Adventure is calling …

“Let me fall if I must fall. The one I become will catch me.” 

A year ago, I purchased a black and white postcard in a bookstore in downtown Rhinebeck, N.Y. The postcard features a photograph of a woman in a dress, holding a parasol and balancing on a tightrope between two rows of hedges. The image resonated with me and felt like the perfect metaphor for my life at the time. Just weeks before, I had taken the GRE, which stands for Worst Test Ever. It was the first major step I took toward my dream of becoming a mental health counselor. That entire year felt like a balancing act, teetering between the past and the future, my grief and my healing. Many times, during that difficult year, I felt stuck in my grief, like I was sinking into a deep pool of wet, heavy mud. But when I saw that black and white postcard that afternoon, I also saw lightness in the way the woman balanced her body on the tight rope, and her gentle determination. The photograph gave me hope that I would once again find the lightness in my own body and reach the other side of the tightrope.

Well, I have reached the other side of that tightrope. Tomorrow is my first day of grad school. This journey that I embarked on a year ago is actually freaking happening. I am in shock every day that my dreams are being realized. Along the way, so many of my loved ones were cheering me on, supporting me, believing in me, confident that everything would work out. It’s also been a nerve wracking and scary experience to take on. I left my job just two weeks ago. The night before I gave my notice, I printed my resignation letter, walked into the living room, and joined my husband on the couch with the letter in my hand. I started to sob. “I am freaking out. Majorly freaking out,” I sobbed. “You should be,” he said. “It’s a huge deal.” Yes, it is a huge deal. But I never second guessed one second of this journey. The closer I got, the more I realized how much I wanted it.


Every step of the way, I was shocked and surprised when I’d make it to the next level. After I took the GRE, it was like doors just started opening for me. I applied to two nationally ranked schools and got into both. My Life Coach instructor kept telling me last year that my dream was just “three clicks away.” I laughed and told her she made it sound so easy. “Because it is,” she answered. I listened to her advice and I wrote the words “You’re just three clicks away” in black Sharpie on a post-it note tacked to my computer at home and at work. Doing that simple task made my goal seem attainable. The day that I realized that there were no more clicks, that I had arrived at my goal, I smiled as I removed the sticky note from my computer, balled it up in my hands and tossed it in the garbage.


I’ve wanted to be a counselor for a long time. It’s one of those things that I feel has always been in the back of my head. I’ve always had a heart for people and helping others. As early as grade school, I remember my girlfriends passing me notes in class, writing to me like I was an advice columnist: “Dear Carla.” They had questions about boys, friends, their parents divorcing. In high school, I volunteered a lot through the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) and spent time in psychiatric hospitals and assisted living centers singing carols, serving food or just having a friendly conversation with the residents.

By the time I was a sophomore in college, I became depressed, partly due to the stress I was under. I was a full-time student working 25 hours a week and writing for two on campus publications and in a relationship. I was overwhelmed and extremely unhappy—numb even. I don’t remember how I ended up at the counseling center at my college, but my counselor, Alice, saved me from a really difficult time in my life. The other day I was rummaging around in our guest closet when I found a piece I wrote about my struggle with depression for my Creative Non-Fiction class sophomore year. I sat down in the middle of the closet and read the entire thing. I remembered going through a tough time, but re-reading my own words made me realize how much pain I was in. I couldn’t help but cry reading it.

Since Alice, I’ve seen four counselors throughout the peaks and valleys of my life. And I can honestly say because of them, and because of the work I put into growing and learning about myself, I am the best version of myself. I believe so strongly in the power of counseling, and how it can transform lives the way that it has mine.


Last year, my heart felt called to do this work. Writing will forever and always be my first love, but I have never in my life felt so pulled to do something like this. At times, it has felt like there has been some outside force pushing me, guiding me down this path. When I would talk about my dream with my friends or family, I would start crying; that’s how badly I wanted it. After my first interview at my top choice school, I called my husband and best friend and bawled over the phone, blabbering about how I didn’t do well and feared I didn’t get in. A few days later, my acceptance letter popped up in my inbox. I was on my lunch break, casually checking my email while shoveling food in my mouth. My whole body started to tremble and I burst into tears, re-reading the letter over and over to make sure it was true. It really wasn’t a dream.

