I recently found myself apologizing to god.
It was the umpteenth time that I’d broken out in sobs while singing along with Jai Uttal’s “Om Namah Shivaya.” To be exact, it was Monday, October 24th. I was driving to rehearse with The Shaktis, an all-female Kirtan group with whom I play percussion. Two days before, I’d returned from a little road trip to Pennsylvania – first, Philly to see Jai Uttal in-concert; then, Easton for a two-day Max Strom yoga workshop. The day after the road trip, back home in DC, The Shaktis lead one of our most joyous and spirited Kirtans yet.
So as I drove to the rehearsal that Monday, I was brimming with contentment. Chanting my little heart out. And suddenly, sobbing uncontrollably.
I am accustomed to being emotionally moved by singing and chanting. The vibration tends to hit me right in the heart. Even Jai says, “The singing voice, enriched with a full breath, directly touches that well of emotions inside.” Still, I had to ask myself, “Why have you been crying every single time you chant ‘Namah Shivaya’ repetitively? What are you feeling?”
Gratitude! I was crying my thankfulness, realizing I’d come full circle. I mean, my goodness, since the Spring I’d been through intense periods of questioning everything. My yoga practice, my yoga teaching, my yoga jobs, my other jobs, my relationships, my associations, my everything! I started to let go of what felt wrong, what felt like sandpaper against my skin, what felt threatening to my wholeness. I let go of a lot. And I ended up feeling completely lost. Lost in a darkness that felt like drowning.
As they say, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Come end of Summer, I began to emerge. I launched “The Happy Heart Project” and set the firm intention to grow toward joy by practicing a symbolic ritual – burning a stick of “Happy Heart” incense 1st thing each morning for 100 days. I took a Labor Day retreat to the Satchidananda Ashram and had a heart-to-heart conversation with a twisted old pine who seemed to beautifully signify the trials and triumphs of my life. The Jewish High Holy days stirred my sorrow, yet also reinforced my softening, my surrender. Friendships challenged me; and friends cherished me, despite my awkwardness. Autumn – my most transformational season – crept in, grey and wet, and dampened my growing inner glow. And then I sunk lower than ever, my emotional sobriety on edge, my physical sobriety at risk. The week before I would reach my 9th anniversary without alcohol or drugs, I craved their comfort. I stayed honest. I stayed close.
I took a road trip. There’s something about a geographical cure. There were no twisted, story-telling pines on this journey. Just a change of scenery. A break from my “stuff.” Strolling the country’s oldest Farmer’s Market, breathing northern air, driving new highways. Chanting with Jai and other transplanted pals in Philly. Breathing with Max and long-lost Off the Mat Into the World sisters in Easton.
So returning from this trip, I was – after a period of tormenting darkness – finally back in the light. I was sober, safe and sound. That Monday, singing my heart out to Shiva, I cried. I cried because I made it through.
Then for some reason, I shamefully said, “I’m so sorry.”
I apologized for having become depressed, for being in the dark so long. As if I had left god’s side, influence, presence, light. And it hit me – NO! God took me there. God took my hand and led me into that darkness, because there was something I needed to see. Remember all of that questioning and letting go that started in the Spring? It sprang from a mugging – an incident I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but that brought out a fierceness in me. I started to put my foot down, to set strong boundaries. I also started to overreact to certain upsets. Because in fact, the mugging was a trauma, which triggered unresolved past trauma that needed attention. And it didn’t just tap me on the shoulder. It broke down my door. By force, I had to get the help I needed in order to look at it, start to heal from it…and no longer be ruled by it.
So there might be a light at the end of the tunnel – but sometimes, the tunnel itself is well-lit, and leads into the dark.
And into the darkness we went. God and I. So I could experience that depth of despair and subsequent transcendence to joy. So ultimately, I could share the story with others, in case they ever go through something similar. God was with me the whole time. No apology necessary. I went where I was meant to go.
From singing Kirtan, I have come to embrace that god has many faces. For example, Lord Shiva plays many roles: devout yogi, cosmic dancer and drummer, menacing protector. Shiva is commonly called “The Destroyer,” but he actually governs destruction, transformation and regeneration. As Jai says, “He wipes the slate clean so that new writing can be written. He destroys everything so that rebirth can occur instantly.”
It makes sense to me that god, in the form of Shiva, led me deep down to the bottom. To show me the realities that needed to be faced. The same realities that now inform my purpose, inspire my actions and give me something to share in service to others. During that dark period, I was yearning for surrender, security and trust the whole time. Now I know that I was never alone. I was always safe. And I was always loved.
And for that, I cry tears of gratitude. OM Namah Shivaya.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.