Almost three years ago I sat recovering in bed following the latest battle with a congenital heart condition I have. I had popped both wires of my Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD) and as a result was receiving inappropriate shocks. This brought the grand total of shocks given to me since the ICD was placed in 2001 to nine, and resulted in a surgery (the 3rd in 8 years) to replace the wires. There had been complications leading to a 4th surgery within 12 hours of the 3rd.
I was tired of fighting. I was disgusted that my children had to see their mother like this. I had finally been feeling like my life was getting back on track after rebuilding it for 8 years after my dance career was cut short following the initial placement of that damn device. Didn’t the powers that be realize I was raising two small kids? I had a husband who worked crazy hours! I did not have time to deal with this surgery and recovery! I was done. I couldn’t wrestle with it any more. I didn’t want to die… but I didn’t really want to live either. I flushed the bottle of pain killers I was given because I was too terrified of what I might do. The first call I made was to my therapist. The second was to my Teachers.
When I was able to get out of bed, I sat with my teachers, Bob and Cindi Barton, who had driven 40 minutes to meet me at the local shala where I was a yoga instructor. I sat and cried, releasing my fears in to their ears, and in the process opening my heart to remembering the teachings of yoga.
When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate and opposite, elevated attitude. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.
-Sutra II. 33 as translated by Nischala Joy Devi
I saw myself as disparaged-- sensing my dreams neglected. So I cultivated appreciation. To put it out to the universe, I wrote daily appreciations as status updates on my Facebook page. Sometimes they were small: I appreciate that I hit all the green lights on Penn Avenue. Some were reflective: I appreciate that when I had nothing else to grasp, I held on to my training and was able to meditate my way to serenity on the surgical table. Many served to remind me of the blessings right in front of me: I appreciate the rain storm providing the perfect soundtrack to snuggling with my kids under a blanket on the front porch.
For two years, these appreciations taught me about the abundance in my life. They demonstrated that my path was being laid before me. Within six months, I was appreciating that I had been offered the opportunity to share my practice therapeutically with heart patients. Months after that, I was appreciating that teaching for that was healing my own heart in more ways than I could have expected.
What these appreciations did not do was deny me. I could still sit with my feelings of doubt and sadness. I could still grieve the dance career that wasn’t given the chance to blossom. It was ok to feel guilty that my supportive husband had to learn the part about ‘in sickness and in health’ from the very genesis of our lives together. I was allowed to be angry that my children had to live with the reality of a mom who had a bum heart, and mourn that they also carry this gene. All of this anguish could co-exist with gratitude.
Yet, the longer I offered thanks daily, the less I needed to sit with this suffering. These disquieting thoughts no longer had power, because I did not actively nurture them the way I cultivated their opposite. Each emotion was a seed, but I only watered and gave sun to gratitude: Pratipaksha Bhavana.
One day about a year ago, I stopped writing these daily appreciations. It wasn’t because I was no longer seeing anything to be grateful for. It was because I was overwhelmed daily by all I had to appreciate. This sense of thankfulness had integrated itself in to my consciousness and allowed me to trust in that abundance.
Last week, I received some disheartening news. I saw fear and frustration rise up like familiar companions. Sitting down at my computer I wrote, “Daily Appreciation: good friends who not only adopt you and your kids for dinner while the hubs has a crazy work week, but who listen when you need to talk, hug when you need to hug, cry with you, offer insight and advice at just the right moments, and make it better just by being there and knowing they support you.” Yes. I truly am blessed.