I’ve been sharing Mindfulness tips in Yogahub’s weekly newsletter since I started sending out the newsletter what must be nearly 7 years ago now (when Yogahub started). Our newsletter goes out every week. We all love doing it. Especially me. I try to keep it as concise as possible. I haven’t blogged in ages now but I needed more space to share with you some things that I noticed through my experience over the last week or so after my mother died suddenly.
If you are not arriving here from our newsletter. Here is part of it:
‘I flew into Dublin last Monday for work meetings in preparation for opening our next Yogahub and improving our existing offerings. I switched on my phone in Dublin Airport and I found out immediately. My Mum was suffering with a lot of debilitating pain. Her identity had been completely stripped from her. She couldn’t do anything like she had before. The pain prevented her sleeping properly for a few years now. Her situation was becoming hopeless. I text her to let her know I was coming home this week at 8.20am. She text back saying she was looking forward to seeing me. By 9.30am she had left this life.’
I think I could write a lot more and I am still processing and have plenty more to learn. I see the below as powerful learning that my Mum has given me as a parting gift. My Mum was such a giver. Not great at receiving. She had much more practice at giving. I feel uncomfortable sharing the below but right now it feels right. So I am sharing with you the parting gifts my mother gave me.
Ritual Is So Important To Humans. It Gives Life Meaning.
The Cambridge Dictionary’s Definition is as follows:
‘a set of fixed actions and sometimes words performed regularly, especially part of a ceremony.’
In my mother’s passing she has taught me how important ritual is in our lives. Normal life stood still as the funeral ritual took over. How soothing it was to our family. Having fixed actions and structured ceremony for us to grieve within. Before this happened I made things like Meditation, Yoga and journaling a ritual in my own life. Morning gratitude practice is another personal ritual of mine. These rituals have become more of a routine to be honest. My Mum’s passing has emphasised how important it is to have ritual in life.
Any practice can become just another routine if we forget the meaning. I can see how important the meaning to anything and everything is now. I get so caught up in the doing. Ritual gives meaning to fixed actions and words and we need to keep coming back to that.
My brother Daniel brought this home to me over the last 2 weeks. I would describe myself as very pragmatic. I like to get things done. Lots of things in fact. This has drained me a few times over. I would never stop to smell the roses. To celebrate the wins. To take stock. I always added more to-dos before having completed any others. Although I’ve been practicing Mindfulness for about 4 years now I can tell you that if you watched me eating you would not think I even had a practice. Another thing to just get done and move immediately to the next ‘to do’.
My mother died at her favourite place. The lake at the bottom of her garden. My brother, aunt and dad found her there. It is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. After what Daniel, Heather and Dad saw. It was not. Daniel almost immediately got flowers and placed them there. We all went down and watched and he carefully arranged them and attached them to the mooring at the lakeside. Candles were lit at the lake and by friends and family all over Ireland and overseas. I was so surprised by how much this soothed me. I felt the warmth of this collective ritual.
Mum’s birthday was exactly one week after she left. Daniel got 64 birthday balloons. Daniel and my other brother Michael filled the balloons with helium that morning and Dad released them at the time we think she left us. It was so beautiful. This letting go ritual will be remembered by all of us forever.
It has made me rethink almost anything I do. Life is so short. If we keep this top of mind then almost everything should have some sort of a ritual attached. Each day another blessing to be marked. Each meal. Every encounter with another human being we are connected to.
We Are All Hardwired For Deep Levels of Compassion (All Of Us).
Mum was loved by everyone she met. She knew a lot of people and I was fortunate to meet a lot of them when they came to pay their respects. I can’t get over how many people turned up wanting to share stories of how Mum’s kind heart impacted them. Humans are capable of awful things. With this whole ‘negativity bias’ that we are supposed to all have we can very much identify humans as less than good. Especially if you watch the news.
From what I have just witnessed in the last 2 weeks. This is total and utter rubbish. The profound words of wisdom I have heard from people I least expected. The public showing of emotion by the hardest of men. People who you would least expect. Jesus Christ almighty human beings (including you) are so so beautiful.