During the last two days, I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.” In chapter 5, “Bouncing Forward,” she writes about “post-traumatic growth,” positive outcomes that follow loss. I wasn’t familiar with this phrase, but as I read the chapter I began to realize that grad school is my positive outcome from my trauma. That experience, that loss, changed me forever. Months after it happened, my eyes started to open. I found myself re-examining my priorities and redefining what really matters. I longed for a job that would fulfill me and impact the lives of others. I felt a deep need to help people heal and grow.

Sandberg writes that in the past psychologists defined two possible outcomes of trauma: a person either struggled (developed PTSD, depression, anxiety), or they were resilient. But now, there is a third outcome, bouncing forward, Sandberg writes. Seeing new possibilities is one of the forms that post-traumatic growth can take. The chapter goes on to share a dozen anecdotes about people who have experienced an incredible loss, and recovered by re-imagining their life and “adding more love and beauty to the world.” That’s how I see this change in my life. More love. More beauty. A better world.

“It’s like you’re going through a portal. You can’t go back. You’re going to change. The question is how.” That’s a quote from Jeff Huber whose story is told in the chapter. He lost his wife to cancer, quit his job, and became CEO of a company that detects early cancer—despite warnings from loved ones not to make any big decisions or changes after losing his wife. Jeff’s words made me pause on the page. Last year felt exactly like walking through a portal. I came out on the other side a changed person. Now I’m using that experience to fuel my dreams and, I hope, help others who have undergone similar experiences of loss and trauma.


My department orientation was last week. I got to meet the rest of the future counselors in my cohort, and reconnect with those I met during the interview process. I was on an adrenaline rush all day. I still couldn’t believe I was there, that this was happening, that these professors saw my potential and welcomed me into this program and this profession. I can’t believe this is my life.

When I recapped the day to my husband, I told him how I had this comforting feeling the whole time that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. “I found my place,” I told him. “I found my people.” It took me 37 years to get there, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

###

 

 

 

Advertisements

Be the light in the darkness

bookends-blog-pics-candle

Photos by Carla Kucinski

It’s 3:30 on a Wednesday. Three days before Christmas. I am sitting in my favorite tea shop, sipping a cup of hot cocoa that tastes like a melted milk chocolate bar. I feel its warmth as it travels down my throat and warms my insides. These next two weeks are all about comfort and self-care. Pause. Rest. Reflect.

My eyes burn from the lack of sleep I had last night. I painted my eyelids with grey eyeliner and combed my lashes with thick black mascara to make myself look and feel more awake than I am. I stayed up most of the night with my dog Molly who had a tumor removed from her chest the previous day. It was a fatty tumor about the size of golf ball near her shoulder, with a smaller bump that had appeared last month. When we picked her up after her surgery, our vet was certain the smaller tumor was cancer and sent it out for further testing.

That night, I slept with Molly on the couch with our tower of pillows and piles of blankets and stroked her head as she whined through the night. Every time she whimpered I Googled: Dog, pain, surgery, whining—trying to find ways to soothe her. There’s nothing worse than hearing an animal suffer and knowing there’s not much you can do but be there—be her comfort, her security for all the times she has been yours. As I sat beside her on the couch, I propped my head up with the palm of my hand to keep myself from nodding off while I stroked her silky ears. I started thinking about earlier this year when she didn’t leave my side the entire time I was recovering from my miscarriage. She camped out on the couch with me, nuzzled her muzzle into the crook of my arm and slept with me for days. When I cried, she licked the tears on my face. Now it was my turn to take care of her.

Molly recuperating after surgery. (All photos by Carla Kucinski.)

Molly recuperating after surgery. 

Fucking cancer. This year it already invaded the lives of three people I love, and now my dog. Eight days later, good news arrived. Lab results were in and it was in fact a mast cell tumor, grade II, but our vet was able to get the entire tumor, which meant no follow-up treatment with chemo drugs. “This is all good, good, good, good, news,” Dr. Fuller sang into the phone. I threw my arms around Molly’s big neck and wept. She celebrated with a Kong bone filled with peanut butter.

