Broken Open

The last two Sunday nights have been amazing in my 11th step yoga practice.

I actually wrote about last weeks class, but quickly and never edited and posted it. I’m kind of glad now because tonite’s  practice really drove home so much of what happened last week, made it even more real, answered questions I had and posed new ones.

We have three teachers for the Sunday night practice, Abby, Aimee and Frankie. They are all wonderful and all a little different.

Aimee’s class is probably the most yoga-ish, we get a pretty good workout and work more closely with yoga principles. Abby and Frankie tend to have a more relaxed practice with Frankie more meditative and Abby more, well, I don’t know. Abby founded 11th Step Yoga and really drives home the idea that spirituality is essential to detox and addiction issues, that without it you cannot recover. That is her message, and she works it while working us…lots of detox postures, and lots of program talk while doing it. NO bullshit with her though, she is blunt and honest and when she is pushing us, well, I feel pushed. They are all wonderful in their own way, and they all teach and have their own practices outside of 11the step

Last Sunday night Abby led. I came in with some neck issues and told her so she’d be aware if I shouldn’t do some pose. The practice was fine though, but near the end there was a posture I couldn’t do because it hurt my shoulders so much. Well, Abby was right there, urging me to push through because shoulder issues meant my heart was closed.

My heart was closed.  That is not something that comes as a surprise to me.  I always think my heart is closed, cordoned off with that yellow caution tape, keeping anyone from getting close. Here’s what I often say “I have enough friends, I don’t need any more”.  I do, I often say that.  I have a fear of getting close to anyone new. I have enough people in my life who are going to die, I don’t need to be connected to more. I sometimes picture my hear like the Grinch’s.  Not in the hate everybody way, but in the way that one day his heart grew too small. One day mine did too.

However, the truth of what she said got to me and, in a weird way, cracked my heart open. Why did that happen? I think because the way she said it coupled with the position and pain I was in (both physically and psychically) made a perfect storm of truth/awareness. I heard what she said. It was like my life flashed before my eyes, hard to explain, but very out-of-body-ish.

I HEARD her, my heart was closed. In that moment I did not want it to be closed anymore and guess what? When we got out of the pose my shoulders and neck did not hurt anymore. Haven’t hurt since, as a matter of fact.

So this week has been a lesson in keeping my heart open. And what I found was that, in many cases my heart is wildly open, but my perception is that it is not and I have been living in that perception. I took a good long look at my life this week.  I listened to dharma talks about happiness and about grief as a burden or as a gift. I thought about all the people who I have loved for years and then realized I have let new friends in too….I just don’t want to accept that because attachment scares me. I have been working towards detachment…why all the Buddhist work I have been doing? The thing is that it’s not about detachment from people and life, it’s about detachment from expectations I put on people and life, and acceptance of what is now. Sometimes what is, now, is a healthy and loving attachment to someone who loves me back, nothing more complicated than that.

My heart is also open in a compassionate way. I volunteer as a grief group facilitator for god’s sake! There is something open-hearted  and hopeful about that, I can assure you. I try to help when I can whoever I can. I try to stay present for myself and others….all of that is open hearted. Why this perception that I am so closed down?

Which brings me to tonights yoga. Frankie led, and when he came in he started setting up this elaborate display on the raised platform in the studio. Skeletons and pictures, jewelry, and icons, candles everywhere….we started late because he was setting all of this stuff up. I loved it. I knew it was day of the dead stuff…he told me he took it right off of his altar at home and brought it in. I know from altars. I actually consciously chose to NOT do one this year, although I clustered some pictures  of the dead together sort of haphazardly on my dresser. I wanted to make an altar, I did. I also want a new, clean start in my new apartment,  a new life (right?) and so hesitated.

