Counter Posture

DSCF448640 years of yoga practice have yielded gifts I never expected when I started down the path, much, I suppose, like any long-term relationship one consents to pursue will continue to surprise the heart and spirit if attention is paid and the relationship is bound more by love and flexibility than a rigid repetition of steps learned long ago and in all the years since rarely or never opened to inspiration.

DSCF4550Consider, for example, the wisdom and elegance of counter-posturing, balancing in-breath and out-breath, uniting a backbend with a forward bend, marrying a reaching with a contraction. The unfolding understanding of a counter-posture’s gifts has broadened my ability to remain increasingly present and mindful to my life and its core of mystery, to its blessing and suffering, and to its continual flow of dying and rebirth. Life, at its essence, is an unending exercise in counter-posturing. Over and over, life asks that we disintegrate and reintegrate, from our birth, through the breaths enclosing each succeeding moment until our death. If we can enter our life mindfully, co-creating equanimity and balance, how much lovelier our experience of its gifts can be.

DSCF4531Counter-posturing is inherent to the flow of yoga, as it is to the philosophies and theologies we recognize as our guiding wisdoms. For example, it forms the holistic essence symbolized by the yin and yang’s embrace of both the empirical and transcendent. It is expressed beautifully in the Hebrew Ecclesiastes verses that tell us everything must have its season. It pulses at the heart of every line forming the beautiful Prayer of St. Francis.

It is revealed throughout nature’s perfect balance, offering the rounded whole of existence to guide our spirits towards their own rounded fulfillment: Summer’s outward energy and exuberant volume, winter’s inner withdrawal and soundless stillness, the expansion and retraction of spring and autumn. Every force has its equal and opposite force that, if embraced, creates a perfect marriage of balance.

DSCF4544The universe conspires to teach us the wisdom of counter-posturing, to help us choose paths, practices, and actions that keep us balanced and centered, which is to say authentically healthy and whole. When life is flowing easily, these practices may heighten its joy. When life is overcome by suffering, the ability to counter-posture becomes as necessary to our spiritual survival as oxygen is to our body.

Our first breath is an in-breath; our final an exhalation. Whatever we choose between these, whatever existence offers, life originates and concludes in perfect balance. Our choice to counter-posture—or not—all those moments between our human beginning and end determines the degree of elegance, the trajectory of growth, the depth of meaning, and the awareness of the Sacred that infuses our life. 

DSCF4513My beloved brother-in-law died last week.

Days were circumscribed by his rapid decline in health, an accelerated rhythm of swirled energy and emotions, rising hopes and dashed hopes, long vigils and sleepless nights, the gathering and parting of family, the brutal lack of equanimity often offered by the hospital ICU, the sense of everything heightened and held out of time, and moments when reality screamed with unrelenting heart-slamming truths, grounding us in medical minutiae and the process of dying.

By training and inclination, the camera of my perception continually moved in and out, assessing the degree of shock and anxiety within and without each participant, and, of course, myself. When the life of one we love is so suddenly compromised, our emotions, bodies, and spirits are thrown out of coherence. Numbed engagement is often the best that can be managed and also serves to protect us, and so we offer automatic responses that cushion our completely exposed vulnerability from jarring contact with more than this moment, and now this one. 

S0044332If we can listen deeply during such times of spiritual, emotional, and physical trauma, some inner knowing will tell us that our spirits are trying to catch up with us, and if we can hang on, and intuitively counter-posture each moment’s invitations and assaults, we will again find our way home to our center. Until then, we travel with sails tossed by raw emotions, and if we are blessed, love is the one we allow to carry us through to journey’s end.

Years of accompanying others and their families through such experiences have taught me to seek, support, and encourage the counter-postures that will renew balance for all involved in the drama of dying and loss. As a midwife to the dying, I have witnessed myriad responses to the invitations this final journey offers to the one who is dying and to those who accompany him or her. I have felt and considered them all myself when I have lost someone I loved, as I did last week. Every new wave that crashes against us can either be met with love or rejected and futilely battled in anger, fear, anxiety, and despair. 

