The four giant willows in front of my home are shedding their golden leaves, carpeting the yard and sidewalk in yellow crunchiness. We wondered as the storm came last week if there would be any leaves left on these wise old trees. They are definitely thinner than they were, but still with plenty of leaves to lose. Each time there is a wind gust, I see several dozen being taken away, while what must be thousands more stay on the branches.
As the earth is in this season of shedding and letting go and turning inward, I find myself called to these natural rhythms. Honestly, this whole past year has felt like a season in my life of shedding, letting go, refining, and coming back to center. I’ve found myself wondering, like I do as I stare at these trees, how many more layers (leaves) are there to release, examine, and let go?
I didn’t grow up celebrating Halloween but I’ve always liked the idea of it’s forbearer, All Hallows Eve, which feels to me like a recognition that everything is holy and sacred, even the darkness and, perhaps especially, the things that frighten us most – death, grief, the unknown. This feels important in a culture that suppresses and avoids these things, only to have them show up in mutated forms completely removed from the full human experience.
Releasing, examining, letting go; these are frightening things to do in a culture and society that slyly (or blatantly!) encourages us to do the opposite: to consume, to hoard, to protect, and to exert control over everything – our image, our body, our circumstances, other people. Because the fullness of the human experience is not honored as sacred and holy, parts of it retreat into the shadows, hidden away, unexamined and terrifying.
I recently shared with a dear mentor that while the past year has been challenging in various ways, both expected and unexpected, I’ve felt really supported and held underneath the daily, weekly, monthly fluctuations between ease and discomfort. This supportive holding has come from friends, family, chosen family, mentors, and acquaintances, and especially the tapestry of courageous and bold women I’ve been fortunate enough to weave myself in and through. It is there that I most profoundly experience the willingness of others to witness the full spectrum of my human experience, as I examine the light and the dark, the things that feel easy to face and the things that frighten me.
It is important to say that this holding and support does not always come in the form or agreement or affirmation. Sometimes it comes in the form of questioning, reflecting, and skillful honest feedback that illuminates things I’d prefer not to see.
At a workshop I taught at the studio last month I shared my favorite definition of love: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. This is the essence of sacred relationship – to be a loving container, mirror, and witness as those who we are in relationship with grow and change and release and let go and celebrate and weep, in all of their humanity. Grief, death, life, joy, sorrow, celebration, heartache; these are made holy and sacred in love.
This time last year we were in the midst of our drive to get a big chunk of folks committed to our Partners in Healing program. The PIH program has provided much-needed and much-appreciated stability to do two essential things: 1. Offer affordable yoga to more people than ever before and 2. Pay yoga teachers well. Our Partners contribute to the thriving of our community in a big way. We’ve been able to keep two to three free weekly classes on the schedule; we’ve been able to keep our drop-in class rate low; and we haven’t had to turn down any requests for scholarship assistance, all while paying our teachers a competitive wage and even providing paid time off. I mean… wow! I’m so proud of all of that!
Those are just the tangible things that come from folks joining together around a vision. The harder-to-point-to but deeply felt and deeply powerful experiences of connection, love, and mutual healing have a value that is difficult to measure, and it essential to note that it is not only the Partners in Healing that contribute to this, but everyone who practices in our space, who supports our work in myriad ways, and who responds to the invitation to show up, exactly as they are, in this moment.
It is this invitation to bear witness and to be seen that is transformative. The relationship that emerges between and among community members when we commit to showing up as we are and inviting others to do the same is powerful and sacred. It is powerful not only when it is easy or feels good, but especially when it is not easy and does not feel good, when it brings us into the scary places we’d rather avoid.
What I’ve appreciated in this last year about that invitation is that it is just that, an invitation, not a demand or an expectation. There is an open door to engage deeply and plenty of space to simply be. What feels true to me right now is that our center is wherever we are on that spectrum. The process of releasing, examining, and letting go is the work of a lifetime, and in sacred relationship, there’s no rush, only love.