My first many years as a social worker and then mental health therapist took place in the realm of end-of-life care. All throughout this work, I was challenged and honored in my work with people who had been given various terminal diagnoses, and with the families and medical communities surrounding them. Sometimes these patients had many years left, sometimes only a matter of weeks, and the diagnoses and circumstances varied dramatically from person to person. One thing I saw again and again, however–a theme that ran through the diversity of families–was a certain urgency that we tend to feel when we realize that a loved one’s time is drawing to an end.
I’ve experienced this myself, as my sister was dying three years ago this month. What can I possibly say? How can I help her through this passage? How can I express to her how much I love and will miss her? All of this on top of trying to simply process what was happening within my own self–a task that is often big enough to occupy our minds and hearts. In reality, my sister’s last hours, days and even weeks did not end up being the time for such huge conversations: her level of awareness declined, her pain levels increased, and even her healthy baseline might not have involved her engagement in the kinds of conversations which I felt an urgency to have. Some members of my family just aren’t as open with emotions and had a more silent or quiet approach to the whole process, while those of us who are verbal never did find the perfect question, statement, or story, as we hoped we would.
So what does all of this have to do with yoga?
When we are on the mat, one of the major things we can choose to do is to work with presence. The practice of honoring the moment will serve us in our lives in more ways than we might at first imagine, and while I honor any and all motivations that bring us to yoga, whether physical, spiritual, emotional, mental or social, I do have the bias that the skill of satya–being with what is, right now–will far outlast firm butts and flexible hamstrings. If we can become more awake on the mat, that awareness spreads into our “normal,” often mundane lives, and we notice more opportunities for the kinds of connections we fear we’ve missed when we face all kinds of different endings–not just deaths. If we can slow down enough to invite meaningful conversations, to share ourselves a bit more than we otherwise might have, and to inquire into the lives and hearts of others, we will use our time wisely, filling our days with appreciation, healing, and love while we still can. Sometimes the conversations we wish to have are not easy or blissful ones, but if they are important to us, we will know it, and we will find the courage to initiate connection: but only if we are practiced at mindfulness. Only with mindfulness can we hear our inner longings and intuitions, and only once we are seasoned in the often uncomfortable practice of satya can we feel less anxiety with that which is difficult. Yoga is uniquely suited to give us this practice. Be with each inhale and each exhale. Feel the physical sensations in the body as you express different shapes. Turn the attention back to the breath and the body when the mind takes you for a wander; create distance from the chitta vritti or “mind stuff” that distracts and disturbs us endlessly if we let it. Come to this moment.
Here’s to now! And here’s to my sister Alex.
Namaste as always, J