This time of the year, I’ve been known to cuss out cabbies and argue with gun-toting relatives back home in Indiana. I didn’t want a lobotomy, but I did desire grace. Having read blogs by Megan Mook, Kula Yoga Project’s resident meditation teacher, I knew I could trust her as my guide.
Yet I stumbled late and Grinch-like into Mook’s Tribeca class, which triggered feelings of guilt because I should have been there early. One worry led to another, even before my buns hit the bolster. Yikes! Yet I picked up on Mook’s grounded voice, long brown hair, and cozy sweater. She welcomed me into a semi-circle with the group of six. The discussion was about coping mechanisms.
“Is family a stressor?” Mook asked us.
“Yep,” I answered in my head.
“Is getting off your routine detrimental or not a big deal?”
“Dangerous,” I thought.
“Once you’re clear on stressors, you can respond more appropriately,” Mook wisely
Then we tried a metta meditation delivered to someone we love. I conjured my grandmother, who at 87, had recently developed such a crippling fear of ISIS that she landed in a psych ward for older adults.
We hadn’t been close in years, but I was about to get on a plane to see her in Fort Wayne, my hometown. This visit could be my last with her, as it appeared she was in the early stages of dementia and decline. “May you be safe,” I thought to her. “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you have ease.”
Next we had to imagine that same person repeating the same dialogue to us. Imagining my fragile grandma made me note how recent acts of terror had messed with my own sense of security. I could understand her anguish because amid my Twittering busyness, I finally gave myself space to feel vulnerable. I felt a tear drop.
Our final exercise was “giving,” where we visualized sitting down with a challenging person and asking what he or she wanted. If the loved one needed money, Mook invited us to really listen and deplete our pretend bank accounts. During this technique, I sat down with Grandma, whose love for me had often bordered on stifling. “What do you want?” I asked her over and over until she got up from the chair beside me to make me a cake. I had a hard time not rolling my eyes while she banged around in the kitchen for cups and bowls, but I stayed until she put the cake in the oven, just as Mook ended the practice. “I have to take a break now, Grandma,” I said. “But I’ll come back.”
To conclude, Mook let us share our impressions of the practices. One participant noted anger when dealing with a loved one. Heads around the room shook in agreement. Mook provided examples of healthy coping mechanisms, including taking a walk when encountering tough family members. “The patterns we’re trying to change are deeply ingrained,” Mook said. “So we want to be slow and steady so changes are integrated.”
In the meantime, we could flow more easily through the season by meditating five minutes in the morning and five minutes before bed, with meditation prior to travel. In the same way we could prepare for a test or a race, she said we could visualize ourselves working within our core values, even at ho- ho- home with the in-laws.
All of this sounded reasonable, but I didn’t have years to get it right with Grandma. I asked Mook how I could develop peace, starting right now.
“You can take of yourself physically by setting an intention to connect both to yourself and to others and by being gentle,” she said. “Acknowledge that it’s a stressful time and that you’re not able to live up to your highest ideals in terms of relating to yourself and others. As for eating and drinking, keep with your own routines as much as possible and acknowledge that other people are also having a difficult time. Try cutting them slack.”
“Everyone wants connection,” Mook continued. “Our unhappiness is really stemming from a sense of frustrated connection.”
When I did see my grandma, blue-eyed and small on her hospital bed, I was able to hold her hand and accept her compliments. I wondered what took me so long.