyes,”  written  by  the  nurse,  followed  by   mom’s  handwritten,  “lift  up  your  heart.”  Close  your  eyes,  and  lift  up  your  heart?!  All   that  was  missing  was  the  cue  to  have  my  hands  held  at  my  heart  center  in  anjali   mudra/prayer  hands.  A  catalog  containing  information  about  an  upcoming  yoga   training  was  also  in  this  pile  and  so  the  decision  was  clinched.  I’d  found  something   that  mattered.

When  I  arrived  at  Kripalu  for  my  yoga  training,  Rudy  Pierce  began  asking,  “what   does  your  heart  need  today?”  He  asked  nearly  every  day.  As  I  closed  my  eyes  to listen,  the  answer  was  terrifying.  I  had  to  face  the  abyss.

During  the  course  of  my   yoga  teacher  training,  I  allowed  myself  to  fully  examine  that  abyss,  and  it  was  much   deeper  than  I  had  imagined.

It  wasn’t  easy,  but  I  did  find  my  way  back  out  again.  And   slowly,  I  remembered  how  to  smile.  And  eventually  I  even  remembered  how  to  lift   up  my  heart.  Kripalu,  my  instructors  Rudy  &  Michelle,  their  support  team,  all  of  the   staff  there,  and  my  fellow  teacher  trainees  held  the  space  for  me  to  make  my  way   through  grief  and  to  make  the  transition  to  teacher.  Just  as  Swami  Kripalu’s  legacy  of   radical  self-­‐love  lives  on  through  this  Health  and  Wellness  Center,  so  too  does  my   mother’s  love  continue  through  me,  and  this  documentary  film  that  I  will  still  make.

Not  long  after  I  returned  home  from  Kripalu,  my  home  was  broken  into  and  I  was   also  robbed.  Much  like  my  mother’s  mapping  dream,  my  documentary  seemingly   disappeared  into  the  abyss,  but  because  she  shared  her  story  with  me,  I  will  not   allow  my  dream  to  die  in  the  same  fashion.  I  still  have  time.

It  has  not  yet  been  a  year  since  my  mother  died.  Grief  still  often  crashes  into  my   world,  but  I  now  know  I  can  breathe  through  it  just  as  I  can  through  the  most   challenging  yoga  asana.

I’m  no  longer  afraid  of  the  abyss.

Dare  I  say,  I’m  no  longer   afraid  of  death  or  loss.  And  now,  as  an  instructor,  I  can  channel  it.  Grief  and  loss,  and   Love  and  acceptance.  ALL  of  it.

I  am  able  to  offer  up  wisdom  now  too,  and  it  seems  to  bubble  up  from  an  unending   well  spring  within  me.  The  foundation  has  been  created  and  I  am  a  life  long  learner,   so  I  continue  to  read  and  share  what  I  learn.  The  words  spill  out  of  my  throat  mostly   with  ease:

“…  listen  to  the  most  distant  sound  you  can  hear  without  naming  it…   slowly  bring  your  attention  closer  and  closer…  into  the  inner  atmosphere  of  your   inner  world…  consider  all  of  the  magnificent  things  going  on  in  your  body  right  now   that  support  you  without  your  asking  them  to.  Imagine  that  you  are  simply  the  sum   of  all  of  these  miracles.  And  if  that  is  so,  what  is  it  that  makes  you,  you?  It  is  not  one   thing,  or  another,  but  a  constellation  of  things.  Are  you  still  you,  if  one  of  these   things  experience  a  difficulty,  or  even  ceases  to  function,  or  even  exist?”

Breathe,  relax,  feel,  watch,  and  allow.

The  year  I  spent  watching  my  mother  die,  and  yes,  holding  the  space  for  her  to  find   her  way  to  her  last  breath,  taught  me  truth  and  Kripalu  reinforced  it.  That  year  was   simultaneously  the  hardest  and  most  bittersweet  year  of  my  life.

I  know  in  every   fiber  of  my  being  that  the  light  of  Love  is  as  strong  as  the  abyss.

My  mother  took  care   of  me  on  my  way  in,  and  I  took  care  of  her  on  her  way  out.

I  am  now  a  yoga  teacher   and  that  is  a  part  of  her  legacy.  Her  story  continues  through  me.  And  now,  through   yoga,  I’m  teaching  my  students  they  can  live  through  anything  that  life  throws  at   them,  too.

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