I hadn’t been to a class since dad entered palliative care back in June. After he passed, I let go of yoga, pushed back at writing, and withdrew from the world for a while. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, so I gave myself time. Time to grieve. Time to disconnect. I figured I was being kind to myself, and gentle with my broken heart. Basically, I let myself off the hook. Initially this felt like the right thing to do. An act of care, I told myself. No doing anything I didn’t want to do. For a while it felt good to let go. A short while… While my instinct has always been to disconnect when I feel bad, I’ve learned in recent years that this only magnifies the darkness, and the feelings of separation associated with it. I always feel worse when I hide. In the last few months, more than ever before in my life, I have realized two truths: That it will always be up to me. Up to me to do the things that I know make me feel better, OR don’t, and choose to move in the other direction. Which brings me to the second thing that I’ve learned in the 4 months since my dad passed away: Sometimes I choose to be unhappy. This realization is a tough pill to swallow. I was choosing (daily) to stay unhappy. Now I know, there will be some of you reading this thinking, my God Shannon of course you were unhappy. You need to give yourself time. Yes I did need to, and I still do, and I probably always will. But in letting myself off the hook, I also let go of joy. I can’t do that. I can’t do that because I care too much about my life. I care too much about my marriage, and my relationships to disengage. I can’t do that because I have two little people that look to me every day to see how freely they get to be joyful. They have felt the sting of my grief. They have seen the depths of my sorrow. Whether I smiled, or I cried, children see through the crap we tell ourselves, and the walls we build around our pain. Not only was my choice to disconnect hurting me, but it also distanced me from the people that mattered most. Sadness infects, and divides unless you allow yourself to be joined. While I took comfort in leaning on my siblings, husband, friends and loved ones, and in sharing my heartache with my mom, my children were a different story. It was ok that they saw me grieve. It was ok that they shared their sadness too. But I did not want them joining me in letting go of joy. I wanted, and needed them to just be, free from whatever I might be feeling.
A few weeks ago I went back to yoga for the first time in 4 months. I started meditating again, and began mapping out next steps. Steps in the direction of reigniting my joy. Steps towards happy. I am not sure I can properly convey here what a difference these intentional commitments have made, but I will say that now more than ever, I recognize the power of choice. I fought back tears at the end of that first day back. Like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, newly oiled, I could move again. My body freed from the rigidity that had encased me, my heart restarted by the deep breaths I’d consciously breathed in. I felt as though I’d forgotten to breathe, really breathe, since that day in July when he took his last breath. I hadn’t wanted to sit in the present moment. I had not been willing, or ready to anchor myself in the here and now. Yes I needed time. Yes I needed to give myself permission to pull away, but what I understood at the end of class that day, was that re-engaging in my life was the only way to truly save it.
My teacher talked about the importance of grounding in yoga. When we root, planting ourselves firmly in the moment, connecting with the earth, we are somehow afforded more flexibility, and greater reach. “We root, so that we can rise”, she said, a lump rising in my throat, as the beauty and applicability of her comment sunk in. I’d prayed for some comfort, and searched for relief, but I was only moving away from the answer that God had put at my feet. I’d been reliving July, and June, and every day leading backwards to that date in March of 2013, when the word cancer became a part of our vernacular. The answer that would ease my suffering did not reside in the past, nor did it belong to the future. The peace that I’d yearned for, that I’d seen in my father’s eyes before they closed for the last time, is experienced only when we can let the past fall away, and the future wait for us. Sweet comfort found only when we are rooted in the here and now.