Recently, I taught a daylong workshop that I titled ‘Yoga Therapy in a Palliative Care Setting’. It was a beautiful day attended by 11 yoga therapy trainees, learning about end of life.
These participants were willing to be in touch with their feelings relating to grief. I counted the trainees as brave in their willingness to let sadness come up to the surface. Grief will be there for most of us at the end of life. But before then, we experience so many other griefs. Some of them are tiny and some major.
I proposed an idea at the beginning of the workshop. I said that we you teachers can only support those at the end stage of their lives to the extent that we have faced our own grief.
American writer, James Miller sums up this notion in his book, The Art of Being a Healing Presence.
The depth you can go within yourself corresponds directly to the depth at which you can connect intimately with another.
I don’t have a tool box full of yoga techniques for dealing with grief, other than being with it. No doubt I will acquire some tools along the way as I square off with this subject more. The teacher/writer, Stephen Jenkinson, says in his book, Die Wise that we in the West are ‘grief illiterate’. And, that to fix this grief impairment, we need to see grief as a skill that needs learning.
Well, you have to be a little mad to think about grief, dying and death in the way I’m tending to do these days. Or, you could simply just say that I can see ‘the train a-comin’.’ Thank goodness, I’ve had yoga in my life for five decades. And so, I’m hale and reasonably hardy. But there’s no escaping the fact that we will all get to the end stage of life sooner or later.
To be intimate with that fact lets me be alive to right now. Seeing the end of our precious life ahead of time gives the opportunity to love it all the more.
I still wonder how an old yogi like me gets tossed around on a sea of emotions at times. Aren’t I supposed to be part of a breed of calm and detached observers? It’s possible that what I experience at these times is some of my own unresolved grief.
In 1995, I had the opportunity to ask the yoga guru, T.K.V. Desikachar, why upsets happen to sincere yoga practitioners. The students and teachers who do yoga practices and meditation for years. He said it is a Western problem that relates to ‘the pending file’. He meant that people in the West generally don’t experience their feelings as they arise. These are then shoved into a mental ‘pending file’ to be dealt with later. ‘Later’ can be triggered by an incident. Or it might happen just when we’re quietly practising when there’s the time and sensitivity for experiencing emotions more deeply.
At times like this, there’s the opportunity to practice acceptance. We can practice having the emotions and avoid squashing them. Our emotions, our griefs, are part of being hale and hearty. When I’ve been able to compassionately be with strong feelings, they seem to ease.
We’ve been having rain periods on and off over the last week on our lovely island. Not the big squalls and flooding of past years–just clement showers. Sadness can be like this too. It comes up and then it passes. The sun eventually comes out again and it shines so much more radiantly on the landscape that it has softened.