I am a Yoga Teacher. Before the pandemic I was teaching about 17 classes a week. In all of my classes I had music in the background. Sometimes soothing, sometimes upbeat, depending on the style of class. Since becoming a yoga teacher many years ago, my own personal practice has been done in silence. Maybe it was all the classes, with music, and all the talking required to give precise instruction to guide students through the class safely and with encouragement that caused me to prefer a silent personal practice. Then the pandemic came, and my studio closed and so did the many other locations where I taught regularly. I took my classes to an online format. I stopped playing music for classes now, knowing that background music would interfere by competing with my spoken instructions in this digital format. Music has not been part of my teaching since the start of the pandemic. Today, for some reason, rather than my usual practice done in silence, I felt that a little music would energize my practice. So I selected one of my favorite former class playlists that contained kirtan songs by Krishna Das, and a few of my Bollywood favorites, and I began my practice. It had been more than 9 months since I had listened to this music, and it had a surprising affect on my heart and mind. As I moved through my practice, it stirred up my memories and I saw in my mind all the faces of the students I had taught in the various places. I saw their smiles, I remembered their quirks and their kindness. In my mind I saw every detail of the rooms, and I remembered how I would walk among the students offering adjustments and encouragement. It all came flooding back, and as I continued through my practice, moving to the music, it felt like a dance of grief. It felt like I was honoring the memory of all the happiness I enjoyed in those days. Things have changed now. Even after the pandemic ends, it will never be as it was before. My studio is gone, and even if I teach in a new studio, it won't be the same people, or the same smiles. Something has been lost. A lot has been lost, and there on my mat today I was seeing it all in fullness. Seeing all of what I had lost and realizing it was time to let go. Each breath, each movement, each tear, was an embrace and a release.
Many people talk about "letting go", but the step that is often missed is the embrace that has to happen first. In other words, you can't release what you ignore. In July I had to move out of my apartment and plunge into an uncertain future. Not knowing where I would end up or when, it was necessary for me to get rid of most of my worldly possessions. Each item, I held in my hands and had to decide if I could keep it or if I needed to release it. Each item had memories attached to it, good or bad. I had to look at each item, and all of its memories, before deciding to let it go. Each item had to be boxed up to be sold or donated. Avoidance was not an option. The larger items, like my beloved piano, needed to be cleaned and polished to make it ready for its new owner. What I am saying is that each item required my time and attention as I reflected on its meaning and purpose in my life, before letting it go. This was the embrace. To hold it, appreciate it, and then let it go. I did this with 80% of my belongings. I embraced them all, and then let them go. In other words, I could only release what I was willing to really see and hold.
Situations, people and experiences can't be boxed up and given away. Unbeknownst to me until today, all these memories were stored up inside me like a closet of grief. Today, the music from my former yoga playlist opened the door and let all the memories flood over me during my yoga practice. It was time to release, not the memories themselves but the grief of change, the grief of loss, that was attached to them. All those faces in all those places I remembered and I said a prayer of thanks. You, reading this now, if you were ever in a class of mine, I saw your face today, I remembered your smile, and I thanked you for sharing this journey with me. I will always treasure these memories, but today I was able to release the pain of loss that had been stuck to them.
We can't move forward in a healthy way by ignoring our pain. And yet too many people get stuck holding onto sorrow with the idea that they are "honoring" their grief. It can be difficult to discern the difference, and we all have our own timelines for healing. I hope though, that when you are working with your own practice of letting go, that you remember to embrace and then release. Embrace all of it, even the painful ugly parts. Hold it all in your heart and wrap it in a prayer of gratitude, whether it is gratitude for the experience or just gratitude that you survived. Embrace it fully, and then release. Come back to the present moment and be here fully, unburdened by grief, and filled with acceptance and gratitude. Remember that we aren't letting go of our love or our past memories but we are letting go of the pain that is attached to them.
Postscript - Before I sign off, I would like share with you that over the years of writing these honest glimpses of my life and my journey, a common response I receive is from people expressing their amazement or appreciation for the way I am able to "stay positive" and "see the good" in difficult times. I want to make it very clear that this ability to transform pain and sorrow into gratitude and peace is not a "natural talent" or a "spiritual gift" that has been bestowed on me. No, rather it is the result of years of practice and dedicated effort. Just like my guitar playing isn't a result of "natural talent" or a "gift" but the result of dedicated practice over years of effort. In the same way it is possible to transform your mind and work with the difficulties of this world in a way that brings you more peace and more happiness. There are many avenues to take on this path of transformation. If you aren't sure where to start, please join me in the Beautiful Souls membership where we work on these skills weekly.