I forget I have only one boob. At least once every day – even though it has been years since it was carved off to save my life – I forget and have to go through the mental rearrangement to accept the unacceptable. Like popping a lemon drop candy in your mouth only to find it is cinnamon flavored, it takes a bit for the brain to re-arrange its visual input to coincide with reality. When it happens it is always hard; it is a scab that gets picked constantly by outside forces even when I’ve managed to move on.
As I re-started my yoga practice after several months absence and sat taking deep breaths with my hands in Namaste I was asked what I brought to the mat to be released. Tears pricked my eyes as I felt the pressure of one real breast and one latex prosthetic against the back of my hands, having forgotten AGAIN that this was my so-called “Divine” self. I am reminded of how hard it is – how often I am reminded, how often I forget, and how much self-compassion it takes each day to move through this loss.
At the beginning and end of every yoga class, as well as multiple times throughout, we are asked to bring our hands together in Namaste. For those non- yogi’s, the “Namaste” gesture is made by placing your hands in prayer position with your thumbs resting in the center of your sternum at your heart chakra. Namaste is a gesture of honoring that roughly means “I bow to you”. My favorite translation goes something like: “The Divine in me greets the Divine in you. And when You and I are in this place, we are One.”
I have always struggled with this concept of honoring the Divine in me. If I contain the Divine, than it must look something like Kali – the Hindu Goddess of Destruction, sprinkled with a bit of Mae West and the tiniest dash of a peaceful Bodhisattva. Surely the Divine is pink lit and gentle, not this pain riddled, hyperactive, full-of -extremes joy-ride of a life. As I sit here, again placing my hands in a gesture intended to remind me of who I really am, not what circumstances have made me, I try to breathe in acceptance of this moment and this self, regardless of its imperfections.
The Namaste gesture is held at the heart chakra – and so is all my pain. Not only do I have to work at accepting the meaning of the gesture, I must also consciously examine and release the physical pain that binds my chest following cancer treatment and thus, by proximity, binds my heart. The pain is not only uncomfortable but causes muscle tightness that restricts my breathing and mobility. The more I try to shield myself from the pain, the greater it gets as I tighten down. As yoga opens up the musculature in my chest, it also opens the emotional body within me – releasing constriction – and hopefully freeing me to move more fully in the world – physically, emotionally and spiritually. The only answer to my pain and to my healing is to accept it, and let go.
The heart chakra is also the home of compassion and balance. The irony that my body is now partly masculine (flat chested and unable to bear children) and feminine (a full breast and still those hormones!) is not lost on me as I practice yoga. It reminds me to bring both aspects into balance within me. The internal and the external realities of my self- perception may seem to be in conflict, but in truth only support one another, pushing me to be more than I think I am. My heart still lurches when I am reminded of my losses, but here on my mat I consciously open into that pain. In accepting instead of pushing away the grief, I bring the Divine joy in life and the grief of its losses – the polarity’s that make up my life – into balance. In this acceptance lies the path to enlightenment – for both the peaceful Bodhisattva and for the Goddess Kali who had to accept grief in order to transform violence to love.
Accepting that the Divine resides within is accepting a life that is not void of pain, but one is greater than it. Physical pain and grief are an endless well in me some days- the losses have been many and the compromises I have been forced to make are heart-wrenching. But, such is the way of the Divine – it is encompassing, not exclusive, and cares only in how we choose to move forward, not what has occurred in the past.
Perhaps my continuous shock of realizing that I am missing a body part is only a reflection of how whole I actually feel. Maybe it is like the moments when I suddenly realize standing next to someone of “normal stature” that I am actually short. I feel GIGANTIC…how can I be so tiny? This is not a moment of pain – it is a delight that I make such a large footprint in the universe with such small stature. Maybe, as the years turn, this pain too – this loss and grief over my feminine identity – will turn to joy with the realization that I am so much more than this body. In the meantime, as I bow my head and bring my hands into Namaste, I work again to honor the Divine in me – the blessed wound that keeps bringing me to a place of compassion and presence and examination of what is true. Though sometimes this wound is fresh, the pain always eventually recedes in the light of the joy that is this life. A balance that is indeed wholly (holy?) Divine.