Being Me and Staying Me: How My Yoga Practice and Art Survived Divorce
By: Rhonna del Rio
I went where I still believed miracles can happen…I still wasn’t okay, but I believed that I would be one day. I was ready to do the real work on the mat, and I closed my eyes for the first time in a long while.
In January 2014, I was faced with a challenge that I had previously only read or heard about from others. “I want a divorce.” The words seemed to echo and it felt like a scene from a movie, where everything slows down and it’s as if you’re inside a glass bowl and can only hear muffled sounds—echoing, echoing. Who am without a husband? Who am I when mutual friends eventually fade away? Am I a -Ms.-? And what does that even mean anymore? Endless questions that filled the hours and days to come.
Then like a whisper to my heart I listened to these thought—just because one commitment faltered doesn’t mean others have to. I garnered energi from the other commitments that gave me grounding, joy, peace and calm. It was a time to counterbalance the feeling of falling apart with something that provided the energy of coming together. So I mustered the spirit, got up with a broken heart and went to yoga. I didn’t just go whenever I could—I had to carve out time for it. I had to consciously remind myself how CRUCIAL it was that I stay-the-course. I was thinking of my commitment to my daughter, my body, my spirit and my soul. I was thinking of my fellow yogis, who helped me heal simply by showing up on the mat. I remembered the commitment I made when the art connected to my soul and spirit finally entered my life, and the difference it had made for others on the path to healing. And the commitment I made when I first found the spiritual side of yoga and said to myself, It is no longer a challenge to stay in the practice, but rather a decision to do so.
Prayer, meditation, yoga and knowing that my daughter was watching me all encouraged me to stay the course and brave the turbulence of such a momentous shift. I had no choice. I had to be stronger than I believed I was, for both my daughter and myself. Off the mat, I had to dig out and pack away 17 years of memories. The lease on our home was coming up and there was no time to put off one of the hardest chores I had ever had to tackle all by myself. Every single item had something to do with our marriage. Everything, literally, had us in it. If it wasn’t a ticket stub, plane ticket, an old silly note left under a pillow, a photograph, invitation or other tangible item, it had the energy and feelings, both highs and lows, of the partnership we’d had. In all of our years together we never had a breakup. We loved, we grieved, we debated and we cried, we laughed, we connected in person and in spirit, and we cried and hugged and cried and hugged. There were long silences in between but we managed to come back to shore in peace and understanding, every time.
So many times during the process of the divorce, I sat pondering all of the emotions we rode and danced together. I thought, how can anyone even put all of that away overnight? I cannot, I don’t want to, it’s not healthy for the soul inside. And so I didn’t. I marched on, but I never contemplated pretending it all never existed. Why? Because it brought me to where I am today. I’m a mother to a beautiful daughter, something our partnership made possible. All of the emotions I felt and the experiences I had are still solid and full of life, regardless that they were a mix of highs and lows, because they all played a part in the journey. It would be a self-inflicted wound deeper than the wounds from which I was already trying to heal if I pretended none of it had happened. If I were to start again with a bitter heart, I could easily be knocked down by the next storm. So, each time on the mat, I gathered the good and bad in each past memory that arose and sealed my savasana with gratitude for having had the chance to live and breathe through all those years and be part of a story that brought me a beautiful soul in the body of our daughter. How could I just pretend it didn’t exist? It was a chapter that was closing but would always be part of the story. I couldn’t just rip out chapters of the book because they hurt me. I cannot judge myself for the chapter that I am in—and no one should judge anyone else by the chapter they may be in. Those chapters are a testament to a life that was. And that is the lesson. It WAS.
Our life lessons for each other have reached its peak and from then, we are to continue on our destinies, apart. The chapters were life lessons through ups and downs, and my story does not end there. What happens to us as individuals is our own soul’s journey, and what happens to others outside of us is their own soul’s rightful journey. I believe each of us has a purpose in life that is much bigger than we can see or understand. How does anyone get through that kind of storm? I don’t necessarily think we have to go “through” it. In my case, I had to flow with it. I had to realize it’s not happening to me, it’s simply happening. I believed in my heart that even things that are broken do not remain unchanged. By nature’s law, eventually that broken thing takes a new form, whether as dust, bones, sand or energy. I wanted to be fully awake in knowing what type of energy I was to build from this challenge. During class we would be invited to brush off the dust around our heart space. And it can feel exactly like that. When you do this inch by inch, layer by layer, what is waiting under all the layers of dust that you brush away might just be what you thought was lost—YOU.
I am grateful for my yoga teachers who supported me and helped me stay the course, and who kept me company after class when all of my emotions came falling out onto the mat. The studio has always been a safe haven for me. It was even more so during the separation and divorce, and remains so to this day. Although no actual art or painting surfaced during those biggest challenges, I had a feeling in my gut that something was swirling and being created internally, and it was enough. I purposefully geared my practice toward the path of rooting deeper and deeper still—and when something emotionally broke me during class, rooting down even more deeply—in order to balance out any fall that followed. I bowed down each time, accepting the closure I had to face, at times in stillness and grace and others in defeat and surrender, but always in acceptance. I felt the energy of the images building up inside of me during this time, but they were themselves in their own stage of rooting.
Since Art through the practice of yoga entered my life, I have come to realize that the deepest, most transformative work is done in the dark. Underground. But in the beginning, one thing became apparent to me on the mat—this was the first time that I had refused to shut my eyes. I refused to go inward for a while. I was scared. I was feeling overpowered and vulnerable. When I closed my eyes during practice I felt like an open target. My wound was still very raw and I refused to be hurt, even in the smallest way, on top of what I was already feeling. Seventeen years of continuous commitment to one person were coming to a close. I wasn’t ready, and it was happening too fast. I didn’t want an overnight Band-Aid on the wound, so I opened my heart when I stepped on the mat and was willing to let it heal, to let yoga and nature take their course.
Finally there came a point when, after what felt like a river of tears after a yoga class, I still wasn’t okay, but I believed that I would be one day. I was ready to do the real work on the mat, and I closed my eyes for the first time in a long while. All relationships, whether short or long-term, and whether in public or privately, experience ups and downs. We mourned deaths in the family and celebrated new births. We celebrated work accomplishments and worked through band breakups and businesses failing. There were heartaches but there were also happy heartbeats, and it was these that reminded me every day to find gratitude in the smallest and simplest moments. To find gratitude that, through those same ups and downs, we were blessed to have been able as one to bring forth and share in the joy of becoming proud parents to our beautiful daughter.
I read that karma is not about what happens to you rather, it’s how you react to what happens. Today, I am able to shut my eyes readily on the mat, even deeper than before, and my art has turned over a new leaf. My pieces are finding new homes and inspiring others perhaps even more than before. It’s clear to me that what my heart whispered in yoga during the separation and divorce was watering the seeds within me to root down, to encourage patience, understanding and acceptance, and to one day build enough power to sprout back up bearing new layers, new light, new fruit, new art—and a new beginning.
May each of you also stay in your own spiritual practice, on or off the mat, to cultivate forgiveness for others and acceptance of self. And in the end of each challenging chapter, may you see your hearts rising back up, ready and filled, or ready to be filled again. May you stay in the practice of gratitude and believe in yourselves always.
Be you. Stay you.