When I was seventeen, my boyfriend’s family went away on a summer road trip. They were going for a few weeks and Greg and I were so sad to be apart for that long. He even asked his parents if I could come along on their summer vacation, but it was already planned out as a family trip. The evening before they left, we all went into San Francisco and watched a beautiful production by the Joffrey Ballet Company. We had a drink afterwards in a lovely hotel and I remember the feeling of easy laughter and unity that flowed through their tight knit family. I said my good-byes and the next day tagged along with my parents who offered spontaneously to take me with them on their weekend away to a resort in Lake Tahoe. On Saturday evening my parents invited me to go out to dinner, but I was overwhelmed by the seventeen year old blues. I said I would watch TV, but when they left I went out and sat by the pool staring up at the stars feeling a big wide emptiness in my chest. At this point, I didn’t know that perhaps the emptiness I was feeling was linked to something larger.
This was in the days before cell phones and when we returned from our trip, my parents and I began to unpack the car. We have sixty stairs down to our home and it was always a big effort at the end of a car trip to get it all down. When I entered my room, I was greeted by all things innocent and mine. There were posters of Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, greeting cards and dried roses from Greg taped to the wall and the Redwoods gently pressing against the windows like old friends from outside. I pressed play on the answering machine and found that there were several messages, all from Greg. His voice sounded hoarse and different. He didn’t say what was going on, but that he needed to talk me.
I ran upstairs and told my parents that I thought something was wrong. They asked me to get the last bags before I made my phone calls and I went up to the carport. As I arrived a car came around the corner driven by my friend Phil who was very close to Greg’s family. He said, “Where have you been? Get in and we’ll go down there.” I was confused and said, “Where?” He looked at me blankly and then it dawned on him that I didn’t know what had happened. He said, “He’s gone. Rick died. They were in a car accident.” I felt my body go into shock. Sheets of adrenalin rained down on me. I flew down the stairs that I had been taking in twos since I was six and in a burst of confused shock told my parents that I was leaving and that Greg’s dad had been killed in a car accident.
Driving down the hill to Greg’s house, my life tilted dramatically into the adult realm. I felt outside of my body. Walking up the stairs to Greg’s bedroom, I could feel the presence of many unknown people throughout the normally warm house. People were talking in quiet voices that felt like cool breezes. I opened the door to his room and found Greg tucked into bed with a huge gash along his chin and bruises on his body. His eyes had changed from what he had seen. There was an abyss of emotion that had opened up that was too deep for our age, but that we began to swim across. At that moment, I stepped into shoes that felt too big and for the next several months I clumsily treaded the path laid out before me.
Images from that time in my life still feel as though they are painted in a deeper hue. The feelings were so deep and new that they etched themselves into my soul. I remember being in the church for the family’s funeral and one of Rick and Liz’s dear friends sang Amazing Grace. As her beautiful voice echoed through the church, I wondered how she could stand. I looked at her legs and saw that they were shaking. I saw that what was holding her up was love. Later on, there was a public funeral held in the amphitheater on Mount Tamalpais. Arriving, we made our way down the dusty steps to the front row. We took the steps slowly. I was afraid we might stumble and fall under the weight of so many eyes.There were hundreds and hundreds of people there to celebrate Rick’s life.
Rick was a central figure in the creation of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and was one of the individuals that acted as the voice for such treasures as the endangered Spotted Owl. Sitting at the top of the mountain, the sound of bagpipes echoed through the canyon. A life that was cut short was being remembered. I could see how happy these people were just to have known him.
Seeing Greg’s mom for the first time after the accident, there were no words in my heart that could come close to what I needed to say. I thought at the time that it was because I was so young, that adults would have known what to say, but I was wrong. At times like this, when our loved ones are taken too early, there is nothing to say. What becomes important, is simply each other. The presence of our love being made known is what counts to the person who is hurting. It is what slowly brings them out of grief and back into life.
As an adult, I now look back and understand how this event shaped me at such an impressionable age. My pursuit of practices such as meditation and yoga and the resonance that I feel with Buddhist teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield all resonate with what I learned from this experience. Life is fragile. Impermanence is something that we live with in our relationships and in our natural world each day. We see it as the seasons change and as we change as people.
One of our jobs each day is to be mindful of the moment, to be as present as we can for where we have arrived to. Sometimes it is harder than at others. We are tempted to numb out due to feelings of boredom, fear or pain. But each season has its place. When we thaw out, the new Spring blossoms will be waiting for us on the trees again. The scent of chimney smoke on the first Autumn days will urge us back into life. A babies laughter will trickle love back into our hearts. Mindfulness is the way into a richer life and the way out of a sense of disconnect.