It’s easy to think that Buddha was enlightened because he was one in a million. Or the Dalai Lama was born that way. Reincarnated over and over again. That we could never be so pure. From what I saw in our neighbours, family and friends this is nonsense. Saints live on every street. Buddha-nature is inside all of us. Human beings are inherently good. We are hardwired for love.
When my Mum was alive she didn’t find the whole ‘I love you’ sentence that easy to communicate. It didn’t mean she didn’t love me or my brothers. She just hadn’t much practice at it because her parents had the same issue for the same reason. I started telling her all the time how much I loved her quite a few years ago. I know she liked it. I have no regrets about this practice.
Since my Mum died I am more in touch with how important it is to love. I’m not anywhere close to where I want to be but I’m much better than I used to be. If I love someone. I flipping tell them. If I want to hug someone and I think they would like a hug. I hug them.
Life is short and I would much rather spend it in love.
Relationship is the Best Practice.
I’d like to say that I’ve stopped beating myself up when I fall out of practice. If I did I’d be lying. My inner life is so much nicer when healthy practices stay with me. For me right now I practice Yoga, Breathing Techniques (Pranayama), Mantra and Meditation almost every day. Not for flipping hours or anything like that. They are always with me though. As tools that really help. These all fell away during the days after my mother’s death.
So how did practice manifest?
Touch seemed to communicate so much more than anything that could be said. I held my brothers’ hands. I walked holding my daddy’s hand when he was upset. Like a little boy again holding my daddy’s big strong hand. I embraced my family, my friends and anyone who I felt wanted or needed that that turned up at our house or in the funeral home or crematorium. When I was holding someone elses’ hand I felt my hand holding theirs. When I embraced another human being in our shared grief I felt their heart alive and close to mine. Normally my thinking mind would take over and say ‘we’ve been holding hands for way too long. this is weird’ or ‘I’m probably weirding the other person out’ or ‘They probably think I’m way too needy’. I’m not saying these unhelpful thoughts didn’t come in. Through practice I know to let them go. Thinking mind is such a highjacker of humans being human. I’m sick of it.
I allowed myself to be nurtured by friends and family and people who I have never met that knew my Mum. My Mum and Dad would always tell you that I have always been fiercely independent. I have always hated people doing things for me. I love to look after myself. I could not wait to bolt away from the family home in my teenage years. Even bolting way before the time had come with Dad having to come after me more than once!
I let go of my idea of me. Not completely. There was discomfort in allowing that love manifest in that way at times. I took a breath and let any thoughts of the way I was supposed to be go. I was super uneasy and agitated the day my Mum left our house for the last time. I also knew I had to give a speech of sorts at the funeral. I really wanted to do it right for Dad and Mum.
My aunt Nina and cousins Eilis and Emira walked me down to the lake. Eilis held me and did not let go as she listened to me describe my unease in great detail. I will never forget how nurturing this was. This is just one example of many.
Normally I practice pretty early in the morning. My Dad lost his darling. His soulmate. His beautiful love. He did not sleep much every night. I heard him get up. My place was beside him. I wanted to be with him so much. We left the house almost immediately and we walked. Mum’s favourite walk. Through the woods beside their house. We felt our feet walking. Not much but more than not at all. So many thoughts. What do we have to do next? What’s going to happen next? Is Daniel alright? Is Michael alright? Have we forgotten anyone that needs or would want to know? We felt our feet walking. We noticed how green everything was.
My Head Thinks But My Heart Feels.
Through practice I know that I really don’t know very much at all! I don’t know much about myself. I don’t know much about anyone. I try to be more empathetic. More compassionate. I’m working on it the best I can. That’s enough for me. Practice has taught me to be gentle with myself. Jesus it feels so good. Imagine that! Having to learn to be gentle with yourself at the age of 39. Again I’m OK with that. Better late than never. I’ve known for a while now that I have issue connecting with my heart. I’ve blocked uncomfortable feelings with alcohol, drugs, distractions like social media and keeping super busy. You might not have any experience of these things and I do not recommend them. They are destructive but I can tell you they work super well in the short-term.
