Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.
What a strange 24 hours it's been.
I spent yesterday in two hospitals and three yoga studios. It was a day bizarrely bookended by all kinds of life cycle shit.
And I mean "shit" in the most reverent, awestruck, sacred kind of way.
* * *
My dear old college friends Aaron and Courtney had a baby Wednesday night. Court's a rockstar and the baby slipped out like a kid on a waterslide. We got the heads-up that she was about to bust a move into delivery around 3pm. By 7, little Logan Page had arrived.
She's a damn purty little girl. (Way to go, team.)
I spent Thursday morning in an excited rush of gathering: getting my stuff together for teaching, wrapping up some bubbles and Cowgirl Creamery cheese for the new mama, and heading into the City a little early. Taught a sweaty noon class at Urban Flow and then hustled over to the hospital to meet the little lady.
She was what, about 18 hours old by the time I met her? And a sweet little kitten in every way, 7 pounds of quietude and warmth and cuddles.
After about 45 minutes, I zoomed back to the studio for a meeting, headed to OMpower to teach, discovered the melée of Giants/Athletics fans that had overtaken the 'hood for an exhibition game, and had just settled back into my car to head to Oakland when I got a phone call.
It was to be a Maundy Thursday bookended by hospital visits: one to a wee newborn babe, the other to say goodbye to an old friend who was on his way out of this world.
* * *
G had a stroke last Friday night. He's young, and healthy, and mad-fit; the kind of guy who climbs mountains and does triathlons and all that. He went out to dinner that evening to celebrate his daughter's 13th birthday, came home, and his brain crumbled. The firetrucks were out front by 2:30am.
I stopped at the hospital to see him on Sunday afternoon. He was more coherent than I expected, slurring a bit, yes, but recognized me and tried to make a few patched-together jokes. The words didn't come easily. He fell asleep mid-conversation, and the ICU nurses hustled us out so he could rest.
Monday night brought an emergency 7-hour brain surgery. They shaved off part of his spinal cord and cut out part of his brain to reduce the cranial swelling. Tuesday, he remained in a medically-induced coma. Wednesday night the neurosurgeons predicted that he had an 89% chance of full recovery.
Thursday afternoon he was braindead.
I found a voicemail waiting when I left the studio at 6:30pm.
Knew in my gut things weren't well. Got the word from our mutual friend E that there had been a series of strokes the night before, and G's brain could no longer wake his body up. The breath was gone. The brain was swelling again. The family had all been at the hospital saying goodbye since late afternoon, and the doctors would pull the plug later that night. I could likely stop by to see G one last time if I got there before midnight or so.
And that was it.
I did fine on the phone, kept it together, asked how E was holding up (they were long-time best friends, he and G, the kind that go to Vegas and Fiji together and stand up for one another in their weddings), and hung up the phone.
Sat stunned for a few minutes, disbelieving, numb.
Called the Mister and fell apart. Tears.
Speaking those words: "Ohmygod, honey: G is braindead" took everything to a whole new level. I understood. It was real. He'd just had a birthday two weeks ago. And now he was gone.
I wept my way across the Bay Bridge on my way to Oakland, windows rolled down, cold wind in my face, inching along in late rush hour traffic. I contemplated calling the studio manager to see if someone might be able to step in to teach for me. Figured there was no way I could get through class. But it was 7:15 already, and another teacher would need to be there in fifteen minutes. No way. Totally impossible.
So I sucked it up and said, "Rach, get it together. You have to get through this. Be present; find equanimity. This is your yoga." The Mister had already suggested that I dedicate my class to G. There seemed no better way to honor him than to dive into a place of sweat and breath and being absolutely one-hundred-percent fully alive.
I parked the car, wiped my eyes, put on some new mascara, blew my nose, and headed in.
There were 35 beautiful living breathing loving creatures in there waiting to get their yoga on. I knew as soon as I walked in: I had done the right thing.
* * *
There are few classes in which I remember being so fully present, so completely aware of the rich joyful heartbreaking cycle of life. I'd just come from squeezing a less-than-day-old baby, and after class I'd be driving straight to the hospital to say goodbye to my old friend.
In the meantime: sun salutations.
What a mind-fuck. What a grace. What a bookend of a day.
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, and Guru Devo Maheshwara all wrapped into one.
This body we're born into; the life we live, day-to-day, in the wretched and the exquisite; the moments of chaos, of destruction, of dissolution, of loss. The moment she takes her first gasp of air after 9 months in the womb. The moment you get the call that he's braindead, when two days earlier he'd just emailed you, "Thanks for the birthday wishes and let's connect soon!"
