Saturday, December 3, 2016

It's Been a Long Month

Thank you so, so much, everyone who commented on my last post. I had no idea my reno is such a topic of interest! FWIW, I have every intention of torturing you with stories about it (and pics). Why keep that gift to myself? :-) And, gotta say, overwhelmed or no, I feel like a part of me is amputated when I don't write.

So many things have happened in the last month - too many to relate. Maybe it would be best to return with some fodder about knitting (light, and all, even if ripping back a sweater isn't fun). Alas, I've experienced death (my best friend's much loved and admired father), grief and adaptation. There's been pain and, I can't lie, fear.

But in those moments of fear (which, for me, are inextricably linked to physical pain) there's a lot to be learned. In fact, I may have learned more from pain than from anything else I've ever experienced. It takes no prisoners and it doesn't pander. Having said this, in no other context is Stockholm Syndrome more beneficial. One has to make friends with fear - the emotional manifestation of pain - to trust it. What you can't beat, join, and all that...

My most recent encounter with death (and they are all different even as they're all the same) has taught me that, in order to accept mortality - inevitable human decay and ending (that thing I fear most of all) - one has to be exposed. It stands to reason that the best way to accept the continuum of life is to see it from all sides. I realize this is banal to read. But to live it is profound. We must normalize pain, death, fear, loss. They are worthy and human. They give ballast to the things we seek out intently (love, prosperity, health, contentment).

Big thoughts aside, I am always informed by my yoga practice. The benefit of being an early adopter is that I have the opportunity to watch this faction age as I do. Really, I suspect this community's dialogue is going to help everyone, at any age, because we're all on this trajectory. But for me, a woman of a certain age, who sees the subtle erosion of athleticism in her practice, it's rather kind.

Often these days, when I practice - and when I practice through pain my sequence is an odd array of methodologies wrapped in the philosophy of pranic yoga - I remember a moment in my early years of teacher training. I was demonstrating chaturanga dandasana (push up) while my teacher expounded, interminably, on the pose. I stayed there seemingly forever. She smacked my arms and militaristically commanded me to rise, time after time, with attention to the energy in the pose. She advised us all that my attention was scattered. You should know that this asana has always been my nemesis - even at my most physically capable. I can hang out in high plank indefinitely. I can bring myself to the floor and hold the plane. But pushing back up, from the full pose, has always been some variation of miserable to impossible. Effectively I am stuck.

In my mid-40s, I do the pose with knees down. It's just sensible. Why the fuck would I contribute to pain to feed my ego? I need to retain strength, not to prove my prowess.

But here's what I posit: There are so many experiences you will never be able to contextualize until they're just memories.

Today, as I did full chaturanga in an effort to strength-train (and remembered my teacher training moment), I recognized for the zillionth time that my attention was not scattered - had not been scattered. I realized at the level of my bones and nerves that I've never been able to locate the graceful exit in this pose because my body can't find it. My body can find so many things - so many other poses, so much joy, so much depth, ecstasy - but it cannot find the ergonomic stasis required to lift out of that full pose elegantly (if at all) probably because I've got fucking osteophytes all over my spine, messing with the dynamism, and they've likely been there since my late teens. No fucking surprise I can't do it. It doesn't define me.

So here's where I'm going with this post. The next time you can't find something - closure or peace of mind or some stupid physical outcome that in no way defines you - remember that, someday, the fog will clear. You may still not find what you're looking for, but you'll know why it's lost to you and you'll accept it.

My teacher used to say that she didn't know what would happen when she could finally attain (mega-complicated) Pose X. She suspected she'd go up in an illuminated puff of smoke - illumination being the unsaid subtext. (In no small irony, she cut herself the slack she couldn't give to others.) I'm telling you there's no puff of smoke. There's just the emerging awareness that comes with experience.

So I welcome everything. I welcome life and joy and death and sorrow and pain and whatever each is there to tell me. Intermittent limitation is a gift, because it shows, in containment, what will eventually come. There's liberty in that, I propose. But then what do I know?


  1. I believe you know more that has always bothered me how our society deals with death. It seems so unhealthy to either deny it totally or go crazy with never ending grief. My father has gone to the great beyond, as well as my younger brother. His death hit me harder, as he was only 52 and died in his sleep- very unexpected, although a peaceful way to go, it would seem. I have been trying to appreciate my remaining time here even more so now.
    Your yoga pose story reminded me of my visit to the gym last week. I have been trying to get back some upper body strength since my diagnoses of osteoarthritis in my lower back. I got stuck on one of the pieces of equipment because I could not arch backwards far enough to get up...luckily my husband was working out with me and came to the rescue...So much for aging gracefully. Take care.

    1. It's so true - how do you find a balance with death (in the way we do with life)? I am sorry that you lost your brother so early - that must have been shocking as well as grief-full.

      On a lighter note - though not sure it feels lighter in the moment! - it's great that you had your husband there to help you. That's the meaning of things. You may not succeed in accomplishing every motion - but to have support means you still find success.

  2. So good to see you back. I think that for some of us, writing is a spiritual practice that we simply cannot do without.

    I too have found loss to be the greatest teacher - though I've sometimes wished I could have opted for ignorance - or at least a kinder, less rigorous teacher. My best friend died of lymphoma almost 20 years ago. It was diagnosed very late, so the end was quick & shocking. It altered my 30 yr old self in ways still emerging. More recently, my former husband & good friend descended into schizophrenia at age 40 - shockingly, and without warning. The person I knew so well was simply...gone. It was a different kind of loss, and no loss stunning.