A two-inch scar remains where Molly’s tumor was removed. We called her Frankenpup for the first few days. We needed to find some humor in all of this as we waited to find out whether our dog had cancer. Over the last 10 days, the scar has changed from a jagged, angry red line to a faded pink scar. The fur where they shaved her is started to grow back in as if nothing ever happened. It made me think of a passage I read recently in “Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself 40 Ways” about finding beauty in your scars. “I see scars and I see stories. I see a being who has lived, who has depth, who is a survivor. Living is beautiful. … We may hurt, but we will heal … ”

My pup is a survivor. I suppose I am, too.

I can’t help but think of my own scars that I earned this year. 2016 has been challenging and exhausting. I am tired. So tired. I feel like I’ve been on a treadmill all year, and now I can finally get off and rest. I’ve been off from work since Dec. 18, which leaves lots of open days to just drift. It’s one of the rare times of the year where I let myself be lazy and quiet. My muscles ache. Even my bones feel tired. I thought maybe it was because of this sinus infection I’ve been battling on and off for the past few weeks, but honestly, I think it’s the weight of this year, still trying to hang on and drag me down. It’s like I’ve been carrying fistfuls of stones in my pockets this past year. But it’s time to finally let it all go. That phrase, “let it go,” has been a thread in this journey of ups and downs. I’m still not sure I’ve mastered the act, or even know how to begin. I’m learning.

Earlier this year my therapist, told me that I needed to decide how I wanted to carry this grief. What did I want it to look like? How did I want to feel carrying it? I think I started out holding this weight of grief, heavy like wet clay, in my heart and my stomach for months. Eventually the weight shifted and I carried it on my side, like I was holding a basketball that I could put down or pick up at any time. Some days my grief still feels like a boulder, other days it feels like a single stone. I want to pick it up and launch it into a lake, hear it kurplunk in the water, sink to the bottom, never to be found again. But it’s a part of me now, and always will be. I just need to learn how to carry it, live in harmony with it. I’m learning.

bookends-dec_beach2

Every year on the evening of winter solstice, my yoga studio hosts a ceremony that involves reflection and meditation with a few yoga poses thrown in. I went for the first time last year and found the experience cathartic and moving. The practice involves a “letting go” segment (there’s that phrase again) where we each hold in our hand a smooth, charcoal grey stone and breathe, meditate, and do a few gentle yoga poses while focusing on the things that no longer serve you and that you want to let go of. As I laid on my mat, the stone cold in the palm of my right hand, I thought about the past year and what I wanted to rid myself of. My cheeks became wet with tears. There was still so much pain weighing me down. All the “what ifs” and “what would have been” or “could have been” circled in my mind.

I found out on Christmas Eve that I was pregnant. I remember my heart racing as I looked at the two pink lines in disbelief. I flung open the bathroom door and yelled to Andrew, “I’m pregnant!” It was 5:30 in the morning. We had to wake up early for the 10-hour drive to his parents’ house in New Jersey. Andrew was half-sitting up in bed with a pillow propped up behind him, bleary-eyed but awake. I’ll never forget his smile that morning. I jumped on top of him and then Molly tried jumping in the bed with us. It feels like it was all a dream, but my heart says otherwise.

bookends-dec_heart

I poured into that stone my sadness, pain, fears, uncertainties, worries and all of the hurt so many of my close friends have endured this year. I was one of the first people to drop my stone in the middle of a circle of flickering tea lights. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. As soon as it left my hand, my heart felt lighter hearing the weight of it hit the floor. It was a release from this chaotic year; even if it was temporary, it felt freeing.

A few days after Thanksgiving, a tarot card reader told me I was in my Wheel of Fortune Year, which is characterized by upheaval and change that will be painful, traumatic and shocking. She described it as having no control as life spun out of control. And there’s no time to adjust to each change. That’s certainly how this year has gone so far—a series of traumas, losses and heartache. But she also said it was a year of tremendous growth and advised me not to stay stagnant, to shake things up, take risks and be open to creating new opportunities. I definitely haven’t been sitting idle.

“You’re lucky you’re alive,” a friend said to me the other day, looking me square in the eyes. She is Vietnamese and follows Chinese astrology. I’m a monkey, and this past year was the Year of the Monkey. I thought that meant it was my year. My friend told me it was the opposite: when it’s your year, it’s the worst year. The Chinese new year began on Feb. 8. That same day I found out we lost our baby. My year of bad luck had begun.

