i'll take a raincheck...
How to say no, i.e. I’ll take a raincheck on that hug.
Throughout the stages of grief, in whatever time order that is for you, the level of emotional tolerance is continuously changing. However, even further on in the process it is still surprising when an onslaught of tears appears unexpectedly. Everyone says “cry it out” so that you can heal. Yet I realized after crying a river of tears that I should start having a little more respect for my nervous system and health. Learning to find balance in my emotions has been key to my sense of well-being. Not that I’ve done a great job, but I’m trying.
Recognizing situations that may trigger high emotions and have a lingering effect on my mental and physical condition helps me to make wiser decisions on my course. Realizing that people really do want to help, it is a good idea to let them know how to do that. The important part is to communicate what is truly helpful. It seems that many of us are hyper vigilant about not saying the wrong things these days, yet the guidance on how to accomplish that is confusing to say the least.
Likewise with grief, I’ve learned that letting others know what IS helpful is appreciated. A simple hug when you are just cruising along and feeling steady can crumble you to the ground. So maybe “I’ll take a raincheck on that hug” can communicate that the effort is appreciated but the timing could be better. Go ahead and SAY IT. Take some control of your circumstances. Let people know what you need. If you are uncomfortable to go to a gathering or to work because of the “I’m so sorry” comments that will come your way, then ask a friend to let everyone know what reaction to your presence would be helpful or send a note letting friends know what you need. And if you don’t feel comfortable going somewhere, then don’t go until you are ready.
Next: say NO to your own poorly planned ideas! I had the crazy idea that going alone to the movie theater (that we frequented together) and watching a documentary about Anthony Bourdaine (who we watched for years and who recently passed away) was NOT a good idea! Living alone, there is no one to stop me in these foolish plans, so I must take responsibility for my well-being on all levels and that includes not collecting a pile of triggers and jumping into it! OK, take a deep breath, look at yourself as your dearest friend, and create a path of compassion and wisdom as you traverse this rocky road of grief. Any ideas on how to say no?
Today marks one year since John Reimer’s passing. It is unclear what should be done on the one-year anniversary of losing your loved one. The word anniversary has always depicted images of celebration for me, yet this celebration takes on new meaning. Our would-be anniversary of 8 years together would have taken place in July. In these past years, we shared lots of love, family life, friends, studies of yoga, growing of the Lotus Pond, traveling, and certainly lots of laughs. Sometimes I just laugh out loud thinking of his “dry humor” remarks.
I have stacks of sympathy cards and they are all filled with heartfelt remarks about John. They recall him showing them something beautiful on the Lotus Pond grounds or remembering how he made them feel so welcomed at the Pond. He was actually shy by nature and would have been so surprised to see all of these wonderful comments. I feel sure that he has received all of this love and that his response is seen in the flourishing flower garden that was planted in his honor at the Pond.
Even considering all the pain that is endured, life never ceases to reveal the simple beauties of love and support. John and I were like two trees with branches and roots intertwined, sharing the sunshine and nutrients, holding space for all the birds, and weathering a fair number of storms. On this day I choose to celebrate that simplicity of love and support. I hope you’ll join me in opening your eyes to the beauty of life and it's passing, appreciating all that is physically present and all that continues to exist in our hearts.
Word/ a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes
Struggle/ make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction
A word is a meaningful element of speech or writing, but it also holds more expansive levels of
power that can shape and form our experiences. A word is also a vibration that resonates in
our body, mind and spirit and extends out beyond the periphery of our being. This vibration
either supports our inner and outer harmony or, in some cases, wreaks havoc on our well-
being. A word is an intention or seed that is planted in our psyche. And just as an oak seed will
grow into an oak tree, our words, the vibrations, the intentions that we speak, hold the power
of their origin. Words that are repeated over and over can take on the effect of a mantra or
Many years ago, when I was trying to find stability in running my business of the Lotus Pond I
found myself facing an onslaught of bills and challenges. I had purchased a 4-acre property
with 2 buildings, all in ill repair, with the intention of running a yoga center. Numbers weren’t
adding up and I couldn’t afford to hire the help that I needed but I knew this was my dharma,
my calling. When I was asked “how’s it going?”, I would respond “I’m struggling”.
Struggle/ make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction, I said the word struggle a lot. The word struggle was in my everyday thoughts and I embodied the intensity of its meaning. One day a friend said “oh, is that your mantra? Struggle?” and I
realized that it was. I would often fit situations into the context of struggle. Constantly I
bolstered its power over me. And on that day (thanks to my friend’s comment), I decided to
eliminate the word “struggle” from my vocabulary. Not just the word, but the imbuing of it into
my everyday life. I didn’t deny the existence of challenging experiences, but I did take on a
different perspective of accepting and using the information to make improvements.