DSCF4206Here is how it might happen when we surrender to the experience and meet it with intentional equanimity: We can recognize the horror of our individual and collective journey and choose to translate it into sorrow by meeting it with love. We can counter-posture our howling pain by acknowledging that mystery and grace are also our companions. We can embrace our fellow-passengers on this journey of stunning transformation, and through the energy of our words and silence, our actions and stillness, our in-breaths and out-breaths, comfort our own and others’ hearts, subdue the storm, and steady our spirits. We can focus our energy and gratitude upon the one who is departing, on his comfort, his peace, his need to know we will be alright, and that our love will go with him.

These are some of the choices we can make to counter-posture the energy created by such profound storms in our lives, and so guide our spirits back into a substantial presence where they can eventually rest in weary peace.

My brother-in-law was blessed, as he was blessing. His wife and children never once let themselves be unmoored by the ferocity and velocity of invitations to let go into fear, anger, or despair. They embraced each other and all who joined their circle, shining light on their beloved and holding him in love through his final exhalation. They intuited elegant counter-posturing and preserved the fullness and wholeness of this loss and every moment of gratitude and community it offered.

Hallowed life, hallowed death: oh, such gifts we can offer ourselves and others if we choose intentional equanimity and balance.

DSCF4418And as we enter our grief, I am consoled by the beauty of our gatherings to be peacefully present to the death of our beloved one, to his burial and commitment to Love’s turning circle. I’m heartened, too, by the sense that together and alone we’ll dance with our grief, counter-posturing sadness with joy, weariness with rest, sharing with conserving energy, breathing in with breathing out, deepening our recognition and understanding of all the ways our loved one’s death opens his life to our sustenance.

May we continue to honor this great loss and use this great love to create sacred balance in our lives and holy equanimity in the lives of those we love and meet. May we counter the world’s brokenness with our loved one’s example of creativity; may we help heal the world’s hatred with his lessons of love, may we counter the world’s joylessness with his model of enthusiasm, and the world’s sadness with his encompassing delight. May we always hear the invitations to discover and use our gifts, as he did, to bless the world and to assure the Earth, over and over, that she is precious, loved, and worth saving, in all her infinite variety, and work to make it so.

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22 thoughts on “Counter Posture

  1. Oh Kitty, I am so very sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to what was obviously a very beautiful man. I hope his spirit is soaring just like that eagle in the final picture. I do admire how you remain in the present and deal with your grief in such a powerful, meaningful way, as you say, that is so much better than losing yourself to rage and anger, and such a gentler path to take too.
    The love you have for your brother-in-law shines through your words and I believe that love is a bond that cannot ever be broken.I see you in the mourning doves, and I hope that time eases your loss, and his family’s. Beautiful, gentle images that echo and strengthen your words.A huge hug for you…..and lots of love.xxx

  2. Thank you for your kindness and presence, Dina. he was, truly, a most remarkable human being, a profound thinker and so blessed with humor…as you say, we’ll always be connected. I adore my husband’s family and am so honored to be a part of it; this loss taught me again what blessings they all are in my life. Thank you again for your comforting words.

  3. Dearest Kitty,
    Your eloquence and the depth of the experiences you manage to share here is a wonder. With deepest gratitude for your contribution to our process these past two weeks – it was such a blessing, mourning the loss, but even more celebrating his life.
    Love and blessings on all our heads.

  4. This is one of the most beautiful of all of your posts that I’ve read. I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t written my comment till now… because I was so moved when I read it, that I thought I had said what was on my mind. I have since shared this post with some of my friends. The words… the pictures… they are all so well integrated and part of the same message. But what struck me the most was that your message was in its essence very close to our ancient prayer for the dead… though from a different culture and spoken in a different language… it is the reaffirmation of life and the world around us, and a measure of acceptance and appreciation. This post too is a prayer, and it speaks from my heart… and I’m sure from many of the hearts of your readers. Kitty, you say it so well.