But the winter solstice ceremony helped me remember the bright spots in 2016. As my teacher asked us to think about the good memories, I closed my eyes and started to smile as images of this past year flashed in my mind. I thought of all the places I’ve been. Me and Andrew in Maine. Vistas. Walks on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. Lobster and warm melted butter. Atlantic Beach and its sparkling ocean. Reading on the deck. Sunsets. Sunrises. Laughing at Molly chasing birds in the water. Roanoke. The bitter cold. The wind chill. February. Valentine’s Day. Dinner and martinis. A rock show. Fire places in the lobby. The sun cutting through the trees. Asheville. Cocktails at a sidewalk café. Mountains. Us. Life returning to normal. Late night heart-to-hearts with my oldest sis on her couch in our pajamas and glasses. Sipping rosé with Gina and Marco. Laughing. Crying. Sharing our life’s stories. The sweet ending of summer. Swimming in the lake at Omega. Napping under the trees and summer sun. Meeting Janie. Meeting Janine. Facing my fears. Reading my work to strangers. Crying in front of strangers. Being vulnerable. The drive home. The Catskills. The Hudson–the magnificent Hudson. Lobster fest under white twinkle lights. Tasting my first oyster, a mix of salt and sea. Being the surprise at your best friend’s birthday party. Pajama parties. Cocoa. Laughing until your face hurts. Old movies. Balloons on my birthday. Snowflakes. Sunshine. The turning of leaves.

bookends-dec_leaves2

Life can be ugly, but also beautiful. The two cannot exist without the other. The good still outweighs the bad, and yet, why is it always the bad stuff that seems to lodge itself in the forefront of my brain and loop on repeat? Why can’t my mind be flooded with the good memories?

Addison texted me the other day and said we were like the phoenix rising from the ashes. This year was an opportunity for me to grow. I came to some realizations about my future, and I’ve been making steps toward fulfilling my plan to create a richer, fuller life. When I look at myself in the mirror, I mean really look at myself, I see someone with scars but also someone who has chosen not to hide them. They are proof of my strength and resilience, a reminder of what I’ve survived and what I’ve lived. I no longer want to honor my pain and sadness and grief. I want to make whole this sutured heart of mine. It’s time I start honoring the joy in my present life and give power to that and not the past. No more looking back.

Kabir says, “Wherever you are is the entry point.” As I walk into 2017, I imagine myself digging my hands into my pockets and pulling out fistfuls of stones and letting them slip out of my hands as I walk forward and leave them in my wake. They are no longer coming with me on this journey. There isn’t any room. There’s only room for joy. I have to believe there is a greater path, destiny for me that I will follow. Grief made me feel trapped. Unmovable. And I think this is what these last few days of 2016 have been about for me. Sitting with my grief. Really sitting with it, embracing it, having a talk with it. I’m done with you. We’re breaking up. I need to come home to myself. This is my entry point into true peace.

The winter solstice ceremony closed with each of us lighting the candle of the person next to us until the entire room was aglow in candle light. I looked around at the faces in the room, glowing in the golden light, and I saw a diversity of expressions: peace, joy, sadness, pain. Me? I felt like my entire body was smiling. “Be the light in the darkness,” my teacher said as she lifted her candle. It made me think of the famous quote by Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” In those moments of darkness when it seems no light can get in, I vow to find it and not lose sight of it as I head into the new year with an open heart and open mind. I owe that to myself. 2016, I’m letting you go.

Some of the bright spots …

bookends-dec_pjs

bookends-dec_bellylaughs

bookends-dec_gilmore

bookends-dec_leaves

bookends-dec_snow

bookends-dec_beach

fam

bookends-dec_janine

bookends-dec_family

bookends-dec_lobsterfest

bookends-dec_singingtomolly

IMG_8544

AcadiaSelfieWeb

IMG_7591

IMG_7569

Cadillac2Web

img_8419

img_6807

img_7106

img_5795

img_5818

bookends-dec_kurt

bookends-dec_tattoo

bookends-dec_woodie

bookends-dec_dad

bookends-dec_wilco

bookends-dec_molly2

bookends-dec_hockey

bookends-dec_sunflowers

bookends-dec_bicep

bookends-dec_beach_sun

False alarm

Not pregnant.

