A few months ago I found myself at Holy Yoga in a room at our church. That night I felt like I was grieving for the very first time. Tears spilled from my eyes, rolled across my temple and soaked into my hair as I lay in savasana. Moving to downward dog they started a free-fall, puddling in the center of my mat. I was thankful for this room, for the dark and for the sea of women each experiencing themselves on their own yoga-mat-life-raft. I was thankful for the gift of group yoga, where you can be led through a very intimate experience, falling apart on your very own mat and no one notices, no one tries to connect and hold your gaze, no one offers a consoling smile or hug. You just get to sit with your heart and your tears alone on your mat in a room full of women.
As we were instructed to rise up strong, arms extended, gaze upward, breathing deep and letting our fingers spread wide in mountain prayer, I found mine balling into fierce & angry fists. Briefly side-tracked by what others may think, I remembered the invitation of Adrienne - my amazing personal yoga instructor who meets me in my home whenever I need her - to always “find what feels good” and I let it go. The doubt, the self-conscious criticism, and I held my fists high and tight because it is hard to worship when you are deep in grief. Grief that feels so fresh and new that I wondered what I had been doing for the last year and a half. Did I really ever feel anything at all before this moment? The reality of our loss was sitting so heavy and impossible that night on my yoga mat that I wondered if only then I was emerging from the period of shock.
The instructor continued to offer the reminder that God has given us the gift of breath, every moment and I could only think:
I don’t want His gift. I don’t want the responsibility of it. I don’t want breath when my dad hasn’t taken one for over six years. I don’t want my heart to keep beating since my daughter’s has stopped. I am so angry that God has stolen them away, with him for eternity and I’m still down here on this bitter earth. I want them here with me. I am aching for them with my whole being and they are still not here. They will never again be here. And I still am.
Sunday morning of that same week during worship at church I had a realization about my anger. I was holding onto it. Letting it cover me and keep me tucked in, protected. Like an ugly black scab over a recent wound. It was protecting me and covering the tender parts so they didn’t have to surface and meet the sting of fresh air. As we sang again and again, “God is love,” at an annoyingly upbeat tempo I wanted to scream - Says who??? Because right now he feels like a real fucking asshole. I wanted to rage at him and pound my clenched fists into his chest. Screaming, hot tears streaming. Only I know that He would let me. And as soon as I ran out of energy and rage and the black scab of anger fell away, he would wrap me up in his fierce and gentle embrace and in that moment, all the tender things would be right on the surface, bright red and bleeding. Because God is Love. And that's what love does in the face of vulnerability - when we give up our angry resistance and become broken open.
This grief is old and it is also brand new. It is timeless - and one major mistake is thinking that moving through it means it gets lighter and easier with each step. It does not. Some steps are light and hope-filled and you start to run and skip as the grey fades lighter. Then out of nowhere you trip and find yourself face down in the thickness of it. The grey is dark and it is grabbing at you. Eating up your hope so you feel foolish for being in that light place before this. I have heard many times that "the only way is through" and I mistakenly believed that meant it was a steady forward march. Grief is not linear, it is dizzying and devastating. Until it’s not.
I was sharing all of this with my dear friend, Annie, as the thunder boomed outside the open windows. I was vowing to forewarn everyone in their grief journey to not be fooled by the days of hope and gladness because they do not mean you are in the clear. You can still get plucked right out of it and find yourself facedown in a tear puddle on your yoga mat, feeling everything again as if for the very first time. She received this quietly, without judgment or correction, and after I got all of my frustration out she offered a little nugget which I will try to remember and recount as eloquently as it was delivered.
She said(-ish), “These things that are hard and frustrating now can also serve as a comfort. For now you are realizing that the same way the periods of lightness and hope in your journey of grief do not last forever, the periods of darkness and despair must also come to an end.”
And of course she was right, that period of darkness and despair soon turned lighter and it was not until I was in another yoga room, in the midst of another sea of people, floating sweetly next to my sister that I realized it. Only a couple of weeks following my angry tear-filled yoga session, this experience was different. Still holy though I was in a hot yoga studio rather than a church. A puddle still gathering in the center of my mat though this time it was my sweat rather than my tears. This experience was different because I was different. Instead of balling my angry fists in mountain pose I felt the flow of soothing peace and filled up with light. As I eased into savasana I remembered Annie's quick little piece of wisdom and noticed how it had rescued me from my spewing frustration and settled me down in a quieter space. A safe place to reality check and reset a little, letting the realizations shape me, shift my understanding of this journey and grow me a bit more into the whole person that is bound to come out on the other side of this thing... eventually.
And now my friends, I must share the real truth I have been learning as of late:
The journey through the grey is not a steady march toward the light. It offers moments of lightness and joy and sweet relief, and often those are followed by days of darkness, grief and lots of hard, but that still is not the end. Keep marching through. For that is indeed the only way out.