Opening the Heart

Mom & me in her awakening years

In First There Is A Mountain (p. 125), Elizabeth Kadetsky describes a kind of mind-body experience that I suspect many yoga practitioners have had: a surge of emotion, released when a long-held tension relaxes. My sense of what opening the heart is all about is rooted in this kind of experience.

Last fall, thinking about starting this blog, I read over some of my journals. In one of them I found a “Summary of Medical Care” that my brother, sister and I had pulled together for our mother’s doctors a few years before she died. It briefly reviewed the depression and paranoia, the suicide attempts, the shock therapy, and the many years of treatment with psycho-therapeutic drugs that eventually put her in a "near-catatonic" state. It also recorded an “awakening” that began when they took her off all of the medications, not long before the time of her oldest granddaughter’s wedding. All of the planning and anticipation of attending that event, not to mention the excitement of the wedding itself, gradually brought Mom back to life. It only lasted a couple of years but was an amazing time, a gift. We experienced a happy, active and outgoing version of her that I, at least, had never known. Coolest of all, she became an advocate for the staff in her assisted living facility and helped convince the management to provide them a room and time for regular breaks.

A few nights after reading this summary, I dreamt about her giving a speech to a large group, including Dad and me. She was forceful, witty, impressively smart and in command of her subject. As a girl and a young woman, I saw Mom as the opposite of this kind of capable person; and I had judged her harshly for it. In my dream, however, I was in awe of her. The next day in yoga I was strong pushing up into backbends – three successful lifts with my feet on blocks, which is something I cannot achieve most days. It was an intense opening of the chest, and it brought thoughts of Mom, sadness, and the relief of tears.

Not long after that, I found myself on Mom’s birthday, November 4, driving west across Massachusetts to a weekend Ayurvedic workshop at Kripalu. I was at the end of a two-week Ayurvedic cleanse and was feeling light, as if I had let go of a lot of internal baggage. It was a beautiful late fall afternoon; the view of the Berkshire Mountains was spectacular; the Bach piano music on the car stereo was precise and soothing. I felt that Mom was at peace and I, having let go of that bit of my sadness, could be too.