Fast forward to 2020. In March the Lotus Pond was a successful center of yoga and peace and
the students were flourishing… until the country went into shutdown. My partner, my love,
John and I weathered the first part of the summer arm in arm, living consciously in support of
each other and our staff/students. And then suddenly, without notice, he passed from a heart
attack. My heart shattered and I did my best to hold course, but dare I say, “I struggled!”.
I struggled until I realized that the definition ~Struggle/ make forceful or violent efforts to get free
of restraint or constriction~ was an obvious misrepresentation of how I choose to live my life. I
once again released this concept from my being. As I saw friends, family, students and supporters
show up and lend a hand to me and the Lotus Pond, it became clear that nothing needed to be
forced and no violent efforts were to be had. The Lotus Pond began to flourish again.
We are faced with many life experiences that leave us speechless. Perhaps it is in those speechless
moments that we can pause and connect with the limitless possibilities. No word needs to be
attached to this new opening. Maybe we can just pause, close our eyes, breathe, meditate and open
to new experiences that have not be pre-labeled. There might be beautiful events ahead that go
beyond our limited imagination. What would we struggle against in the realm of limitless
possibilities? Instead, maybe we could take the next step forward with curiosity and an open heart
and open mind.
For many months I hoped to dodge the question “how are you doing?” because the answer was
unclear. Saying “good” seemed unfair to my feelings of sadness and loss. Saying “not good”
generated worry and concern, establishing a path of negativity.
I wondered if it was ok to feel good without John at my side. But then I realized that he is
always at my side and in my heart. That when I say or do something funny, I can laugh even
that much more as I feel his presence and all the times we laughed together. I started to open
my eyes to all the beauty around me and realized that these experiences are even richer
because of the love that we shared.
In this world of dualities, it is also ok to feel the loss and sadness and to be honest in our
expression of these emotions as well. As always, the key is in finding the balance. Appreciating
life in its totality can lead us to peace and harmony.
So how do I respond to the “how are you” question? I respond honestly and mindfully, keeping
in mind that my words are my intentions. How about “I’m appreciating life and all of its ups
and downs”. Too wordy? What do you think?
Fetch the bolt cutters
My brother gifted me a selection of songs including one called “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”. I thought it was an odd choice, but then listening to it, I found myself singing it aloud in a rather heart wrenching way that felt like a much needed release. It had touched yet one more layer of unaddressed grief. The song has a direct connection to the “fight or flight” stress response.
Now in my seventh month of grief, I find myself exhausted by the emotional roller coaster of loss and feel a strong urge to run away. This urge has manifested itself in a need to move from the familiarity of my home. It might feel better to distance myself from the endless subtle reminders surrounding me; the position of a chair at the breakfast table, his tea mug, the empty towel rack in the bathroom. There is confusion between wanting to be suspended in time with these surroundings or wanting to run away from it all and start again. The reality is that you can run away from the physical form of objects but there is no running away from the heart.
So where do you find relief?
Maybe repositioning some things at home in an appealing way instead of discarding them could be helpful. It might be too early to pack up and move to a new home, and the process itself would require sorting through possessions (ugh)! In creating Grief workshops with Dr. Mulloy, she reminds me that it is advisable to wait one year before making big changes because this journey holds a high level of transformation and you may want to wait and see who you are after one year of grieving. This new version of yourself may have a different view of where to go next. OMG! She’s suggesting that I sit with this experience instead of running away!
But what about the "bolt cutter" idea?
Possibly the fight or flight plan was based on running away from my emotions more than running away from my home. And we all know from the studies of yoga, meditation and just plain life, that our real home is in our heart, and the path to soothing the heart is to be present with it in patience, love, and compassion. So perhaps for now I'll just start to rearrange the physical placement of things in my home, lovingly treating each change with respect to my loved one. And oh, yes...I could slow down, be mindful of my delicate heart, and walk, don’t run.
What do you think? Sound like a good subject for journaling? Or maybe it's just time to re-decorate!
