Last week I went to a one act play in Seattle called “Playing with God and Other True Stories.” The woman, Melissa Bangs, tells her true story of experiencing a postpartum psychosis. A month after her baby girl was born she was admitted to a psych ward. In re-telling her story with candid detail, brutal honesty and often hilarious descriptions I felt moved and connected. There were things that she said that felt universal to being human and the emotional upheaval that can (and will again and again) happen being a parent. There was something else she said at the end that really stuck. She called that time in her life a “cosmic ass kicker.” She said, we have all had them or will have them, maybe more than once or twice; a divorce, a health crisis, a death of a loved one, loss of a job or direction in life. It’s traumatic and life-altering. The rug just gets pulled from under you and there are no instructions or manuals of how to react, cope or function in the midst of it all.
So, yeah…I’ve been thinking about my own “cosmic ass kickers” that I’ve endured in my life and the ones that people I love are facing right now. What to do? How to help? Where to go? And, when will it be over? What I do know and what Ms. Bangs articulated so brilliantly on stage is that it takes a certain kind of deep inner journey to get out the other side (in the psychiatric hospital they called this the “open space” side.) What she said ultimately got her out of the hospital and back at home with her baby was what sounded a lot like what we practice when we show up at yoga. Breathe. Listen. Surrender. Ask for the Helpers.
Breath. In yoga we are taught to practice conscious breathing. Just follow one inhale and exhale at a time. Sounds so simple it almost seems ridiculous when dealing with a colossal shift in life. But, it does work. Breath control and breath awareness. Ms. Bangs sang this tune a lot during her performance. She said she was given only her bathrobe (without the tie) and soft slippers to wear and spent the days alone in a room. She had some visits with her baby but she wasn’t allowed to touch her. Breathe she kept saying to herself, breathe.
Listen. Listen to your inner voice…not the crazy little ego voice or fear mongering voice on the shoulder but the loving, wise, soulful voice that we all have access to if we get quiet enough to listen. That is why we work out the energy blockages, the kinks and tensions in our bodies and just soften the mind until there is tranquility and clarity. Wait for the little mud particles of the mind to settle to the bottom and then listen. Ms. Bangs talked about listening for the mama in her that is full of love, light and kindness-the mama that would never do anything to harm. She listened deeply and consciously until that voice was clear and strong.
Surrender. I loved it when Ms. Bangs talked about ultimately surrendering to all the shame and guilt she felt as a new mama bringing this innocent child into the world. She stood in her truth and let the shame go. Watching Ms. Bangs on stage I was amazed at her bravery to tell such a difficult story-one that so many women would hide for fear of being judged or shunned. I also know so many women who have struggled with postpartum depression or mental illness and have chosen to share their story, seek help and support. What would happen if we became more real with our fragility and vulnerability and shared our pain and despair. “Surrender, she said, you are not alone.”
Ask for Helpers. At the end of her story Ms. Bangs said she had some really great helpers. She met a magician of a naturopathic doctor who didn’t view her as a disease or the label she was given but as a whole human being. She had a loving, cheerleader of a partner and parents who saw her as who she really was – pure love and light.
There is a classic Mr. Rogers quote about helpers. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” (thanks Helen:)
So, there it is…a woman’s brave, bold and honest to the core story of a cosmic ass kicking and what tools she used to make it through to an “open space.” And a reminder to me to keep the faith in my yoga practice; breathe, listen, surrender and look for the helpers.
Lastly, I think we can all agree that with November now upon us and enough scary news to last us for awhile we can all surrender as best we can to what will be – whether we like it or not. We can all look for the people who are helping. We can stop worrying and take action. We can be the people who are helping by exuding a light and loving presence, showing deep compassion, and telling our true stories. It’s a way to get through this cosmic ass kicker and into the open space.
With so much love and gratitude,