The Yoga of Experience: So Empty You Are Full

Flashback on a bridge

The other day I was driving across the bridge to Jenks, on my way to teach a yoga class, and one of my favorite songs came on the car stereo. It’s “Traveler/Make It Mine,” by Jason Mraz, from his live album released in 2009. Suddenly, I was transported back to the summer of 2011, driving around in the hot, humid weather with the windows down, screaming the lyrics to this song for everyone on Highway 169 to hear.
That was the summer right after my mom passed away from cancer. After she spent 13 short, yet seemingly endless, horribly difficult weeks declining to the point of ultimately turning into someone I didn’t recognize, she passed away in March 2011. In May I got divorced, then the weather turned warm and summer arrived, and I was alone. As a hardcore introvert, with no family in town, my time was completely my own. So what now…

But I’m not writing this to talk about the grief I felt, or the PTSD I ended up with. Hearing that Jason Mraz song last week reminded me of the happiness and the freedom I felt that first summer on my own.

Feeling the feels and being ok with that

I have tried several times to write this blog post and could never finish it. Each time I got stuck and frustrated, which is ironic considering the subject matter. When writing doesn’t come easily, I have to stop and ask myself why. What’s in the way? This time around I think it’s guilt.
I feel guilty for admitting that after my mom passed away, there were times that I felt more free, and happier than I had in a long time. You aren’t supposed to feel that way after someone dies.
Part of why I felt so happy and free is because my mom and I had a really complicated relationship, and I had let myself live under other people’s shadows all my life. Now, the biggest shadow was gone. Time to get some sun.
Another reason why I felt the way I did is because grief does weird things to you. I felt a little relieved those 13 weeks were over. I felt like I could now take control of my life again. I felt… lots of things.

summer 2011: down to 105 pounds and trying golf. who IS that person?!?
summer 2011: down to 105 pounds and trying golf. who IS that person?!?

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Sometimes it makes you do things that you feel a little guilty about. I ended up not only having to make peace with someone’s departure, I also had to make peace with how I was reacting to it.  I’m not sure I can explain this part very well. But if you have lost someone yourself, you might know what I’m talking about.

These things account for some of the reasons I felt free and happy and open after just having gone through something that was, well, really bad. But here’s the biggest reason why.

I had witnessed some really difficult things that spring. I had made some even more difficult decisions. I watched the person who was supposed to be indestructible, crumple like a piece of aluminum foil. My heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces.

I am still not sure my heart will fully mend. But that’s actually OK. Because out of the broken pieces comes something beautiful. Because when you are so raw, so full of heartbreak, you increase your capacity to feel. And if you can feel a huge amount of pain, you can also feel an even greater amount of love.

Love is possibility, the ability to be open, to give of oneself, and to receive. Love is life force, love is, well… love is everything.

I want to forget, but I want to remember

As I drove over the bridge last week, listening to that song, I felt those feelings of openness and of love again, and it took me back to 2011. It truly was, in many ways, a magical summer. Even though it was also filled with some tears, a bit of loneliness, and very little sleep.
There is even a magical story that relates directly to that Jason Mraz record, or more specifically, to one of the musicians on the record – but that is a story that is for now best left in the past, and taken out only occasionally to marvel at. It acts as a reminder for me to never forget that magic can happen.

And as I drove over the bridge last week, listening to that song, I had to wonder, why did it take a traumatic experience for me to understand my true capacity for love? Why couldn’t I have learned this an easier way? How come I keep forgetting my true capacity for love? Why can’t we all feel this way every day? Just think, if everyone remembered how huge our hearts are. Think of what our world would be like.

Ultimately the answers to some of these questions aren’t important. The past just… is. The only way is forward.

For me, it took being completely empty before I understood what feeling full is like. I don’t know if there’s an easier way. I hope there is – I hope that maybe through meditation, or yoga, or prayer, or some other great thing that you can come up with – I hope that we can empty ourselves enough to fill up with love.

one of the last photos of me and my mom together, new year's eve 2010
one of the last photos of me and my mom together, new year’s eve 2010
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