Cold hard facts about hot soft living.
By Leigh E. Shaw.
It’s like screaming into a void.
No one can hear you.
Your ﬁngers, limbs and everything you thought was yours a moment before goes numb.
No one can stop the strongest sensation, you have ever felt,
Being around death is like that sometimes.
I would tell you that I lost my mother when I was twenty-four, the age she was when she had me, but I didn’t forget where I put her, like a set of car keys.
My mother passed away from what I have deduced to be a general dis-ease with the human condition and a pretty hard hand dealt from birth. It wasn’t one evil illness or turning point accident that abruptly ended everything. It was slow. Painfully slow.
It was drawn out over years and years of doctor visits, pills, hospital waiting rooms, more pills, procedures turning into surgeries, more pills, ICU’s and home care assistance.
All this medicine was treating the condition of her upbringing which was cruel and unusual and resulted in a very speciﬁc kind of deafness that would only ever allow her to half-hear “I love you” when we told her.
The kind of upbringing that Hollywood might only touch in a distant way. We don’t talk about the real sickness that lives in people’s homes. All that medicine. All that prognosis. None of that can touch the severe belief that the world is a terrible place to live. So many are brought up (and so far down) in homes that act to make that harsh reality true.
She was a survivor and a ﬁghter and I am glad she is not hurting anymore.
Now, I did not mean to tell you all of that. In fact, I meant just to explain why yoga is wonderful and why you should do it every day you can muster the motivation and the time.
I meant to tell you how its lessons are medicine. How it helps you expand, to pour in and hold greater joy. I meant to explain how it gently carves out a deeper capacity for the pain in life that will push but not break you, because you are strong. But I guess the whole truth is that yoga has served me in ways that only a full true story could explain.
After my mother passed, there were days, weeks and months scattered with reading passages of the Tibetan Book on Living and Dying, getting half-dressed, feigning functional, looking for work, being unable to stomach the idea of working.
Crying, drinking, staring at the ceiling until the sun went down and the room was dark. But the scariest days were the ones when I went numb. Food had no taste. I could find no reason to be interested in anything.
My body was this odd, burdensome, clunking machine that dragged itself, with resentful effort, from room to room. This vessel for a ﬂuke of consciousness that was fated to die off one day like everything else.
This was grieving. And on those days, it was the hardest to swallow the medicine.
My mother and I had shared a lot about reincarnation and energy in her lifetime: The soul, the discourse on eternal spirits, and later, what I found on my own through yoga, what we might call prana or life force all became fascinating subjects to explore.
These things, these thoughts, these meditations were medicine.
When the woman who birthed you drops off the radar, you want to believe that we are more than our bodies. In fact, you have to believe.
I have practiced in hot rooms. I have practiced in air conditioned gyms. I have practiced alone. I have practiced with more than a hundred sweaty bodies. I have been injured by unconscious and egoistic instructors.
I have been through deep mat based therapy sessions with a teacher who actually taught me about the emotional and therapeutic power in certain poses for treatment of certain ailments.
I have rolled my eyes at ﬂuffy philosophy fed to me in vulnerable positions. I have cried surprised tears in pigeon pose while the lights were low.
I was experiencing the full expanse of my everyday in a heightened ninety minutes that would ﬂy by in a stretched out eternity of moments in patience and impatience.
On the mat, I could be strong, I did not have to be strong. On the mat I could be half-interested, I could go all in. On the mat I could ﬁnd myself, I could lose myself. On the mat I was nowhere, I was everywhere. On the mat, I was just me, exactly where I am.
I would reconnect to my body. I would breathe, sometimes for what seemed like the ﬁrst time all day or week. I would feel anger and let it go. I would feel sadness and let it go. I would feel calm and let it go too.
It was the one place where I could see and accept the cycle of impermanence, of having and letting go, of being present to the current that is always changing within ourselves and our lives. It was a deep freedom I had never known and it trickled ever so softly into the rest of my life after that.
In a practice that nurtures the challenge as much as the rest, I could ﬁnd a world inside myself big enough to accept a very big truth: My mom had died and I was alive. I am made of tiny particles that were once a part of her. I have her hands. My living is somehow now her living. He passing is somehow my own deliverance into another world of understanding.
Particularly in corpse pose — and the irony is not lost on me — I have her with me every time I let the surge of unexplainable warmth ﬂood my body and ask me to let go and just breathe.
It can be a cold hard truth, the reality of impermanence and all the things, the people, the times you will have and have to let go of. And it can be a hot soft living to learn all the ways you can explore, expand, adapt to, rebuild from, dive further into, live and love your essence and come to the end of it all feeling so damn alive.
Leigh is an artist, a writer, a performer and a traveler. She values joy and kindness over perfection. Her accomplishments include citing cops for not smiling as a silent street clown, epic dreaming, traveling to Burning Man alone, moving across the country for love, rapping on a ukulele and being a good friend. She serves as the Creative Director for a Mindfulness is Education nonprofit and is training to be a Kripalu Yoga teacher this summer because compassion and gratitude are her lifelines. She finds deep personal satisfaction in turning others on to Kale and stretching. Also, she is still figuring it out.