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Grief has freed me to drop down into a different energy, one that is clear about the kind of life I want to live.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST ANNA GUEST-JELLEY
When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.
My dad died two months ago. And, to tell you the truth (although I’d kind of prefer not to), right now? I’m feeling okay. In many ways, it makes me feel incredibly guilty to say this. I worry I’m in denial, or that I didn’t love my dad enough (although we were actually very close), or that I’ve been a sociopath all along and it’s only now coming to light.
Now, I didn’t say I’m feeling good. Let’s not get too crazy. But, most days, when I think of my dad, it’s with love and a smile. Those things may be accompanied by tears or they may not. And while I have certainly had some really hard days, and will continue to, the depths of sorrow are not my current home address.
Setting aside the possibility that I have something fundamentally wrong with me (I promise to consult my therapist about that next week), I think there’s only one reason I’m here today instead of where I thought I’d be (in bed indefinitely): I let go of my resistance to sensation.
Since my dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, I’ve been grieving — not every day (or even most), often not actively, but still going through the process. Every time his cancer came back, worse than before, I grieved. Every time I spent a lovely week with him, I grieved, knowing how that wouldn’t last forever. Every time I thought of how I’d never get to see him as a grandpa, I grieved. And you know what? That really freakin’ sucked. I hated every minute of it. I hated that my dad had cancer. I hated that I couldn’t save him with some cockamamie scheme I read about online. I hated feeling sad.
In other words, I hate hate hated it. But you know what? Hating it was still an access point — an entree to my feelings — which, if you know me (or even if you don’t but can think of someone else who avoids their feelings at all costs), is nothing short of a miracle. And this miracle? Started on my yoga mat. What began for me over twelve years ago as an intensely physical practice, a prayer for weight loss, hasn’t taken me anywhere I thought it would. Instead of taking me to balancing on the tip of my nose or the body of my so-called dreams, it’s taken me deeper and deeper and deeper inside. Every time I discover something new in the caverns of my body (“Oh! my sacrum is really tight! It was just so tight that I couldn’t even notice it until now”), a corollary (although not always timely) bravery shows up in my life — a willingness to plumb the depths of my experience just a little bit more.
So by the time we got to my dad’s last few days, I felt ready to just strip it all down and be right there in the thick of it. And I did. I got to tell him everything I wanted to (although I wasn’t sure what he could hear). I was able to cry and feel nauseous but hungry and then not want to eat anything. I felt like my heart would explode. I felt like I might pass out. I felt so grateful I could be there that I almost couldn’t stand up. I felt so deeply relieved that my dad was dying on his own terms that it just didn’t even seem possible.
In other words, I just felt into it all. And after my dad passed away, I was able to gather my things and leave the hospital with my mom and sister. Then on the way to the car, it hit me: my legs are moving. And I’m taking a deep breath. And another. And another.
The Fire of Transformation
I once worked at an office that burned down (fortunately, while no one was there). About half of the building literally burned all the way down to the ground. The other half (where I worked) came close.
I remember this experience extremely vividly because it was so surreal. While I didn’t witness the flames, I did arrive shortly after they were put out. The firefighters let us in for a bit to see if we could salvage anything until they decided it was too dangerous (which, in retrospect, I’m thankful for. Rooting around without a helmet in an office with a collapsed ceiling is really not the best idea).
What I remember most about this experience is that one of my coworkers, who was and still is a good friend, lost absolutely everything in the fire. She didn’t even have to bother with picking through the remains because there was nothing left. Out of everyone in the office, she had one of the biggest “rights” to complain. But instead? She just walked away and started making her files and scheduling her appointments anew. The fire had set her free.
Grief as Fuel
People don’t often talk about what grief feels like. I suppose that’s because people don’t often talk about what many things feel like, much less something as big and confusing as grief. But for me? It feels kind of like freedom.
I know that our society often equates freedom with good, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes freedom is just freedom — neither good nor bad. And that’s what it feels like for me. There’s a real clearing out quality to it. It’s made me drop down into a different energy, one that is clear about the kind of life I want to live, one that is grateful for the many blessings surrounding my dad’s passing (although I certainly wish he was still with us and had never even been diagnosed with cancer) and one that is willing to set some boundaries.
Because if there is one thing grief has given me, it’s the freedom of permission. Permission to feel. Permission to cry. Permission to slow things down. Permission to practice yoga every day. Permission to take five baths a week. Permission to trust my gut. Permission to see how the moment unfolds. Permission to say no to things that aren’t a good fit for me. Permission to see the thin veil between this world and the next. Permission to drop deep inside and put a cup to my ear and just listen. And, perhaps most importantly, permission to burn (not blaze) through instead of up.
How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
that for us
as we go up in flames, our one work
to open ourselves, to be
Anna Guest-Jelley is an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night, and a puppies’ mama all the time. She is making her way through life with joy, curves and all. Visit her at her website Curvy Yoga and on Facebook and Twitter.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.