My father passed away unexpectedly three years ago. No matter how old you are, you’re never prepared to lose a parent.
My dad survived two heart attacks: one at age 47 and another at age 71, followed by triple bypass surgery. He had such a will to live that I often thought he was immortal.
I think he knew, though, when his time was up. It was as if he’d planned his final day of rest: Three weeks after we celebrated his 84th birthday and three months after his dream vacation, a family cruise to Alaska.
My dad awoke, sat up at the edge of the bed and then fell backwards. He died beside my mom, who was sleeping.
I have one big regret, something I still think about today: I had no sense of closure.
Usually when a Jewish person dies, loved ones gather for a week of mourning – called shiva – and everyone draws comfort together. I regret that we never gathered for this tradition. Instead, in the 48 hours following my father’s death, my brothers and I scrambled to make funeral arrangements along with figuring out what to do with our mother, who has dementia and was unable to take care of herself.
Life goes on… or does it?
I returned home from Vancouver to Maryland. It felt like my dad was buried, a chapter closed and no one talked about his passing or how I was coping.
Here’s the thing. I wasn’t coping. At all. No closure, remember?
What should have been a 7-day shiva became a 7-month mourning period.
Plus I desperately needed a break, because I was burned out from extensive travel as a professional speaker in the meetings industry.
I was also battling undiagnosed sleep apnea which affected my memory, giving me major brain fog to the point where I couldn’t remember my talking points on stage.
On the road for a spiritual sabbatical
Seeking solace and a sanctuary for my sadness and exhaustion, I decided to attend a 4-day Silent Retreat at Satchidananda Ashram Yogaville. My family placed bets that I wouldn't last one day, because usually, I never stop talking.
But I really needed this. I craved this 4-day spiritual awakening to refresh my body and mind. I was determined to immerse myself in … Silence. Stillness. Serenity. Solace.
I spent my days in experiential classes learning about yoga philosophy, meditation, breathing techniques, yoga postures and deep relaxation. It was a chance to seek support and ask questions – but only in writing, since no speaking was permitted. And I rejoiced in eating vegan meals with 75 other guests -- in complete silence.
Here are the 5 things I took away from my Silent Retreat:
Take a break from the busyness in life. I needed to slow down, and find a place of calm in the midst of difficulty. I needed time to think, reflect, process, be silent and just be.
Be present and connect with myself, my emotions, my sadness. I used the Silent Retreat as my personal shiva. I approached this challenging life milestone with openness and curiosity, appreciating its underlying purpose and meaning.
Unplug from technology and turn off all background noise to reconnect with myself. I wanted to be with myself, without distractions or interruptions. I yearned for silence and stillness to unravel my raw emotions, reflect on my core values (personal, business, interpersonal) and commit to personal growth.
Be patient, kind and compassionate with myself. I discovered that silence was easy. Stillness was hard. I could not for the life of me meditate while sitting down! (You know those disruptive kids in elementary school? Well, that was me!) And as a Type A person who practices vinyasa-style power yoga, I had difficulty lying still in deep relaxation postures. I "rolled with resistance" (my restlessness) and I stayed at the back of the classrooms so I could stretch out my legs or move around.
I focused on progress, not perfection. I learned that meditation, like yoga, takes practice. It’s a journey. I needed to meet myself where I was - without judgement - starting with walking meditation, because it’s easier for me to be in motion.
That silent retreat was a pivotal experience for me. Silence brought solace, calmness, peace and insight to my soul. And I felt this tremendous energy in stillness and silence - - both alone and in the company of others.
After the retreat ended, I continued in silence during my 3-hour drive home, taking in the beautiful experience and thinking of ways to fit this new yogic lifestyle into my everyday life. I was determined to integrate body, mind, and spirit.
I decided to pivot my business to a home-based, virtual one.
Stay tuned for next week’s story about how this major change perfectly positioned me for the pandemic.
In the meantime, hit reply and share:
Do any of these 5 P’s resonate with you as you navigate the pandemic?
How are you helping your attendees pause and remain present during virtual meetings?
Feel free to reach out to chat about how to incorporate wellness, yoga and mindfulness into your life or next event. A link to my virtual calendar is HERE.