The definition of sick is actually “feeling nauseous and wanting to vomit”
This week I was sick with a stomach flu. In these days of COVID we forget that we can still come down with a common flu. This brings up so much for me, literally! First you feel a quiver, a sensation that lets you know you are no longer in charge. And then, well, you know what happens next! My first “go to” was a bit of panic as I am not accustomed to living alone and I started to have a small asthma attack in the middle of everything! In the heat of my over dramatized reaction to the situation, I unlocked the front door in case I needed to call 911 (wouldn’t want them to crush the front door as I was gasping for my last breath!). Seriously, I did that. Then I laid awake all night, between episodes, thinking I had to be on watch as no one else was there to do it. Now, I understand that a lot of people live on their own and this is just the way it is. But it’s not something that I am familiar with and certainly brings attention to the loss of my loved one, my true caretaker. He would have been right there watching and offering help; making soup the next day. Yes, I was a lucky woman. I still have a lot of good fortune in my life however a beautiful nugget of fortune is truly gone. The illness has now upheaved and moved on, and I realize that I have crossed yet another hurdle and it seems I am still alive.
I was considering keeping a commitment that I had made (as I had received a negative COVID test) when a friend reminded me that I needed to take care of myself. That my immune system was depleted, and I needed to stay home for a few days to recover. In my last career, I had 7 years of perfect attendance, so self-care and recovery were not usually considered. Now I’m realizing it is not just “what I can do” as much as “what I should do”. These decisions should be supportive of my wellbeing as well as others.
So, it did turn out that friends and family brought me soup and medicine, checked on me regularly and gave me advice. And even though these efforts were not exactly the same as my partner would have offered, they were golden nuggets of their own. I was not alone. If I had asked any of them to come in the middle of the night, they would have.
If you don’t currently have a support circle of friends, then maybe it’s time to get one started. This outer circle of support will need a good foundation of your own self-care. If we can just see ourselves through our loved one’s caring eyes and connect with that inner love of our own, I think we’ll be ok.
In the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, she quotes Krishnamurti “to pay attention means we care, which means we really love.”
I told my loved one that I loved him every single day, but now I’m feeling that I didn’t give him enough attention. Did I listen to every word of his stories; did I smile or look bored; did I go outside often enough to see the beautiful work he had done on the garden?
I was often so busy that I failed to stop and appreciate him and the lovely life that we shared.
The quote continues “By paying attention we let ourselves be touched by life, and our hearts become more open and engaged.” Of course! Why has it taken most of my life and the loss of my partner to absorb this lesson? Now my regret turns to disappointment in myself. So here we have yet another emotion added to the heap! How do I turn this realization into a forward progression rather than falling into the rabbit hole of regret?
Everyone wants to be seen and appreciated. I believe that this concept alone could soothe and heal most relationship issues. The most impactful people in my life were those who held a stillness in their gaze upon me. This stillness created an open channel for love and appreciation.
In our teacher training program, we have a session of acknowledgement called “Just like me” and in this session we sit for a moment with each co-student as the teacher reads a few lines starting with “just like me”. The final line reads “just like me this person in simply learning about life”.
In grief counseling you are told that the amount of time to process grief varies from person to person. Likewise, there is no time limit to learning about life. In fact, just accept that you are NOT going to get everything this time around, in this short life existence of ours.
Our whole existence revolves around learning about life. This life is our school, our university.
You don’t go to school because you already know everything, you go to learn, to expand your knowledge of this amazing universe.
The pain that surrounds the loss of a loved one is massive, yet within that experience exists a multitude of hurdles (big and small) that can progress us forward or push us back. With each hurdle we reach a new level of understanding ourselves and others. Can I be as accepting of the emotions that move me forward as well as those that push me back? Can I give myself time to level out this "sea" of knowledge in hopes of finding calm, soothing waters?
Do you have any regrets? Maybe you want to spend time with those thoughts and reveal the underlying grace that each of them holds.
Change the rules
"In difficult times we need to change the rules. And in difficult times, we need to make exceptions to the rules."
This statement was made at a time in India when tradition did not allow women to be taught yoga and chanting. Krishnamacharya saw that the men were pre-ocupied and losing interest in these ancient studies and that it would be necessary to include the women to carry on the teachings. Now, we may not like the sound of that tradition excluding women, however, the important note here is that he broke an ancient rule in order to respond to the current situation. We hold on to traditions as well, especially around holidays and dates that hold significance for us. Actually, we carry on traditions constantly in our everyday lives. And even when we experience a drastic change like losing a loved one, we still try to carry on with our "self anointed" responsibilities. Obviously the basic responsibilities of self care and taking care of our families cannot be ignored, but, sometimes we can reach out and ask someone to help us. I say "self anointed" because I have found that certain duties (like hosting a specific dinner and making a specific menu) were really more important to me than the people attending the event. In reality, I found that the family members were actually ok letting go of the drawn out dinner experience and might have more fun just hanging out. At work, I was under the impression that "only I" could handle certain jobs, when actually letting go of those responsibilities allowed someone else to step forward. Not only does this allow for that someone to help out, but, it also gives them a chance to shine. Win, win. The truth is that your friends, family and co-workers feel really good when they can help someone who is grieving. The only requirement of you is to communicate what you need. I created an ingenious response to the question "how can I help?". I respond "there's nothing that can be done". Now, this is true in regards to the inner process that needs to happen in grieving, but, maybe there is something that can be done. Maybe I could say that I would love to go walking or bike riding on a regular basis and would love for someone to encourage me to do so by meeting up at certain times. Yeah, that would be nice! Think about what would be nice for you and let someone know. The loss of my loved one has truly left a big hole in my heart, yet, little by little, love can fill in around that sweet space held just for him.
