The beginning of the year is always charged up for me. My father passed away in January, I got sick once in January, and my adorable grandmother also passed away sometime at the beginning of the year. If there is one time of the year when I wish I could disappear under the covers, under the bed, under the core of the earth, or anywhere humanly possible then that is it – January!
I have come to dread January. It reminds me that some of the people I love(d) so much are no longer here to say ‘I love you’ back. And they will never be able to tell me that again, at least not in this lifetime. Instead I am left to rely on my memory and simply close my eyes to recall their dear faces and memories. I don’t like looking at their photographs either. It is a strange realization to see my father smile from a photograph and not be able to exchange a word with him. In the weeks following his passing, I had the crazy feeling that one day he would actually ‘return’ and smile again, argue with me, or rather I would argue with him, and magically fill in the irreparable void he had left behind. Joan Didion dedicated an entire book to this surreal expectation which she masterfully titled The Year of Magical Thinking.
Rarely is there anything ‘magical’ about death. Anything remotely so would unequivocally involve some ‘magical return’ of the dead. Like Didion, I, too, knew very well that there was no rationale to my feeling. Yet, I somehow believed this cosmic joke would come to an end and my father would ‘return’ one day. I waited. Weeks turned to months, months to years and my father has not returned. He never will. Instead I have learned how to live with a void. Which, honestly, is the $hittiest lesson I have had to learn and fail again and again.
This is what January has become to me – a reminder that all things good and all the people that I love will leave me one day, and I them. Life as I know it is all too fragile, too temporary, too unpredictable. What then? How do I do this? I mean, how do I live again and again after each time death comes around?
How do I not live?
Nothing in life prepares us for death. No matter what stories we tell ourselves, we can never recover from the death of a dear one. I mean, how can you? I know I can’t. Instead, every January I become a nervous rack and I freeze. I really feel something in me literally freeze and I can’t even tell if it’s fear, grief, despair, or nostalgia. Whatever it is, my muscles tense up so badly that I can barely hold my head straight. All I want to do is pull the covers over. Each time I go for acupuncture after these episodes, I get the same question “What did you do? Why are you so tense?” I mumble something so I don’t have to say “Oh, nothing. I’m just being reminded of my father’s death. That’s all.”
The truth is that I never pull up the covers. Instead, I get up every morning and face the world without pretense. I go to work, earn a living, sometimes I cry, and at the end of the day I thank God it is over. What I do is try to breathe. That is all I can do. Just breathe.
How do I not live? Love? Cry or laugh?
Had it not been for yoga, I have no doubt I would have lost my mind a little after my father’s passing. Had it not been for yoga, I would have not found my mind a little either. Nothing prepares us for death. But death is a reminder for living. So I breathe. That is all I can do.
“Find your mountain pose,” my sister – a yoga instructor – says often in her classes. A beautiful metaphor for standing up! Each of those mornings when I have to get up and face the world—a world without my father—I reach out from the depths of my soul to the mountain within. I do it so I can stand up and not crumble from the ‘toomuchness’ of life: too much death, too much loss, and too much uncertainty.
That’s exactly what yoga is – a way of losing myself in order to find it; uncertainty of realizing the pose, i.e., the experience, to only surprise myself that with time I will understand it differently and in a deeper way; courage to accept that perhaps I will never get to do the headstand and that is fine too.
That is what meditation is – a little bit of dying. The blurring of the ego with the beyond right within us. A little bit of living, a little bit of dying, a little bit of God searching in the fields of Soul. Atha Yoga-Anushasanam (Patanjali, 1:1).