October 16, 2016

Community. 

That’s what made the difference for us. Why we felt out of place at the workshop. Why enjoying the hot waters and the sunshine in the garden was what we really needed, showing us that the work we have been given the space to do pushed us lightyears ahead of the 38 other people in the grief workshop with us. 

My BFF and I headed to Esalen for a grief and yoga workshop. We enjoyed a beautiful, practically traffic free ride to Big Sur from Oakland. The sun was shining and the conversation was quick. We’ve been close friends for almost 20 years. We don’t have conversations, we are in one conversation that ebbs and flows and goes off on tangents and circles back and fulfills us both as we live our lives with different friends in a different town. 

We arrived at Esalen and headed to the baths immediately after putting our bags in our room. After a very disappointing dinner (Esalen has been touted for its food, but something must have changed. We were offered penne pasta with a little zucchini. The gluten free option was gluten free pasta. The entire weekend was a grain based vegetarian diet. The kitchen was also open 23/7, only closed 7-8am, when most of us wanted breakfast. But I digress…), we went into the beautiful room where our workshop was held. 

Friday evening, 8pm. Our original workshop leader had a tragic death in his family, and a woman was now leading the group. We were excited about this change at first. We quickly realized that she’d taken all the yoga out, which we had been looking forward to. As she started her presentation, 40 of us sat on cushions in a large circle. Things fell apart pretty quickly. Our facilitator started stuttering and asking for a moment to collect her thoughts. Repeatedly. 

That’s when a man seated near me took the microphone from her and expressed to her what he needed from the workshop. She loved his ideas and started an exercise to incorporate them. Another man grabbed the mic next and asked her why she had asked us to turn to the person next to us to share, but it hadn’t happened? He then shared what he needed from the group, which was to express his anger about his loss. She then incorporated his ideas, and showed anger as a way to grieve. It was an explosive release. Within the first hour, six or seven people had the mic and strongly told the facilitator what they needed. That’s when she announced, “Wow, you are all so open and vulnerable! Let’s dive right in, what a safe space this is!”

My friend and I looked at each other with fear in our eyes. I didn’t feel safe at all. I felt like I was in a room with raw emotion that could trigger me and unravel the work I’d done for the last three months around my partner’s death. We were relieved when the evening session ended, and after a quick private chat, we spoke with the management and unenrolled from the workshop. The two people we spoke with were very empathetic and kind. We switched to a “personal retreat,” and spent the rest of our time enjoying the hot waters, reading and coloring in the sun, and hiking in the woods. It was exactly what we needed. We also received validation all weekend long with comments like, “You two dropped out right? I wish I had!”

We realized there was more going on for us than just an unprepared workshop facilitator. There were people in the workshop who still struggled with the death of a loved one a decade later. Remembering my therapist telling me, “If you shove your feelings now and don’t process them, you’ll play wack-a-mole the rest of your life,” I was able to see how far I had come in so little time. I know deep down that the reason I was able to was because my community supported me and gave me the space to grieve from the moment we learned of his death. The house full of friends and food and music when I returned from Italy, the open door flow of friends with food and hugs and patience, my business partner bearing the load himself and giving me as much time as I needed. All that enabled me the strength to deal with probate, empty his home, deal with his things, stay upright during his memorial, attend weekly EMDR therapy, plant a garden in his honor. 

In recent weeks, I’ve cleared my home of everything but his urn. I’ve moved the boots he left next to my bed into a box in the garage. I’ve put the contents of his bedside nightstand in that same box, and reclaimed the nightstand with my pretty green nicknacks. I even replaced pillows and sheets, and bought a new duvet to make the room look and feel entirely different. 

Everything I’ve done has helped, and while the grief yoga workshop at Esalen didn’t work out, it did show me how far I’ve come, and it filled my heart with gratitude for my community, my amazing friends and family. Thank you. 

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