Moving ahead in 2021, I choose to graciously accept help that meets my needs. I'll honor my ability to change the rules that need to be changed, and keep an open mind to experience life in a new way. How about you? What do you choose?
Talking about a journey
OK, if we are talking about a journey, Thanksgiving was one of those travel moments when you decided to drive your rental car on a narrow mountainside dirt road and find that the road is full of potholes and you are not sure where you are or if you can turn around. I have to admit I've been in this mountain road situation a handful of times for some reason. There is an undertow of panic and a knowing that you have put yourself into an experience that you may not be able to handle. The only difference between this and the feelings of "the 1st holiday after loss experience" is that the dirt road experience was full of stress, but wasn't infused with a high level of sadness. So the holiday is a double whammy! There aren't any big warning signs like "slow down" or "enter at your own risk" on this grief journey. Even though you know that some things will be uncomfortable, the degree of discomfort is hard to calculate. There is a certain fog that can surround even the most tried and true happy events. Most likely, you find yourself unable to cheer up and enjoy what you would have enjoyed before. Surely this will be a temporary infliction.
Bhante Sujatha says "Bad days bring experience. Both are important. Enjoy the good days, appreciate the bad ones, and keep the courage it takes to live fully."
Courage has always come naturally to me, so I am surprised that it seems so elusive right now. Courage is in my true nature and I know through yoga that it is a constant light within me and my task now is to sit still and reconnect with it. The glow of the inner light is steady, only its surroundings take on different hues. The journey continues as I recognize which locations or settings help me to connect inwardly. It's good to encourage that inner quest by placing ourselves in places that support calm reflection. For me, in Florida, it's the beach. What is it for you? A beautiful sunset is always good. Maybe it's time to set responsibilities aside, relocate to that special place, and have a cup of tea with your inner brilliance.
Is this the journey I signed up for? Is this really my path? I expected something different. Not that I thought everything would be perfect in any way. I just wasn't prepared for this level of heartbreak. Because no matter how many deaths have happened in your circle, you don't actually understand the depths of grief until it happens directly to you (a child, parent, loved one). I've been studying and teaching yoga for 30 years, which is a drop in a bucket when you begin to understand the vast levels of these philosophies. I thought I had a handle on concepts like the witness mind, the universal connection, and compassion. And, yes, the knowledge I have attained has made this grief journey less perilous, however, my mind is blown by the bandwidth of grief and how it takes you beyond all expectations. I've found that something else happens. As painful as the heartbreak of losing a loved one is, it opens the barn doors of the heart to reveal an awareness of what life really is. It's as if I was just reading the cliff notes prior to this loss. Realizing that there could be a tendency to shut down around the heart in a protective way, the opposite can also start to happen. Actually, I think that the opening of the heart may happen on some level for everyone, but it seems easier to turn away from it than to comprehend it. Some days I allow the compassion to wash over me and other days, I shut down. At some point I hope to find a balance in between.
I believe that any way you look at it, when that balance point is found, it will support me in leading a rich life with a new understanding of love. But, you see, I have just hopped on this train and the journey ahead is extensive. There is a lot to learn and that's ok. A break is often the beginning of growth like the shell of a seed cracking to make way for the young seedling.
Oh, did I tell you? I'm not young. The majority of my life has been rather protected as I dodged many dangerous situations with dexterity. I was fairly convinced that my fate was to live fully, sometimes close to the edge, but always swerving back to center. Yes, I was pretty sure of that.
What a surprise to find my loved one on the ground, 10 years younger than me, surrendering to death from a heart attack. Is this real? I understand it is typical to think that your loved one may show up, walking through the door to the greeting of "OOH, there you are!". Eventually the fantasy of this subsides as we get glimpses of a new way of living.
I'd like to share this journey with you, if you don't mind my direct references to the reality of heartbreak. We can break open together and explore new sensations and some comprehension of the calling that keeps us moving forward.
Val Spies, Lotus Pond Yoga Studio Founder.