But then there was Greece. Looming around the corner was a trip I felt tremendous anxiety about – a month away from my family to heal, practice yoga, and process all of the craziness of my recent life. It was the combination of two bucket list dreams: to visit Santorini, a place I’ve fantasized about for years, while simultaneously earning my yoga certification. I will write a lot about my relationship with yoga over the next few weeks, but it’s one of the few things in my post-brain injury life that has felt 100% authentic, genuinely me, just real. I was giddily excited and completely guilt-ridden in the weeks leading up to this trip. It’s such a long time to be away, such a selfish journey in so many ways, and yet, as I discovered at the end of the school year, so completely necessary in order to restore myself.
I don’t give myself high marks for how I’ve handled the past year of my life. After TC’s injury and the months of very natural grieving that followed, I felt I had stumbled onto something important: a new life philosophy, an approach to happiness that was sustainable and healthy, a sort of enlightenment really. But then we returned home to DC after a year on that journey and I fell quite easily into the trap of my old life. Things looked the same, but, of course, they weren’t. I used every ounce of my energy over the past year trying to preserve that image, living exhaustively, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole even though I was preaching otherwise. I couldn’t say no to others and I couldn’t say it to myself.
The problem was that I didn’t have time to think, to really figure out how to navigate these familiar surroundings in a fresh way. Once again I was the workaholic, shopaholic, burned out, stressed out, trying to please and be everything to everyone version of myself that came so easily before. And I hated myself for this submissiveness, mainly because I knew I wasn’t being brave enough to change things. And after everything we’d been through, it felt very shameful to suddenly be a coward.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. There is no manual for the path I’m paving and there are so many distractions and responsibilities along the way, but after only four days of quiet and meditation, my missteps are now clear. I know now why I felt I had to take this trip. I needed to be present, like fully present, by myself, no Wi-Fi, no distractions, no obligations. I also needed to be inspired. What incredible highs and joy I experienced in the first year after TC’s injury! I was seeing the world in high definition, finding gratitude in nearly everything, fully tuned in to my senses, and suddenly, it was gone. Things were dull again. There were routines to be repeated, the news was filled with tales of sadness and acts of senselessness, even social media felt narcissistic and empty. My soul was dry, craving inspiration as nourishment. And I didn’t even know where to look to find it.
I had become hardened along the way. My heart was opened in those first few months of madness, trying to explore the beauty in the unexpected and uncertain. And then I returned to my old life and slowly it closed again. Unwilling to be hurt, unwilling to grieve, I just couldn’t afford to feel so deeply anymore. And so I closed myself off, stopped the healing process, even before I got to a place of true acceptance. So here I am, trying to soften again, to reclaim some of the innocence and playfulness that was torn from my spirit. One of my yoga teachers opens her class with the following mantra, “May you soften when life invites you to harden.” That is what I am here to do. Hardening is the path of least resistance. Only with bravery and compassion can you choose to soften instead.
For five days, I have been living mostly in nature, eating the most divine vegetables and Greek yogurt, checking Facebook and e-mail only occasionally, learning to sleep with one pillow, choosing the Santorini winds over the air conditioner, and indulging in every dessert. My muscles are aching, my head is full of Sanskrit, and I have never felt more like myself. It is the true gift of my life to be able to take this journey and I am so deeply grateful to everyone who understood its importance and encouraged me to go forward. I can’t wait to share with you the adventures ahead.