It sounds so harsh, cold, direct, without feeling.

Can’t the makers of pregnancy tests come up with better language—something less clinical? Instead of a plus or minus sign or one pink line or two, there should be a happy face or sad face, like an emoji, a symbol that better captures the mood of the occasion. Instead, we’re given: pregnant or not pregnant.

I remember a friend telling me last year how trying to get pregnant is like a roller coaster. Now I get it.

I was so sure I was pregnant this time. I had the classic symptoms, all of which mimicked the same symptoms I had the first time I was pregnant. It’s amazing how the body can trick the mind, the heart.

I had everything planned out. I’d announce the results to my husband on his birthday. What a gift. I’d share the news with my parents at Thanksgiving, maybe at the dinner table after my dad says grace and we’re all still holding hands.

Monday morning, as I was taking the pregnancy test out of its pink foil wrapper, my heart was pounding. It was 4:30 a.m. I could not sleep. When I saw a streak of red blood on the toilet paper, my heart sank. I had already set the timer on my iPhone. Three minutes. I brushed my teeth while standing over the test, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, and wishing that the pink double lines would appear in the window. Within seconds, a single line popped up. First Response wasted no time delivering the news to me. False alarm.

I slipped the test back in its wrapper and shoved it in the garbage under last night’s dinner scraps and half-torn junk mail. No tears came. I was just angry. Suddenly, I felt heavy. Before this morning, I felt lighter.

Life felt different the last few days as I carried around this hope, trying to stay positive. Andrew and I were both hopeful and certain. We laughed more. Something good awaited us.

The night before I was ironing clothes in our living room while Andrew was watching a marathon of “The Empire Strikes Back.” What if everything starts falling into place? I asked him. Smiling, he glanced over at me. I saw hope and excitement in his face.

I thought this was our something good.

That Monday morning I grabbed my notebook and laid down on the couch with my favorite gray blanket, soft like a lamb’s ear. In that moment, I just needed comfort. The only sound was our wooden chimes on the balcony rhythmically clinking together. I laid on the couch, emptying my mind into my notebook. It was 5:20 a.m. and still dark outside. The street light cast its amber glow on the parking lot, and I sat there contemplating my future, trying to make sense of it all, hoping I wasn’t going to break today.

I decided to go for a run. The moment my feet hit the sidewalk tears streamed down my face as I ran into the darkness and the quiet of the early morning. I didn’t feel like I was running to anything; instead, I was running away.

It takes an ocean not to break. – The National

Instead of a single line, or minus, or “not pregnant” pregnancy tests should say something like “I’m sorry” or “It’ll be OK.” And for those who don’t want to get pregnant, they can buy a different line of pregnancy tests that says: “Congrats, you’re not pregnant!”

Even my dog Molly was convinced I was pregnant. She was very clingy this past week, snuggling next to me on the couch, which she hasn’t done in months. When I was pregnant the first time, she constantly laid her head in my lap. Then I read that animals sense when you’re pregnant, and they like to snuggle up to you because your body temperature rises. Looking back, maybe it was just the cooler temps that drew her back to snuggling on the couch with me.

Held on to hope like a noose, like a rope. – The Lumineers

I told Andrew the other night that I cannot take anymore disappointments this year. That if one more bad thing happens, it’s going to crush me. My heart won’t survive it. I wondered how I was going to get through the rest of the week. But then, your best friend writes a post that speaks directly to what you’ve been feeling; a coworker sits with you as you cry at your desk with tissues bawled up in your fist because you just can’t hold it in anymore; your husband brings home Chinese takeout, you hold hands at the table and then curl up on the couch together and watch “Say Anything,” holding onto each other tight; you make cupcakes for your husband’s birthday, share a delicious meal and watch him make a wish; over a four-hour brunch your best friend splits with you a warm cinnamon roll drizzled in caramel and you laugh and cry and lift each other up. Tuesday bleeds into Wednesday, into Thursday, into Friday and you got through it somehow. All of these things, Addison says, are carrying you to the healing.
img_8982

img_8963

img_8989

img_8962

In the last couple of weeks, I felt like I had finally made peace with our loss. I surrendered and accepted that this was where I was at. And I was honestly OK with it, whatever the future held.

