I needed to have a heart-to-heart. And that's how it began.
My heart is something that has just always worked. I've been lucky that way. Same with my mind. My mind has always been able to think fast and generally pretty logically. I know some would beg to differ, but I've managed to run a household on my own, raise three kids and two dogs, and pay my taxes. And that's my baseline.
My heart is something that has just always worked.
But at the start of the new year, I had a “heart event.” I don't mean that I fell in love or signed some early valentines. What I mean is that I woke up in the middle of the night with a gripping pain in the center of my chest.
I quietly began to practice deep belly breathing (thank you, years of studying yoga), and my mind raced through any possibilities that could possibly answer why my heart was aching and squeezing tight. Too many push-ups, gas, acid reflux, muscle spasm… After a while, I decided just to go back to sleep because my breathing was fine and if I could think of sleep, my mind reasoned, then I must be okay.
At 3:00 p.m. the next day, I went to pick my son up from the New Haven train station. He was busy talking to me about wanting to go straight from the train to another friend’s house. This is always a NO in my household. Downtime in between events is my rule. But as I was about to speak, my heart gripped again. This time I could not breathe in beautiful, slow, deep belly breaths. I was in traffic, in snow, driving my child, and despite my yoga training, my heart was only letting me breathe to the depth of my ribs. I decided to go with “yes” and dropped Webby off at his friend's house. Then I drove to our local outpatient urgent care and they sent me by ambulance to the hospital.
I wasn’t going to die that day. It was just a rehearsal.
This is the hardest thing about living alone with my children. I don't want to burden them, but what to do? My mind went off to consider several scenarios and as they played out, I began to realize that no matter what happened to me, my children would be just fine. They are truly some of the finest folks on the earth. Roz is 20, smart, funny, beautiful, and determined. My sweet Jack is 18, a freshman in college and on the dean’s list and lacrosse team. Webster is just a freshman in high school, but he has lived many lives already and been near the face of death twice. He knows I love him and he will be looked after by his brother and sister. Plus, I wasn’t going to die that day. It was just a rehearsal.
Once I realized that, my mind went to search for a lesson. Why is this happening? What am I to learn today? I'm much like many women my age—eating smart, exercising daily, and praying or meditating (or both) at morning and bedtime. I realize that my body is different than when I was 30 and I've been trying to support the changes that aging brings. Instead of a relaxing yoga practice in the morning, I've been going to the gym for 20 minutes of light cardiovascular exercise, followed by light weights and then home for yoga. I've been working from home and looking out at the beauty around me in between calls and essays. I've been taking the dogs out for walks and enjoying nature daily, eating according to the principles of ayurveda (mostly), and cleansing at the change of seasons. What am I missing?
Then I remembered—love. I still have a hard time receiving love. Not just romantic love, rather, it's allowing myself to be in a position to receive kindness and tenderness. Somehow that eludes me. My heart is not heavy. It's holding onto old ideas of me. It's gripping the last remnants of how I thought life should be. In order to move on, I must let that go. But I confess, the exhausted part of me cries, “I have already let so much go. How can it be I have to let go of that, too?”
And there it was. My heart-to-heart moment was the realization that I have to change. My heart, loving organ that it is, requires it. In ayurvedic medicine, the heart and the mind are viewed as the same, connected by channels (srotas) governed by energy and breath. I've always been aware of this connection. This is one of my strongest gifts as a therapist and healer. It's also an area that I struggle with personally. My old identity was imbalanced, thinking that I didn't deserve love. And beneath that idea (vikalpa) was another idea. The idea that if someone does love me, there will be conditions to their love, and if they're not met I'll be punished. Crazy, yes, but somehow these ideas were instilled in me at a young age and drove much of my behavior for many years. Even “knowing” them to be untrue, I still held onto them. And heartache continued because I was afraid to change. I would tell myself, “At least I understand how to live this way, even if I'm not actually doing it.” And that had been good enough—until now. Why am I changing now? Or why is change being thrust upon me? Maybe it's the years of yoga practice, or the fact that my 20-year-old has more insight into relationships than her mom, or that I'm tired of hurting myself and that fatigue is now stronger than the fear of the unknown.
My old identity was imbalanced, thinking that I didn't deserve love.
After a few quality hours in the ER, my doc circled back. He told me of a study that he had conducted on women just like me, “women in good health about 50 years old with no family history of heart disease, none of the other markers, no obesity, cholesterol that's fine, no smoking or drinking. Half leave here and never have another issue with their heart,” he went on. “Half leave here and die within a short time. We do not know why.” He ordered a stress test and wanted me to stay overnight for observation.
I thought about being in the vata time of life, the long-standing struggles I've had coordinating my mind and my heart (prana vayu imbalance), and how we usually grip the hardest just before we let go. I thanked the doctor and explained that I couldn't afford a night in the hospital unless truly necessary. He understood. I called my children and told them that I was in the ER and everything was fine. I just needed a ride home. I promised my doc if I had any issues I would come right back that night. We pinky-promised and he smiled. Then I noticed his name embroidered on his sparkling white coat. This confirmed that I just got a BIG wake-up call. It is time to let go. It seems that the divine mother and I share a sense of humor, and so did my doctor. His name? Why, Dr. Arjuna Krishna, of course!