On Friday I went to a family funeral. Difficult occasions always. And always such difficulty is compounded by various day to day circumstances. The inconsequentialities of recent snowy conditions disrupting travel plans, minor illnesses creating anxiety, and also the deeper current of entrenched family dynamics… Such are our human lives, even in the face of death, haunted by trivialities that threaten to distract us from the real event.
This was my first funeral as a practising yogi. I don’t mean to sound pretentious with that statement, but I reflect that my practice teaches me much about how to be fully with my feelings. It was a day to practise how to be in grief and feel the heavy pain of that without falling into uncontrollable weeping, to be of comfort to those around me by finding the right words for them, being courageous to meet them in their grief, as uncomfortable as that is, and also to receive the love offered to me in turn and be mindful to take time for myself. This day of death and grief was a balancing act — of self and others, of honouring the deceased by feeling fully and deeply without being overwhelmed, a time for looking back and looking forward, feeling a loss whilst also celebrating a life.
The day following I called my mum to see how she was faring, now that the formal, communal aspect of grief is over and what remains is more individual and unstructured, ebbing and following as it will for each of us as we resume our own little lives. It had been a day much harder, surely, for her than for me, as she was saying goodbye to her identical twin, a part of her whole, someone who has shared her life in some deep sense I can’t comprehend. And all my mum wanted to tell me was how much my love and support meant to her. All the times as a child that she held my hand, wiped away my tears, vanquished the little demons that loomed large in my young life — I wonder how one ever returns that love? Today was a small offering.
I also taught a yoga class that day. I didn’t feel I should cancel. Life continues. It is another context to offer what I can, another context to practise being present amidst difficulties and other demands on my attention. Also another context to practise living life, experiencing joy, finding strength and grace, and teaching others how to do the same.
I also talked to my students a little about group endeavour, the support of others, the interplay of personal and shared that is the experience of a yoga class (or a funeral). This talking from my heart, showing my students a little of my way of yoga (very much ‘off the mat’) is another new practice for me. This trusting my vulnerability in the hands of others, this openness to what is. And the sympathy and empathy on their faces was beautiful and offered me much silently in return.
It would have been too easy to fall into my old habit of hiding myself away in difficult times, refusing to allow anyone close enough to help me.
Now I can see a little more clearly that there are other ways to negotiate boundaries.
If my yoga practice gives me some tools to navigate these situations with a little more grace than otherwise, it’s a worthwhile practice. If my teachers have taught me something about sticking with it when things get difficult, I am humbly grateful to them.
And by way of small tribute, here’s my aunt, so similar to my mum, looking glamorous 1970s style, on the beach of my home town. Perhaps she had come to visit when I was born? So many questions I never asked, so much I don’t know. Now only memories that I carry inside myself.
I can still hear her voice, I can almost smell her scent. And I will never again hear the pet name that she alone called me.