    In both these situations, when I was reeling, and could not begin to imagine how I might go forward into a world that had shifted beneath my feet overnight, my pagan faith saw me through. I lost my fear of death when I chose to believe in the afterlife of my ancestors: the Celtic Summerland, which is basically just a far better version of this world. Think your favorite landscapes, filled with everyone you ever loved, minus bad weather, annoying people, & mosquitoes.

    I still thank my Irish grandmother (ie, light a candle to St Brigit every Candlemas) for sharing the folkways of past generations with me. It truly helps now when I think of the world that awaits: a cozy stone cottage on a peaceful loch, filled with the dogs I've loved laying beside a crackling fire, keeping a spot warm for me. And my grandmothers just down the road and over the hill. So I say embrace whatever traditions or teachings resonate with you. I believe the natural world demonstrates to us that nothing is ever lost, but only made new, returned to us in different forms.

    1. What a gorgeous comment! And I cannot imagine those youthful losses. Death in age is something we can get with (to some extent). Death of friends - contemporaries - in youth is unthinkable. And generally hits us when we have no sense of ending in the continuum of life. I hope that your former husband can find a way back - though I know it will not mitigate the death of him that you've experienced.

      I don't know what I think of the afterlife. I don't believe we just stop - because I get with law of conservation of matter and energy (and I interpret this as I will!)

      But the idea of identity and soul is a swirling source of confusion to me right now. I love your view of things and that it brings you peace.

  3. My mother's death 6 months has had a profound impact on my life. I agree that as a society we do a terrible job preparing ourselves for death, even though we will all experience death at some point in our lives. I've done my best to approach my mother's death as a learning experience, even the painful moments.

    1. Susan: I think there is no better way to honour your mother - and your own life - than to approach her death as a learning experience. I wish you the best in this endeavour and I'm sure that it will be a way in which you teach others, in turn. Kxo

  4. My grandmother died last Thursday, so this is very timely. It's a strange feeling. I hadn't seen her for some years. I hadn't seen her because she wouldn't have known who I was if we had gone. So in some ways, the grandmother I love has been dead for years, but we're only now able to acknowledge it. My husband's grandmother is also not well, so I think it will be a hard winter.

    It definitely has me thinking about how I would like to handle my own mortality. It makes me want to joke about it. Bring it out into the open, yell about it, make tasteless jokes. Anything but letting it be this big hulking elephant filling up the shadows that nobody wants to talk about. Someday I will die and that will be the end---I'm ok with that. Not happy, but content that I will leave space for young, exciting people to fill with new and different ideas. What I don't want is to spend my last months or years choking on other people's fear, tiptoeing around other people's feelings.

    Hmm, not sure if I managed a coherent thought there. Oh, well. Processing, right?

    1. Oh, T. So sorry to hear this. You know my grandmother died at this time last year... My thoughts are with your family.

      But your point about how she hasn't been here for years is resonant. How often does this happen? More and more as people are living longer and longer. And I'm not suggesting that we want to lose the medical traction that improves many lives - but in the words of my friend: At some point, it's time for the car to get off the road. (She said this will total respect and total irreverence simultaneously.)

      You managed many coherent thoughts that we share with you! Kxo

      PS: Not sure I'm ok with not being here anymore so I think you have already got a lot of perspective - and that will stand you in very good stead as you age.

  5. I'm really beyond happy to see you post again here. Yours is a voice I value tremendously.

    Mortality. Yes, it's been high in my awareness lately. Just got home from a visit to family, and my 73-year-old dad felt and broke his ankle the second day I was there. He's too weak to use crutches. I find myself feeling a terrible mix of empathy and a little anger--why has he had to suffer pain from RA for 44 years? Why has his PT not made sure he's stronger? Why do we get so frail? Sigh.

    And the corollary stream of thoughts and feelings lately has been wondering if we humans are actually not going to make it as a species. We seem incapable of wide-ranging changes to our behavior in the face of obvious evidence that we're damaging the planet and changing our climate. And with that, oddly, a queer sense of relaxation. Like OK, maybe we're just going to last some hundreds of thousands of years, and then we'll be gone. Is that so terrible?

    Sorry, this may seem a bit dark, but it's what's up for me. And interestingly, I find the cosmic scale feelings an antidote to the family-scale feelings.

    I hope you have a good, solid week and take great care of yourself!

    1. Well I'm beyond happy that you're glad to see me! Thank you so much.xo

      Why do people have to suffer? I can't get this out of my mind. And what is suffering? Why does one person feel tremendous pain while another is blissfully unaware that he or she should be hobbled (given what an MRI looks like)?

      You know frailness is a relevant issue for all of us and it's a serious predictor of quality of life in the 75+ crowd. I have stats to back that up. So I think you're right to question why the PT hasn't made sure your dad's as strong as he can be. (Of course, I'm not blaming her without context. Frailty is complicated and sometimes, out of fear, we ourselves can underutilize our bodies to mitigate concern. I know how that can happen!)

      Feel free to be as dark as you must. I mean, I'm not exactly a beacon of cheer here! :-) Humans are playing fast and loose with this planet - maybe we always have. But at least, in the old days, we didn't have so many mechanisms for mass destruction.

      I say, put on a nice candle and some gorgeous music. Pull out some crafting. Grab a glass of wine. Enjoy this moment because it's what we have. And this very moment can be good.

    2. I hear you on enjoying. I am ever so grateful that I have training (a.k.a. have done therapy) on how to deal with anxiety, so that in times like these when the fodder for the brain is more real than imagined, I still know how to honor my feelings without inviting them in to tea, so to speak. Even when a day or two are darker, most days I get up and run, cook good food, sew things for people I love (including me!) and pet my kitty. Thanks for the reminder, K.

  6. I am so glad to have you to read again. Your trenchant musings.

  7. I am also so happy you are back. Thank you!