Who am I and why am I here?
I believed, up until a short while ago, I knew the answers. With great pride and confidence, I would ask my students the same, as if to imply I knew who I was; why couldn’t they do the same.
Shielding myself with protective armor, I was hiding behind a persona I had created in the hopes of one day becoming. In reality, I wasn’t there.
I began to sit.
One word, one shift, one moment: grief.
My mom died in less than two weeks; although sick for more than 10 years, her sudden illness became a huge awakening. Knowing her health was deteriorating, I had convinced myself for years that I had accepted her death at some point. I felt she was my guide for only a short while longer.
My belief was that once her physical form left this earth, I would feel her presence and guidance and I would be surrounded with an abundance of love so strong, I wouldn’t be affected by her passing. After all, I was an insightful and intuitive yoga teacher, no?
I wasn’t prepared for the night she was taken into intensive care.
Her organs were failing and her heart, panicked, drained blood from her extremities. The images of her body shutting down and the effects of such have haunted me and continue to do so. I stroked her hands each night; the same hands she had so beautifully creamed each night had begun to shrivel. The burn unit carefully bandaged her hands, feet and legs as they worsened each night and her skin began to blister.
I watched intently as my father’s demeanor turned from courage to powerlessness and from compassion into sorrow.
I was completely present, carefully enthralled with the colorful patterns on her monitor, the beeping of the dialysis machine, the suctioning of the doors opening and closing to keep out foreign entities and the chatter from the nurses. I waited for a blink or a smile and held onto her carefully wrapped hands hoping for a gentle squeeze. Time stopped but days still passed.
Silence was met with heartfelt outbursts of tears. Regrets, guilt, sadness and hope weaved themselves together without any ending—my heart was broken and my mind felt numb.
They lifted her medication a week into her treatment and she awoke. With blurred eyes and confusion, she looked around the room carefully: at every machine before she looked to her loved ones. She scanned our facial expressions as she had done our entire lives. She smiled and nodded her head as if to say, “I’m present.” She was scared; she wasn’t ready to leave but in an instant I felt the deepest level of acceptance I have ever witnessed.
We all knew, including my mother, that had she survived, her life would change drastically. With multiple amputations and living life with the support of technology, she would have begged us to let her go that very day. It’s as if she prepared me in the previous years, asking if it ever came to this moment, to do the ‘right thing’.
At that moment I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t let her go.
My inner child—the one every reiki master, past life coach or vibrational healer told me to confront—finally emerged. Frightened and lonely, she stepped back, covered her face, prayed for a miracle and cried, “Mommy.”
She looked peaceful, rested and still; she had finally surrendered.
My family and I left that evening to rest. We had high hopes that the strong and mighty matriarch would make her triumphed return to life and freedom as she had done so many times before. When we returned in the morning, the machines had been removed and my mom was yet again, unconsciously conscious. She looked peaceful, rested and still; she had finally surrendered. Confusion and anger immediately set in and I went looking for answers to know exactly what had happened. When we had left that evening, my mother signaled for her specialist.
Unable to speak, she wrote out on a board, “I’m done.”
She had looked deep within our hearts and knew we weren’t strong enough to let her go; she made the decision to make the request herself.
It only took a few days for her to take her last breath. My brother, father and I waited patiently and, without refuge, stayed with her. Her suffering was finally over but ours seemed to just begin.
In shock and feeling numb, my family and I planned her funeral. I wrote and lead her eulogy not with any sense of feeling—just relying on my bodily systems and responses to get me through the beautiful story of her life and journey.
Months passed and I sunk deeper into what felt like a mild, functioning depression.
All of my passions and interests were no longer prevalent; I gave up my physical yoga practice not having energy. I taught with a huge smile and love in my heart for 90 minutes and picked up the despair on my way home. My relationships with my spouse and friends suffered greatly as all I wanted to do was to be alone; the only light in my life were my children, who, most days, allowed me a chance to see how far a parent will go to protect their children from misery and regret and our willingness to do anything necessary to shield them from pain.
I began to doubt all of my findings, readings and my purpose over the past 10 years as a teacher and educator.
I couldn’t connect to anything, not even my mother’s spirit. The only intention behind my meditation practice was to talk to my mother’s spirit and to my disappointment and frustration, there wasn’t ever a response. I became angry and withdrawn and felt duped by the entire conception of ‘yoga’.
I still taught but without a purpose or direction.
I sought after every psychic, clairvoyant healer I could desperate for a sign, direction or affirmation that my mother was happy and healthy and forgave me for my neglect the evening her body became riddled with pneumonia. Nothing.
Emotions came on heavy and I tried not to control the duration or amount of tears I released when I cleaned behind the fridge as my mother so obsessively did throughout my childhood, when I tucked a piece of kleenex in my shirt while dealing with a cold or when I witnessed my children’s milestones and wished my mother had been here for a shared experience.
Although we had our moments like most mothers and daughters and despite my vow to not be like my mother, I was and I am.
We were extremely close, spending almost every day together with my children. She was my best friend, my greatest teacher and my confidant. My son was an incandescent light to her throughout treatments and filled her life with joy and love. She thrived on her energetic days and rested when she felt the need to conserve her energy. My mom was the strong silent type but suffered by not speaking her truest feelings and emotions.
I know my path is similar, which is why I’ve now decided to share my vulnerability.
What is grief? It’s deep, it’s sticky and it’s layered with so many emotions it’s sometimes unbearable. It’s lonely, it’s exhausting and it’s filled with an overwhelming sense of fear. It’s unstable, it’s draining and it’s disgustingly human.
I decided to walk away from my practice and teachings, for now—to discover why I questioned my spirituality and how I became so detached from my heart and destructively emotionless. To be patient with the grieving process without any observances or distractions but just sit; to sit in the seed of the emotion, the loss, the emptiness and the guilt.
To confront my issues of abandonment and to reconnect with my broken heart.
From here and only here, will I be able to fully understand the teachings of yoga. I feel like I’ve been here before after dealing with many struggles in my life, but this has been the absolute.
I no longer want to teach with falsehoods, pretending to be on the path to enlightenment while struggling with my own identity. I want to be nothing more than my authentic self in search of my “atman”. To teach this, I believe I have to undergo a transformation without judgement or expectations of others or myself. The need for external responses and ideas seem less important as I begin to rely more on my own truth and authenticity. Not to understand but to simply, see my purpose, my direction and most importantly, to see my Self.
My father told me about a conversation he had with my mother. My heart wept with joy hearing him laugh about throwing away containers my mother had hoarded 20 years previous and her obvious spiritual disgust for the waste. The other part of me became jealous; I couldn’t connect with her the same way. I soon realized my father, throughout his own grief, had stayed present and connected to his heart. His level of acceptance was like my mother’s that day she opened her eyes to say “I’m present.”
Who am I and why am I here?
At this very moment, I’m vulnerable. I’m brokenhearted and I’m disgustingly human. I’m here for the exact same reasons as you.
So, once again, I sit.
Clare Newman A practitioner of yoga for over 14 years, Clare specializes her teachings in prenatal yoga and women’s health. And avid anatomy enthusiast and compassionate advocate for women’s health, she travels across Canada as the Program Director and Facilitator for Mamata Yoga, a Yoga Alliance Certified Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training. A mother of soon-to-be three, her greatest teachings in life have come from her imaginative and inspiring children.
Like elephant journal on Facebook.
Assistant Ed.: Stephanie Sefton/Ed: Bryonie Wise