Every single day last week, people kept telling me how beautiful I looked. Friends, colleagues, even complete strangers. I thought maybe I had pregnancy glow and people could see it. Now I realize what people saw in me was contentment.

I woke up today to cooler morning temperatures. I pulled back the curtains in our bedroom and let the light shine in. I walked throughout our house and threw open every window and breathed in fall. It’s a new week, a new month, a new season, and I’m coming home to peace.

One day you’ll awaken to discover your life is all you wanted and hoped it would be. … You’ll wake up and notice that your past is just as it needed to be. You’ll see where you are today is good. You’ll notice that you laugh a lot, cry a lot, smile a lot.

You’ll look at tomorrow with peace, faith, and hope—knowing that while you cannot control some of what life does, you have possibilities and powers in any circumstance life might bring. The struggle you have lived with for so many years, the struggle in your heart, has disappeared. 

— Melody Beattie, from “Journey to the Heart”

Somewhere in the middle

I’ve been craving calm lately, and rejuvenation. I’ve spent the last few weeks perusing yoga retreat websites, searching for the perfect destination. I needed something restorative but also inexpensive.

Then I heard about Yoga Fest from my yoga teacher, Andrea. The annual day-long retreat in Raleigh features dozens of yoga sessions from meditation to acrobatic yoga. I attended my first Yoga Fest on Saturday, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was a day of releasing for me. I let go of emotions, tensions, judgments. By the end of the day, I felt cleansed, lighter and looser. It was a powerful experience and more than I could have imagined.

IMG_7106

My day started out with an amazing Yin Yoga session with my yoga teacher Andrea. She’s the coolest yogi I’ve ever met. I just adore her! She’s a wonderful teacher. See how happy and relaxed I am after her class? 

The biggest turning point of my day came in the afternoon. Between sessions, I visited the exhibitors’ area and had my aura read for $5 by a woman from a Raleigh yoga studio. I’ve always been fascinated by aura readings and curious about what my own aura looked like. I’m not an expert on the subject of auras, but I’ve been reading about them since I received mine. The best way to describe an aura is it’s a field of energy that surrounds a person and reflects their essence — who they are and what’s happening at their core. The rainbow of colors that appear in an aura are supposed to reveal one’s emotional, physical, spiritual and mental well-being. Since I’ve been dealing with some heavy emotional “stuff” these past two months I was eager to see what my aura would reveal. I placed my hands in the outlines of what looked like two metal fingerprints and within seconds my aura appeared on the screen in front of me.

I studied it for a second and turned to the woman beside me anxiously awaiting her analysis. My aura contained an overwhelming amount of red, which she said represents high energy, creativity and love. “You have a lot of passion,” she said to me. I smiled and nodded. But red, she continued, can also indicate anger, stress and too much thinking and analyzing. She asked if I had been under a lot of stress lately, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Not really.” I’ve been managing my stress better at work, doing more yoga and meditation every morning and sleeping well. So no, no stress. She said I have so much energy, creativity and ideas that I want to accomplish, but I’ll never be able to accomplish any of them unless I focus my energy. True. That’s been an ongoing issue.

Aura cropped

“This concerns me,” she said, pointing to a darker area on the screen. I looked closer at the cloudy blob of darkness sitting in the center of my chest. It looked like an ominous, black hole and it was near my heart. I noticed more murky blackness along the edges of my aura, around the crown of my head, but the hole in the center of my heart appeared the densest. “You’re protecting yourself, keeping your emotions closed in,” she said balling her hands into fists and pulling them to her chest. She mentioned illness and grief. I told her I had suffered a great loss in February. She nodded as if she already knew.

It’s been almost two months since my husband and I lost our baby. And it’s a loss unlike anything I have ever felt. It’s a shock to the heart, to the body. Most of all, I grieved the potential, what could have been. Now, what I’m mostly left with is anger. I’ve been through a lot of tough experiences in my life – chronic illness, deaths, divorce – but nothing compares to losing our baby. That black hole, it feels like an abyss. And I was staring directly into it. As I sat there studying my aura on the screen, I saw so much sadness. It’s a strange thing to see your emotions displayed in front of you. It was almost like looking at a self-portrait I had painted. But it’s up to me to change the canvas. The woman who did my reading recommended I meditate more, do some deep meditative breathing and yoga postures to open the chest and release the emotions I’m holding onto. “The gong bath will be good for you,” she continued. “It’ll be interesting to see what your aura is like after the gong.”