This past Thursday night, I stood in the dining room and checked my email on my iPhone. I nearly dropped the phone as I read the news that one of my regular yoga students, Jessica Lincoln-Smith had passed away on September 22nd. She was twenty-six years old and a bright star in my classes. Jessica was one of the students that taught me how to be a teacher. She and her mother came almost every week in the first years that I taught yoga and meditation in Mona Vale, Australia.
Standing an ocean away, I couldn’t imagine that Jessica was gone. I knew what a close family she had come from and I cried for their unimaginable loss. I felt lucky to have known Jessica and for the confidence that she gave me in my teaching. I’ll never forget one afternoon when we found ourselves waiting at the same bus stop to travel together to the class I would teach. We sat across from my apartment building which sat on the beach and she told me how recently she had been at her parent’s home and looking out the window had seen a pod of dolphins in the ocean. She said without a second thought that she had gone down to the beach and swam out to where she thought the dolphins were. Not being a confident ocean swimmer myself, I was amazed at her spontaneity and spirit. When she swam out she found that the dolphins had waited and they surrounded her.
I’ve heard from friends that dolphins in the ocean are wild. They have scars and are much larger than you would imagine when viewing from the shore. Often surfers are terrified when they see them sidle up beside them. Jessica told me how she felt the opposite. She described a true sense of calm that overcame her and filled her whole being. She felt a deep connection with the dolphins that day and felt changed by the experience. Years later, I still carry this story in my heart to inspire me when I feel fear start to block my spontaneity.
Over this past month of my pregnancy, my back has gone out several times. I’ve found myself on bed rest for five to seven days at a time. Just recently, I’ve tentatively begun a gentle ten minute daily yoga practice and ten minute walk around the city block that surrounds the home in San Francisco where we are housesitting. As I approach what once were easy everyday yoga postures, I notice how the flexibility in my body has been cut in half. Everything has become shorter and tighter through the pain of the last month. I have to start from scratch and pretend that I’ve never practiced yoga before. Sometimes life is like this as well. We experience something that knocks us back so hard that we have to start again. We have to take baby steps back into life. In this there is frustration and uncertainty, but also the opportunity to discover joy from a different perspective.
On my walks this week, I’ve found myself see-sawing between frustration at the pain in my sciatic nerve and utter joy at the soothing bi-lateral motion of walking. On Friday as I walked around the first corner, the scent of freshly cut grass came at me as sun fell against my bare arms. All of a sudden calm and joy welled up. I felt gratitude in the present moment. As I walked the rest of my ten minutes, with each foot fall to the pavement, I listed something in my life that I was grateful for. My heart ached for the loss of Jessica and at the same time I knew that she was still teaching me. I couldn’t help but feel gratitude that I was able to simply to walk in the sunshine, to smell the scent of the green grass, to have had the chance to have known her.
This month, I invite you to honor the presence of joy and people in your life by taking a gratitude walk each day. Create a short loop for yourself that only takes five to ten minutes. This may be the walk that you take each day from your office to where you get your coffee. It may be the walk from your front door to the car. It may be a new walk that you take upon first waking or when you arrive home from work. Don’t overdo it. Try just setting aside ten minutes and your more likely to walk in gratitude each day.
Set yourself a target of practicing for one week or for the rest of the month. At the end of that time, take stock of your life and notice if anything has shifted or changed. As we move from taking things for granted to feeling gratitude, we shift our awareness from lack to abundance. The relationships in your life and what arrives into the window of your everyday will reflect this. Don’t be afraid to speak your gratitude as your well deepens.
Telling those around us how much they mean to us, is one of the most important gifts we can give. If you feel self conscience speaking this aloud, take pen to paper or your fingers to the keyboard. Let these words dance out of your heart and into your world. Start today. I know that I will. In fact, I’ll start right now by telling you how grateful I am for your support and presence. Thank you for reading these inspiration pieces and giving me a space to reflect openly on what is important to me and those around me and on what I feel can help our lives to feel a little more whole.
This monthly inspiration piece brought to you by author Christina Adler at ‘everyday balance’. If you would like to share your experience with these tools, please feel free to email me by visiting the contacts section on the home page. To subscribe for a monthly reminder for these inspiration pieces, simply fill in your name and email address on the home page under “subscribe to everyday balance.” For information regarding life coaching appointments in person, by telephone or online, visit the ‘for life coaching’ section of this website. Photo taken by Peter Moore at South Narrabeen Beach, Australia.