Last fall, as part of my commitment to a year of self-care, I spent a weekend at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Western Massachusetts. I attended a women’s retreat on transformational movement, dance, and ritual. It was a fabulous weekend filled with female strength, love, powerful rituals, and lots and lots of free and luscious dance. I ended the weekend feeling inspired and full of creative ideas to incorporate into my own life and work—writing, teaching and dancing.
I was ready to begin living life fearlessly.
I have been to Kripalu several times, but this is the first time I’ve been back since my daughter Ella passed away 5 years ago.
My first few visits to Kripalu were not long after Ella’s very difficult birth causing her severe form of cerebral palsy. These visits were a refuge and escape for me. Every visit I’ve spent the early morning hours wandering around the grounds of Kripalu’s beautiful campus and viewing the many temples and places of spirit and worship that are dotted throughout the grounds. One place in particular that I’ve explored each visit is the labyrinth garden placed on top of a hill looking out over the Berkshire mountains.
The labyrinth’s irregular network of paths leads to a center altar where a childlike angel sits on top. It’s beautiful, and people leave coins, notes, flowers, rocks, and jewelry. However, in the many times that I have been to the labyrinth garden, this is the first time that I’ve made it to the center altar.
Prior to my most recent visit, I stepped into and began to walk the labyrinth, only to step out and leave. After I finished the labyrinth to completion this time, I sat on a bench to reflect on why I’d never been able to finish before. As I meditated on this thought for some time, I had feelings of panic, guilt, and fear, and loads of insecurities flooded over me.
I remembered on my previous labyrinth walks feeling as if I was being watched and judged, which I wasn’t, because that’s not what this space is about, and no one was around that early in the morning.
As I sat for several more minutes in silence, I realized that the feelings of panic, guilt, fear, and insecurity were the exact feelings that I experienced on a daily basis as a mom to a child with special needs. There were many times during Ella’s life that I wanted out. I wanted to leave. As a young adult, I gave up on many things in life when they got too difficult—school, auditions, relationships, and anything that exposed my insecurities, fears, vulnerability, and weaknesses. I couldn’t leave Ella, I was stuck. I suppose I could have, but my conscience and guilt wouldn’t let me. There were times when abandoning my family was at the forefront of my mind. I was terrified to leave and terrified to stay. There was no peace.
Frequently, while driving by myself, I thought, if I just keep going no one will find me, or worse, if I crash into that tree, I will be dead. However, my guilt and sense of obligation made me stay.
Just recently, I decided to hire someone to clean our house once a month as part of my dedication to self-care. The woman I hired is an incredible dynamo. She not only cleans houses, but she’s also a birth doula, a single mom to 2 boys (one who has special needs) and a skydiver! After speaking for a while learning about each other, she said, “You should come skydiving with me!” I immediately began to sweat. NEVER!
The idea of skydiving terrifies me to no end. However, her offer did get me thinking about fear, insecurities, and my desire to chicken out when life becomes too difficult.
What is living life fearlessly? Is it about pushing your limits, stepping outside your comfort zone? It is about being so secure in yourself that the fear of judgment and shame is nonexistent?
My personal limits have been pushed far, far beyond what I ever thought I could handle as I cared for Ella and her many needs for 11 years. Making the impossible choice to place her in hospice care when doctors couldn’t help her and have her die in my arms, is, I dare say, living life as fearlessly as humanly possible. I not only stayed with my family and followed through as Ella’s mom, but I excelled and thrived as Ella’s mom. I feel no need to push my limits any further.
However, to live life fearlessly, I do need to let go of the grief, guilt, shame, bitterness, sadness, depression, anger, and sorrow that I’ve been holding onto for years.
Letting go of these feelings which have been a huge part of my life, and that I’ve allowed to define me, is how I choose to live life fearlessly.
Being confident and secure with the choices that I made as Ella’s mom and the choices I make today as my young son’s mom—is fearless.
Taking the time to care for myself, and breaking the pattern that my self-care takes a backseat to others is brave. When something is such a huge part of your life, letting it go is difficult, and heartbreaking, even if that something is breaking you in every way. Moving away from the hurt and trauma and living life fearlessly is challenging for me.
When Ella took her last breath 5 years ago, she broke my heart, crushed my soul, and released me from the incredible task of caring for her every need, every single day of her life.
Understanding, patience, confidence, and total unconditional love is what I’ve learned and gained from being Ella’s Mom. Ella taught me to stay and to finish what I’ve started, to love with my whole heart and to believe in myself and the choices I make. She taught me to be fearless and confident in who I am.
So this time at Kripalu, I finished the labyrinth with confidence, power, and pleasure, freeing myself from guilt, insecurities, panic, and fear. At the very center of my labyrinth journey was my sweet little angel Ella who greeted me with the message of, “Good Job, Mom, now keep going. There’s much more for you to do in this life.”