On Endings and Headstands…

BridgeTerabithia6I’ve always been really bad at endings. In life or literature, they really throw me. Departures. Friends moving away. The death of loved ones. I was the girl who wept inconsolably when I first read the end of Bridge to Terabithia. Even in writing, I was terrible at creating conclusions. Attention-grabbing introductions, with crisp thesis statements? Sure, no problem. Wrapping it all up, with a pithy world-view widening final sentence?

Just. Couldn’t. Do. It.

It’s a common bit of Buddhist wisdom that life will continue to confront you with the things you resist until you learn to face them with equanimity. Perhaps that’s why, in the past five years, I’ve had to face the end of two important relationships. And I’ve had to move. Perhaps that’s also why I have a job which forces me to say goodbye to people I care about every single year.

You see, I teach Grade 6. In my neck of the woods, this is the final year of elementary school. Children leave us go to middle school. It’s a small thing really–but big for them, and big for their families. So we celebrate it with a “graduation” and a “clap out” on the last day. Recently a colleague asked me: “How do you manage to get through all of that without crying?”

Confession: I don’t.

Oh, I hold it together to hand out diplomas, speak with parents, hug my students goodbye. I smile and chat and pat people on the shoulder. Then I go home and read the cards from my students, and have a snotty, tear-streaked time of it.IMG_0152

Because our lives on the yoga mat hold up a mirror to our lives off it, I’ve recently been struggling with the Finishing Sequence of my practice. Fellow Ashtangis will know this as the shoulderstand/headstand/padmasana part. This is the part of the practice where we cool down the body with inversions in order to quiet the mind. Kino MacGregor, the great yogini, calls this “entering the inner space”.DownloadedFile

Recently, I can’t seem to occupy the inner space without shaking. With the end of the school year, coupled with the end of a significant chapter in my personal life, my headstand has been super-wobbly in an elbows straining, legs flailing, run-for-the-wall kind of way.

And there is nothing I can do but accept it. Breathe through it. And move on. Maybe this is the real lesson of endings. You will need to grieve.  Possibly with thank you cards and a big kleenex box. (And chocolate.) Eventually you will need to accept the ending, maybe not yet, but some day. Because, like that elusive first-rate conclusion, endings can widen your world-view by making room for new ideas. Even if you’re not exactly sure yet what those might be. As the poet Wendell Berry writes:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

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