Letting the last breath come. Letting the last breath go. Dissolving, dissolving into vast space, the light body released from its heavier form. A sense of connectedness with all that is, all sense of separation dissolved in the vastness of being. Each breath melting into space as though it were the last. – Stephen Levine
I sat by my maternal grandmother’s deathbed on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
She started dying 14 years ago, immediately after the death of my grandpa, her beloved husband whom she adored and followed around the world — raising their three children in Guam and Puerto Rico, as well as in several US cities — wherever his Air Force career took them. High school sweethearts, at the time of his death, they’d been married for sixty years. When he died, after a few painful years of Parkinson’s disease, dementia and ultimately lung cancer, she seemed to lose her will to live.
My aunt, daughter and I sat by her bedside, where she lay breathing lightly and barely opening her eyes. Together, we chanted Om Mani Padme Hum and then I sang the Warrior Seed Syllables. She seemed to react to the sacred sounds. She seemed to want to move but no longer had the strength to sit up.
Since I encountered yoga and the dharma, these Eastern teachings have resonated with me so much more than Christianity ever did. In fact, I left the Catholic Church at age ten and never looked back, to my mom’s dismay. I never could get on board with all the talk of saints, sin and salvation. The image of the gaunt, pale Jesus with a crown of thorns hanging on the crucifix was not appealing to me.
I cheerfully went along with First Communion but drew the line at Confession, flat out refusing to participate in the sacrament. I continued being dragged along to the dreadful hour of Mass on most but not all Sundays until I moved out on my own.
Now, love is my religion and writing, yoga and mindfulness are my daily sacraments.
Grandma’s dementia set in slowly. I remember my heart breaking as she told me probably ten years ago that she was conscious of losing her memory and expressed her powerlessness to hold on to her mind’s clarity.
Imagine your best possible self at the end of a year from now. In this case, imagine you are in December 2019 looking back upon how you have shown up for 2019. See yourself in a specific place as if you were looking back upon the year: maybe a favorite chair, a deck or balcony, a mountainside. As your best self “looks back” upon the year (2019), reflect upon and write in intimate detail your response to these questions:
I did this last year, and abandoned ship after the second week. The activities and prompts were asking me for a clarity that I could not access at the time. In rereading my answers from last year, my current self can see right through my past self’s lame attempts to convince herself of a lot of things that did not ring true.
This year, I have been resisting even answering this first prompt since early December. I’ve done all I could to avoid it. Naps. Snacks. Other writings. Just now, I cleared out all the junk in my inbox. There is nothing left to do but ponder the future, creating the goals to be achieved in the coming year. No pain, no pain.
• How have you shown up for your best work? What kinds of distinct activities have you been engaged in? What have you been making or creating as part of your best work?
I have continued to grow and expand my writing skills and freelance writing career through continuously working on interesting, inspiring assignments and projects within the areas of writing, editing and translating.
I have continued to teach yoga several mornings per week in San Marcos, incorporating mindfulness, intention, hatha, dharma, yin, pranayama, chakra chanting and relaxation into every session. I have sought out and found an amazing co-leader for the ten-day Guatemala yoga and writing retreat I am envisioning for July.
I have co-created an escuelita – a natural school for Jade and her friends. In this school, the children are free to do what they want and be who they are, while at the same time sharing space in non-structured activity time and sharing responsibilities for cleaning up, preparing snacks, etc.
• Who have you engaged and how has your work positively impacted them?
I have engaged yogis and those new to yoga. I have engaged people interested in creating a simpler, happier, more present life for themselves. I have engaged meditators and those interested in developing a mindfulness practice. My writing work has positively influenced them through giving them new and inspiring concepts to consider. My yoga teaching work has influenced them through practices and group classes which transform the energy and raise the vibration of each person in the group.
I have engaged with families of young children in our community, creating a new school of sorts where we gather three times per week for the purpose of learning, teaching and togetherness.
• What have you done differently that has stretched you?
I have become my own boss. I have learned how to best structure my days for optimum productivity and joy. I have gotten back into the field of education again, in a natural way that suits me and our family best. I have committed to the community and to teaching weekly yoga classes for adults and holding space for weekly play and creativity sessions for kids.
• What 1, 2, or 3 big goals have you reached?
I have significantly increased my income through freelance writing, editing and translation, enabling us to save and maintain a travel fund.
I have been the top writer on Elephant Journal for at least one month of the year.
I have co-led an amazing, ten-day summer yoga and writing retreat in Guatemala.
• In the process, what challenge has your best self met and how?
I have had to learn to keep a schedule again, using a calendar/agenda to a certain extent to keep track of projects, tasks, appointments, classes, etc. I have had to avoid repeating the mistake of becoming too attached to my plans and ideas. I have had to seek balance, finding ideal equilibrium between alone time, family time, work time and play time.
• What skill set or craft did you learn or improve upon?
I have honed my spiritual practice, which enables me to continue teaching and feeling inspired to share these practices with others.
I have honed my writing practice, which empowers me to be a better writer who expresses her ideas and opinions in a clear and compelling way.
I have honed my teaching skills and my patience for working with children in a paradigm totally different from that of a traditional classroom.
• What 1 habit did you add, adjust, or drop?
Added: gratitude journaling — physically writing down at least three things/people/experiences I’m grateful for each day.
• And overall, how have you felt throughout the year when you’re engaged with your best work?
Incredibly intuitively intelligently imaginatively aligned with my highest self and greatest purpose — to write, to teach, to love, to inspire.