I picked up the phone today to call a stranger—and hung up in tears. Tears of surrender, tears of sadness, tears of relief. It was as if God — an angel, or some other celestial being of great benevolence and kindness—had reached through the phone line and held me close, comforted and soothed me. In a very short period, my heart was broken open—yet again, just like it had been numerous times over the last three months since my 80-year old mother was diagnosed with stage IV inoperable cancer.
I had picked up the phone innocently enough to call and talk with a nutritionist about my mother’s diet. I’d gotten her name from the caregiver I’d just hired a few days ago, a person referred to me through the extended yoga community where my mother lives. In just three days, the caregiver had started to sift through the complicated web of information regarding my mom’s nutrition as an elderly cancer patient,a challenging task when weighing the impacts of chemotherapy, medications, age and medically identified nutritionally deficiencies, not to mention avoiding a list of nutrients that potentially feed cancer. Wisely, she discovered that she needed the help of an expert. Her friend—the stranger on the other end of the line—was the expert, trained at one of the best naturopathic schools in the country—and she wanted nothing from me. She generously gave her time, expertise, and most importantly, her heartfelt compassion to me. That was it.
After we talked science and nutrition for a while, she admitted something to me: The real culprit of all disease is emotionally based. I knew she was right.
Her admission reminded me of the wise words yoga teacher Mark Whitwell bravely boomed into the spacious desert sky where I practiced yoga with him just two weeks prior. “Yoga is direct intimacy with the given reality.”
Read it again.
Yoga is direct intimacy with the given reality.
Yoga isn’t about doing or undoing the reality at hand; it’s not about getting anywhere or achieving a deeper pose. No, yoga is about the practice of inaction. The practice of being more fully present in the here-now, no matter how messy and horrible.
And messy and horrible it had been since mom’s diagnosis. Three near death scares in one day, two visits to the ER and countless wakeful nights agonizing with her in pain, not to mention the more mundane acrobatics of getting to all of her appointments, navigating the nightmarish medical system and medical record-keeping and finally, my mom being fired by not one —but two oncologists! Oh, did I forget to mention the crazy family dynamics? And that I nearly ended up in ER myself?
Yoga teaches that with the help of our breath, the alchemy of being persistently and openly present to the given reality at hand —no matter how messy and horrible—is a gift that transforms us. And strangely, by some miracle, the unlikeable horrible thing starts to shape-shift into something more acceptable— perhaps a teaching? Through breathing and conscious intimacy with the given reality—we are shifted, a layer is peeled, and maybe a phoenix rises from the ashes.
For me, the shift had been going on since we got the news of mom’s diagnosis. I’d been broken, shattered, swept up, whetted, kneaded, molded and refired in the kiln of my own hellish reality in the past 90 days so many times, I sometimes wondered how much more I could take. But as I sit here now, I see that my vessel is indeed intact, however unfamiliar in its new shape.
The stranger on the other end of the line was just practicing yoga with me. She allowed me to feel safe, and to feel—to have direct intimacy with my own sadness and depletion. With it came tears of sadness, and tears rejoicing the homecoming to my own heart— and the divine love of a stranger.
My mom is stable, but I do not know what the future holds. What I do know is that no matter what, I will get through this. But ironically, getting through isn’t the point.
Photo credits: Laurel Hodory, Aliveinthefire.blogspot.com
Laurel Hodory, MS, E-RYT500, is one of Columbus’ senior yoga teachers and has been studying and teaching yoga for 18 years. Over the last eleven years, she has trained and certified more than 140 teachers, taught international retreats, taught the OSU NCAA Women’s Rowing team, and been a selected guest speaker at the OSU Addictions Conference. Her areas of specialization include yoga therapeutics, inner energy work and empowering her students to transcend their limitations so they can experience greater fulfillment on and off the mat. When she’s not on the mat, Laurel enjoys music, being outdoors, good food, and spending time family and friends.