I am no expert in the field of psychology or mental illness. But as a yogi and shamanic practitioner, I know my own imbalances.
I know the sinking, aching hollow of depression when it gapes inside me, and the creeping paralysis of inaction that follows. I know the churning of anxiety in my gut, the electricity of fear at the base of my spine. I know the attachment to circular thought processes around situations I try to anticipate and cannot control—and my husband’s observations about how this takes me away from him.
Me, in absentia.
Me, circling in the whirlpool of should-haves and might-bes, instead of coming back to the present moment.
I have never discovered a way to eliminate my shadows—but I continue to develop ways to dance with them and learn from them.
There was a time when my husband and I lived apart for some months while he was working afar and I held the household steady. He would come home for the occasional weekend. When I stood at the window, waving goodbye on Sunday morning and watching his truck recede down the street, I was struck by the most profound, painful loneliness.
The burden seemed too crushing to carry, and it resulted in a lack of motivation to do even the simplest things, like household chores.
I had to do something with the weight of my distress.
At some point, I began to sit in meditation and breathe with my suffering. Instead of trying to swallow it and suppress it, I approached the ache as a living being. I acknowledged it. I gave it some time and attention, as my breath flowed through me.
I learned how to honour my loneliness and depression, for a little while—but not all day. I would hold them as a friend, a companion, perhaps even as a parent with fussy children, but I also rose from my meditation and moved into the rest of my day. There were limits to the attention I gave it, yet my depression was cared for in the light-filled cauldron of my breath.
This helped ease the emotional paralysis and loneliness by lifting their unrelenting weight. It allowed me to function and find some peace as I cleaned the house, played music, practiced yoga, or went for a walk and prepared myself for the week ahead.
When depression showed up again, I honoured it with my breath and more concentrated attention. This became our dance of breath, solace, and lifting weight.
I also grappled for many years with the changing relationships in my family after my father’s death.
He had truly been the pillar, the glue for many of us. For a while I thought I could be just like him and hold everyone close together. But time, distance, and different perspectives—all powerful tides—pushed and pulled at us. I found myself mourning both the loss of my father and the inevitable erosion of family as it had been.
It was agonizing at times. My mind was unquiet and my emotions often dark. Anger, hurt, deep sadness all around...far more than just mine. There was nothing I could seem to do about it.
A ceaseless litany of thoughts and stories and whys and what-ifs circulated in me.
For insight and healing, I turned to shamanic journeywork. I drummed and with that constant, steady rhythm, I entered a relaxed state of consciousness where I could access Spirit and my deepest intuition. I did this often, to gain perspective.
Spirit, in its ultimate compassion, offered me some important insights: I was not my father. His dreams, his purpose, his path—what we might call his dharma—were not mine. I had my own path to walk. This might seem obvious, but at the time it wasn’t so to me. I was too wrapped up in clinging to the ideal of how I thought things should be, and how I could make circumstances different.
I learned—begrudgingly at first—that it was not for me to herd my disparate loved ones down a narrow path that led to a single understanding.
Spirit also taught me to practice opening my clenched hands—to release my anger, resentment, and hurt that everyone didn’t want the same things or see events from the same perspective as me.
While that has been a halting, gradual process of repeated practice, I have become more skillful as my attachments loosen and my heart grows more spacious. I no longer feel the need to mull over old hurts and blunders in the same way. I no longer bend beneath a load that I never needed to carry. That unburdening allows me to come closer to acceptance—to love myself and others as they are.
My shadows will always be with me. If I don’t pay attention to them, they will find ways to make me notice.
But with dedication and persistence, the slow steps of breathing, releasing, and finding compassion can help free me from the tyranny of the past. In increasingly graceful rhythm, they lead me out of absentia and back to the present moment.
If you resonate with these words, I’d be delighted to hear from you, in the comments below.
Walking alongside you,
K-Bhava Kristi Corlett is the Director of DevaTree’s 100-hour Whispered Wisdom: Walking Between the Worlds of Yoga & Shamanism, which begins on September 30th.