    • Your words are so kind and gentle, Shimon; thank you. I greatly appreciate your presence and the time you take, over and over, to affirm my writing and photography at the heart level, and also am humbled, knowing you are a master of marrying words, images, and honest feelings. Sometimes Spirit travels through us, I think, and picks up the threads of our inchoate impressions, and then weaves them into something far more fully formed than we would ever be able to do without her presence and guidance. I am touched that you recognized ancient connections…that, too, is due, I am certain, to Spirit’s lead and wisdom. I think Jung’s designation of our collective unconscious is like Spirit’s storehouse of spiritual wisdom and perhaps grief, like no other emotion, makes us vulnerable enough to wander the halls of that library and breathe in our ancient, shared understanding of what it means to be human. Thank you, again, for your comforting presence.

  5. Dearest Kitty,

    I can’t decide what’s lovelier; your words or your pictures (or you!). I love the cardinal in flight; like Henry flying away! You are such a blessing to us!

    With love and appreciation for who you are,
    Colette
    P.S. There’s got to be a market for your writings somewhere!

  6. What’s loveliest, dear heart, is your ability to see the lovely in everyone. 🙂 What a teacher you have been and continue to be to me, over and over…I love you.

  7. Just found your blog, Kitty….
    Sorry that it was on such a sad occasion….
    Truly sensitive to your family’s loss….
    My….but….your photos are beautiful…

    • Thank you, Linda. I welcome your visits and am happy you discovered my little space. I appreciate your kindness and hope you’ll visit again. Gentle peace to your day.

  8. Very beautiful indeed! Thanks for sharing – Michael shared your blog with me; I’m grateful. I’m so glad to have known the man you so lovingly describe. Thank you.

  9. Thank you, Lucia. Yes, he was remarkable, as are his children. 🙂 It is thoughtful and kind of you to take the time to visit and share. Gentle peace to you.

  10. Dear one, may you and all who loved your wonderful brother-in-law be surrounded and upheld and balanced by the deepest love and peace, comfort and hope. Your words and the beauty of this whole post tell me that it will be so, in such an engaged and thoughtful family. Blessings to you all.
    With all my heart,
    Kathryn

    • Thank you for your kindness. Having read through a bit of your blog, too, Kathryn, you’ll probably appreciate that the family is richly blessed with musicians, opera singers and chorale members, and that our brother was himself a member of the symphony chorus. The arts are integral to our healing. 🙂 Your compassion is welcome and appreciated.

  11. What a beautiful post. I have just found your blog via my blogfriend Snowbird’s site. I am so sorry to hear that you have so recently lost someone so dear to you. Your words and images are so comforting to me as I remember my dear mother. I am sure that your words will be a comfort to all who read them. The photographs of the birds are spectacularly colourful – I especially like the woodpecker (it that’s what it is). I recognise the shape but not the colours. We don’t have a bird like that in the UK.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

    • Thank you for your kindness, Caroline; I appreciate your compassion and am blessed if my words offered comfort. This week marked the anniversary of my mother’s death…I cannot believe 9 years have passed since she died…I feel her presence so strongly at times.

      Snowbird is a gem, isn’t she? Just so…alive and exuberant. Pure gift.

      Yes, it’s a woodpecker ad they really brighten up the landscape in winter, along with the goldfinches and cardinals.

      Thank you again for visiting, Caroline, and gentle peace to your day.

  12. “Our first breath is an in-breath; our final an exhalation. Whatever we choose between these, whatever existence offers, life originates and concludes in perfect balance.” Kitty, such a remarkable post, such a beautiful expression of the balance of life and life’s passing. I just returned home from attending a celebration of my composition teacher/mentor/colleague/friend. His request was that people gather to make music in his honor and we did. So to then read this heart-felt and poetic tribute to your brother-in-law touched me even more deeply, as it expressed what I couldn’t about the passing of a great person in my own life. Thank you for sharing your deep and wise perspective, along with exquisite images.

  13. Oh, thank you, Lynn. I’m so sorry for your own loss, and can only imagine how beautiful your musical expressions must have been for your friend. I really like that idea for celebrating a gifted life. I love memorials that honor the person’s uniqueness so creatively, and hope it brought comfort to you all.

    I appreciate your visit and kindness, as always, Lynn, and wish you a peaceful week’s end.

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