In my experience of being overcome by emotion saying goodbye to my mother I can only say that respecting your emotional self and not suppressing your emotions is very, very healthy. If we can’t touch our emotions how can we express how we are feeling? If we can’t express how we are feeling how can we truly communicate? If we can’t communicate we will always feel so isolated. So alone. This is not how humans are supposed to be. My uncles and aunts were all around when I completely lost it. They were so understanding. I felt so bad for my brothers and my dad. This was the last time they would see her too. My mother knew my father 46 years. I felt I needed to get out of the way. My thinking head was there but my heart took over. Practice has taught me that this is more than OK.
My Emotional Mind/Body is Deeper Than My Rational Mind.
I am not who I think I am. Thinking lies over my true self. This was made clear to me the day Mum left forever. My Mum’s body was reposing at our family home from Tuesday evening until Thursday afternoon. I was doing reasonably ok holding it together from Monday when I arrived back to the house after getting the news. I’m the eldest of three brothers and I felt I needed to be strong for my brothers. There was so many family, friends and neighbours around all of the time. My Mum was to leave our house at 2.30pm for a 4pm funeral. Mum wanted a closed coffin at the funeral so I knew that this was the last time I would ever see her.
When this dawned on me I stood up immediately and made my way directly to her. I kissed her hands and her forehead. As I did an enormous ball of emotion formed in my heart. I have never had such a powerful emotional response to anything in my entire life. The ball got so big I felt it explode throughout my entire body. I’ll apologise here and now for my limited vocabulary in trying to describe such an intense visceral experience. I don’t mind crying in front of anyone really. I do mind completely losing it. I completely lost it. My idea of me was completely overridden by my emotional centre.
Pins and needles arrived in my hands. Moved up my arms. Into my legs. In my face. I thought a few times over I was going to faint. I started abdominal breathing. I stayed with it. I breathed super deep both in and out. It really helped. In some way it feels like the emotional body underneath the intellectual was saying goodbye with pure emotion. Underneath any sort of thinking mind that I identify with. To be honest I don’t want to look at pictures of Mum now or think about her too much.
I know the mind is trying to protect the emotion. I know I’m blocking here now. Like a deep wound you don’t want to look at it or touch it much at first. I guess that’s what’s happening. It’s all very intense. Very confusing.
Dying and Death Really Are Not That Scary. Not Living Is!
In Yoga we practice Savasana at the end of every Yoga class. Savasana means corpse pose. People really like it as it is just lying on your back as relaxed as possible on the ground. It’s the practice of letting go. The practice of dying. Death and dying doesn’t really get spoken about much in our society. Dirty words. Taboo. If you started talking about it around most people you would be quickly told to ‘Shut Up’.
From what I can see this is changing but if you are like me you are still scared of it. Death is inevitable. We all fear it as it is programmed into our survival mechanism to fear death. What I can tell you is that looking at my Mum in her coffin. Death looks really peaceful. It looks so calm. So natural. The act of death might be painful and traumatic. Death itself is not. All it takes is for our heart to stop and we are gone. God knows where but all pain and suffering are finished. There is nothing to fear.
I see one of the final gifts from my mother as this. My Mum has taught me to not be afraid of death. I think we are all so afraid of dying when what we should be afraid of is truly living. Having deep relationships. Making the most out of really simple things. Like feeling your feet walking. Barefoot preferably but in shoes is fine too. Like looking into another human beings eyes and feeling that person. Underneath story. Underneath words. There are so many examples of how to live fully. It would take another blog at least.
If you’ve managed to get this far thank you so much for reading. I think it has helped me to collect my thoughts. My hope is that you take something from it that might help when you might need it. I’ll leave you here reminding you to live immediately. Appreciate all the small things as these are really all the big things. Love as much as you can and let yourself be loved as much as you can.
Thinking of you on your journey. Thank You.
Olivia Quigley will be missed by her loving husband Philip and her son’s Matthew, Daniel and Michael.