This article was first published on the Vira Bhava Yoga blog HERE.
The opportunity to practice resilience came to me, as grace often descends, through the offering of direct experience. In June, I was offered a monumental test of my own resilience. My father was diagnosed with end stage lung cancer, and sent home to receive hospice care through the end of his days. The journey was intense albeit quick. He was more alive than he had been in years the first month and a half after receiving the diagnosis, then began rapidly and steadily declining until he took his last breath on the morning of my 44th birthday, a week shy of four months later. We were fortunate. I was able to step back from Vira Bhava Yoga, leaving it in the highly capable hands of my long-time Program Coordinator, Kelsey Burke, and take a six month sabbatical from teaching in order to give the necessary space to my family. I was close, about an hour away, so I was able to visit often at first, which transitioned to daily in the end. Our family was able to rally around him, and help him to feel, in his own words, “washed in love.”
For the time we had, we were all able to set aside our small irritations and fully immerse into the experience of supporting my father’s transition, doing whatever we needed to assist in his comfort and care. We all (my mother, daughters, godmother, and I) moved into a space of presence together, holding him and each other in a loving space of sorrow right up to the end, and actively tuning out of the outer world’s needs and requests. We were blessed beyond measure to participate in one of the most important transitions of a life, it’s end, and to hold it close and sacred without feeling any obligation to share it.
As expected, the grief that has followed is a heavy sadness mixed paradoxically with joyful remembering, full of laughter and many tears. My sorrow emerges from love, rather than loss, as I believe that my father will continue on through my attending to his memory, his stories, his life well lived. And, I find myself in the interesting position of putting my suggestions to the test, immediately and intensely.
This experience has brought me fully and honestly into the work of resilience; and, I won’t lie and say I went willingly. Truth be told, I went kicking and screaming into the discomfort, applying all of my old strategies of denial initially, until I could no longer deny the pain and heartache of the situation. The point of surrender was pivotal, and I allowed myself to enter into the liminality of ending. I could be no where other than exactly where I was. I could not force my head above the waves of sadness, frustration, and fear, yet I did find myself above the fray periodically. My inner rhythm slowed down, as sadness requires, and I was often overcome with frustration and pain that I had a difficult time understanding myself, much less expressing to others. The beauty that emerged alongside the pain was undeniable, but life became (and to some degree still is) weighty.
A few weeks after the memorial service for my father, I explained to a friend that it felt as if I had been carrying a very heavy backpack full of stones everyday since the diagnosis, but until my dad passed, I was completely unaware. I was overloaded, laboring to put one foot in front of the other, and I didn’t fully realize it. Sure, I was cognizant of my story, and I was aware of the intensity of my day to day life, but I was in it, completely, and unable to gain perspective on the situation in which I was immersed. Most aspects of my life began to feel flat and hard. The practices and processes that I encourage you to explore weren’t available to me. My meditation became routine, my asana practice became an escape. My personal relationships suffered, I withdrew into the tiny bubble of my family, and together, we became fully absorbed in the lament. I was in it, and it wasn’t ok. It was sad and scary, hard and heavy. And none of that is wrong, nor is it something to attempt to get out of. It is simply and exactly where I was. Only now am I beginning to access the buoyancy of resilience. Only now, after the painful process of bearing witness to the passing of one of the most important people of my life, can I begin to respond resiliently.
You see, resilience is a way to rebound from struggle, not an escape from it. When you are in the struggle, you are struggling, and you aren’t necessarily resilient. It’s in the aftermath of struggle that resilience emerges. So, please know that through these classes and practices, I’m not suggesting a way out of your difficulties and struggles, but rather is offering a path to explore once the intensity has subsided, and you are left with standing amidst the rubble. When you have survived the hardship, but feel unclear on where to go from here, this is when the synonymity of Yoga and resilience can, if you choose, help you to move forward from the difficulty and continue to live a beautiful life.
Kelly is the Founder and Director of Vira Bhava Yoga, and a lifetime practitioner of Yoga. She began practicing Yoga in 1994 and teaching in 2002. She leads teacher trainings all over the United States that emphasizes the power and capacity of each individual student to develop their own voice, trust their own path, and share Yoga as a power, rather than the perfection of asana. In today’s Yoga World, she is an industry disruptor who works to redefine Yoga as a path of re-unification with the innate essence within and without and apply this unity in the life as it is. Kelly teaches that Yoga isn’t something you do, it’s who you are at your core, and the practice of yoga is simply meant to re-unite you with that confidence.