Guru Sakshath, Parambrahma: the God that is nearby, within, here, and the God that is beyond all this, vast, formless and supreme.
I felt each and every one of those sparks of divinity, there in that room.
I felt so aware of the breath, the ruach, the spirit, that literal life force — call it prana or the Holy Spirit or qi or what-have-you — pulsing around me, walking up and down the studio floor calling out instructions, literally surrounded by, enveloped in breath; the urgent, rhythmic, conscious, musical soundtrack, that heat-building, nervous-system-calming, life-transforming Ujjayi ocean wave rising, falling, victorious, triumphant, alive.
I thought of Logan's little soft kitten breath there in my arms 5 hours before, whispering, delicate, oh-so-fragile, just barely begun.
I thought of G's heavy, labored, machine-driven breath 2 hours later as I stood next to him at the hospital bed holding his warm pulsing hand, listening to the machines beeping at my right, his swollen tongue pushing out of his mouth.
I looked down and saw the hospital band on his wrist with his name and birthdate: 3/18/51.
And I thought of the same plastic band on Logan's wrist, not even a day old: 3/27/13.
And I felt my own living breathing body sitting there cross-legged in the midst of a sweaty room of yogis, wrapping up a day swaddled in so much mind-blowing life and death, so much Brahma and Vishnu and Shiva, Shiva, Shiva.
We give good lip service to Shiva, we yoga teachers. We talk about learning to stay cool and calm and equanimous in those moments of our lives when everything falls apart. We preach about cultivating peace and softness and gentleness in the midst of pain.
And then there you are standing next to the man whom you once knew and who will tomorrow be a corpse, and you think of his 13-year-old daughter, whose life will never be the same, and you wonder if she'll be ok, and you know she will, because she's scrappy, and beloved, and strong, and you will all come together and teach her to surf and teach her to love and teach her to cry and remind her that she is not alone.
I sat on the floor in the middle of the room last night after savasana as all of the students had curled their knees into their chests and rolled over into the fetal position ready to close out the practice. I saw them there, vulnerable, soft, child-like, open, brand-new, and I thought of the way we move through the entire life cycle in the course of just one practice: hitting the mat strong, present, fully alive in the breath; we work our way up to that peak pose, the backbend or the Scorpion or the Kurmasana or whatever it might be; we slow down, melt into forward folds, slip into a seated meditation, watching the breath, watching the breath, and then softly, OM shanti shanti shanti, lengthening into Corpse Pose, savasana, a literal little death.
Letting it all go.
Practicing for later, for the day it will be us.
It's Good Friday. It's a day when I would've thought a lot about death anyway. Holy Week always was and will remain a sacred time for me, a quiet few days wherein I draw close to my family and remember, remember, walking the path of Maundy Thursday into Good Friday into Holy Saturday into the joy of Easter Sunday. It's a time when I feel the loss of my father all over again, and remember his fearlessness, his joy, in stepping into death these almost 8 years ago now. It's a time when spring's busting out all over and I'm reminded of the perpetual cycles of our lives, the way there will always be new babies, and they, too, will age, and one day find grey hairs popping up and wrinkles folding in.
And I think about the suffering in my midst.
I think about the way we resist it. Or fail to speak it, out of fear, out of loneliness.
I think about the ones who are aching to get pregnant and can't. I think about the ones who are struggling to parent, to keep it together on no sleep and too-few hugs and a too-small salary. I think about the ones who are grappling with old age; I think about G's 85-year-old mother with her red eyes last night who had to drive in from Grass Valley to bid goodbye to her baby; and I think about wee little Logan Page, who is all brightness, all lightness, all fresh hope, new beginnings, clean slates. How much eager hope her parents have for her life. And how the cycles of life keep churning, whether we give them permission to do so or not.
All of life is holy ground.
Be in it.
Be in it all the way, balls-out, fearless, open, honest, relaxed.
I sat there in the midst of all those sweaty bodies last night at the end of class, after a day of one hospital, three classes, and another hospital yet to come, and I felt the stillness of just being with what is. We sat in meditation and I offered my practice, my class, my teaching to G, that my breath, my song, might lend him peace, might remind him that he matters. And I felt the oneness of the breath as we hollered out that final OM, heard the echo hang in the silence, and knew I was right where I should be.
That we're all right where we should be.
Let your practice crack you open. We don't know how long it is until it's our turn. We don't know how many breaths we have left.
Be in it.
Be in it all the way.