When he finished setting up we started. He explained his altar, and asked each of us to think of someone who was dead and invite them into the room with us, invite them into our practice tonight. I was unprepared for that, but did it. It was so easy to conjure Tom, to picture him with me.  He asked we say names out loud….I said Tom’s name ( as well as my parents and my friend Glenn, all significant deaths).  As he led us through poses he spoke of the dead, of opening or hearts to them, of picturing what they would think as they saw us in this practice (I seriously laughed here….Tom would have been “WTF”??), would they be proud? (I know Tom would be).  I will say that from the instant he asked us to bring the dead in I began crying, and cried through the whole practice. It was ok. It wasn’t sad, I wasn’t bawling my eyes out. I was just aware of tears as I felt so many different feelings. Frankie asked us to put the person before us and tell them “I love you. I forgive you. I honor you”.  That was powerful. Love and honor is easy, forgive is hard, hard. But my heart was open, I had been working on it all week, and the forgive made sense in a way that it hasn’t before. I ask to be forgiven all of the time. Could I forgive, need I forgive?

He then brought us back to ourselves, we, the living. Here, now. We thought about our own death, how we all die. He then had us think about our life, what if we knew we had only a year to live, what would we do, say, attempt, forgive, change.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I will think about them.

Finally he asked how we would want to be remembered.  I thought about my volunteer work in grief, how I am fascinated with hospice and looking to get involved in that. I thought about other kinds of service I do (and don’t do, things I would like to change for sure).  How I want to be of service, compassionate, open-hearted, how that is what I would like to be remembered for.

And I thought about how, in many ways, I am a completely different person than I was when Tom and I were alive together. His death changed me in some very fundamental ways, both negatively and positively. I have lived in the negative long enough, and the open hearted positive is upon me, has been for a while. I referred earlier to a talk I listened to about grief as a burden and as a gift.  It has been both to me, and I am only just now seeing the gift.

The gift.   NOT that he died…I would return that so fast had I known I was going to get that handed to me.  But because he died I have changed and that process of change has led me to now, and now, today, I can see where that change has made me a better person. Today I am kinder and more compassionate. I listen better.  I am living my life differently, more aware, more present, more honestly. I am more open. I am here because of all the things that led me here…I would change them in a hot second  to have Tom back, but I see the gift now, alongside the burden. They go together, they are one and the same thing.  Just as Tom would have thought my yoga and meditation was funny he would also have supported me and been proud. Not everything is ONE thing, not everything is black and white. Being open hearted brings some color, some shading into the picture that I have painted as so bleak and despairing for so long.

I am awake. I have been awake for a while, but am able to acknowledge it now. This is a gift, this awareness, this letting go, this broken- open heart. I can do nothing but be grateful for it.



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  1. I love how you describe the flash you experienced at class and how the pain in your neck went away and your mind opened up to this new way of seeing something. Wow. Powerful post.

    I’m so happy to hear you’re volunteering with hospice.Thank you for doing the important work that you do with grieving family members. I worked for two different hospices over the years as a volunteer coordinator. What a wonderful organization, from the patients and families to the volunteers and staff. One of my favorites was a chaplain who was also a bereavement counselor; she’d had personal experience with hospice and then volunteered before she took a full time job. Maybe something for you to consider and explore further.

  2. Brava!

  3. I just read your post right before going to bed. You have warmed my heart! Thank you for this, so very inspiring and heart opening.

  4. There is such an elegance and ease and sheer beauty to this post, I am almost beyond words. What mind-blowing experiences here…too many to count, and yet grounded in such simplicity and seeing the connection between mind, body and spirit so clearly defined.

    I was nodding through the first bit there, as I could totally relate to the closed heart idea. I too often think “I don’t really have many friends and I’m in my 40’s. Why do I need them now?” and shut down. I have some wonderful people in my life out here in the blogosphere, no doubt about that. But as for close confidantes in my offline life? Next to none – perhaps one or two people. I mean, I have the friends of the wife who became my friends kind of friends, and who know my story, but I mean the guys that I can count on when I am down and out, etc. And so I figure, I have survived this long, and I still am afraid of getting hurt, and I don’t have much time in my life period as I am busy so when would I talk to them or see them, etc. Excuses, I know. But I wonder if that is who I am. But then I read more of what you wrote…and loved how you came to see that you weren’t as closed hearted as you thought. There was a shift. And perhaps i can use that as inspiration.

    The rest was just stunning stuff…man, I was really truly touched.

    Thank you for this. I too will be heading to bed having this one of the last things I probably read. What a way to go to slumberland… 🙂

    Love and light,

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