Gong bath. I had been hearing about this all day but had no clue what it was, and for some reason I never felt compelled to ask someone. I guess I wanted to be surprised and not go into it with any expectations. With my phone, I took a photo of my aura on the screen, thanked her, and went off to my final yoga class of the day: Cultivating Calm. How appropriate.

Aura meanings_web

The whole time I was in the class, I couldn’t get the image of my aura out of my head. Every time I tried to concentrate on a particular posture or my breath, my glowing red silhouette with that black hole in the center kept popping up. I kept thinking about how much better I thought I had been doing, how my life was getting back to normal … almost. But I’m still healing. As a friend so eloquently put it, I saw my “true colors,” and it scared me.

“Breathe in possibility and optimism,” the instructor said during our final meditation. “Breathe out fear and doubt.” As I breathed out, I pictured the black hole in my chest leaving my body and light coming in. My closed eyelids trembled as I tried to hold back the tears.

As I waited for the gong bath to begin, I pulled out my phone and Googled “gong bath.” The first result brought up: “A gong bath is a form of sound therapy where the gong is played in a therapeutic way to bring about healing. … The term gong bath means that you are bathed in sound waves, there is no water involved, or clothes removed.” Well, that’s a relief.

I closed my phone and laid down on my yoga mat, waiting to be healed. A woman with thick, blonde curly hair, black and white geometric yoga pants, and an off-the-shoulder black flowing t-shirt entered the room pushing on wheels a gong the size of a Smart car. She suggested lying down on the yoga mat with your head toward the gong and laughed as she told us one of her friends describes the gong bath as a “magic carpet ride.” The idea of floating around on a magic carpet sounded good right about now. The ultimate metaphor for freedom.

She turned off the lights, and as I laid there looking up at the dark, empty ceiling, I kept thinking about the words “healing” and “unreleased grief.” “Give yourself the gift of letting go,” the blonde-hair girl spoke gently into her wireless mic. And with that, the gong bath started. The sounds of the gong began gently like ripples of water, then increased in intensity. I could feel each sound wave reverberate throughout my body. I tried to stay grounded in the present and not let my mind drift, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the past – and that black hole. Eventually, the obsessive thoughts stopped and I let myself just be.

I’m not sure how long the gong bath lasted. Ten minutes? Fifteen? When the gong music stopped, I laid there waiting for something to happen to me. Was it over? Am I healed? What am I supposed to be feeling? Do I feel any different? With the lights still off, a musical recording began to play a New Age song I wasn’t familiar with. I didn’t know what the song was about because the lyrics were in another language, but it was beautiful and moving. As I laid there flat on my back, palms turned upward toward the sky, something broke inside of me. Hot tears slipped from the corners of my eyes and slid down my cheeks. My throat tightened and my chin trembled as I tried to hold back the tears. This is the stuff I’m still holding onto. Let it go. I surrendered to my grief and started a flood. Tears streamed down both sides of my cheeks. Some tears pooled in my ear canals and slid down my jaw bone and down my neck. Others rolled off my skin not knowing where they landed. I felt like I would never stop crying.

When the lights came on, I dug in my bag for a tissue and dabbed the tears from my eyes. I was a mess. My cheeks were wet, my neck, my chest. I felt like my whole body was covered in tears. I kneeled on my mat and started to roll it up when I noticed there were tears the size of dimes pooled on it. I had never seen my tears manifested in that way. They looked so big — perhaps the larger the grief, the bigger the tears.

I took a few deep breaths, then collected my things and hurried out the door to my car. I didn’t want anyone to see what a mess I was. When I stepped outside, the gray rain clouds that followed me on my morning drive had dissipated and the sky was now a cloudless blue. I turned my face to the sun and let its rays dry the rest of my tears. And I told myself, “I’m going to be OK.”

YogaFest_Merton_web

Andrea introduced me to the works of poet Thomas Merton after her Yin Yoga session. “Sit still and rest.” Ah yes. And I love the second poem “At the End …” I think I’m somewhere in the middle.