During a meditation, a sense of warmth and light came over me. The thought of a friend came to mind. We’re coming up on the two yea0r anniversary of his death. A time of mixed emotions, but this particular moment was one of peace. Then, thoughts floated to how shavasana, the meditative part and last part of a yoga class, saved me the day I gave his eulogy.
My secret fear–I’m terrified to get up in front of a group of people on any day to give a speech or reading. Most of my life I’ve avoided it. I stumble over the written words in front of me. I panic. My legs turn to jelly. My voice shakes. I feel faint. I sweat. It’s horrible. Couple that with being grief-stricken and emotionally fragile. A pretty discouraging mix to give a eulogy. Regardless, I felt I had to. And that thought made me sick to my stomach.
I don’t think of myself as a natural leader, so when I first started leading yoga classes, I’d approach the idea of 10 or more eyeballs on me as “It’s no big deal.” And then my mutual love of yoga connected me with the students, and whoa-la, a yoga class began. But I could not fool myself into thinking this eulogy was no big deal.
I went to bed without a clue as to how I would get from this nauseous-knowing of what I must do to walking myself up to the pulpit. I had to trust a higher power would give me the answer. An hour or so before sunrise, a notion popped my eyes open. While I fear I can’t read aloud fluidly, I can imagine reading words aloud. Just words. Words that would connect people in the pews to him. Those important people in Scott’s life, whose hearts were as broken as mine. His life-long buddies and friends. His Dad. His brother and sister in-law. His mother. His favorite Uncle. His boss. Aunts and cousins and relatives. I knew pointed words connecting them to Scott would be meaningful, witnessing that they mattered to him, and him to them.
So, it was written. Practiced in front of and approved by my friends and family, my kids and I were off on the 14 hour drive to his home town, where the funeral would be. Now all that was left was time to stay as calm and strong as possible and trust the same higher power that got me to this point would have me standing at the pulpit I have managed to avoid my whole life.
Another day passes. The wake comes and goes. The morning of the funeral arrived with no higher power intervention. I was terrified.
Showered and dressed many hours before I needed to be didn’t help. Sitting around made the panic worse. I decided sitting in the empty church would feel better than imagining it full. So I went to the church.
A mid-week morning mass was going on. Not a lot of people. A typical morning mass that for this ex-catholic, felt familiar and oddly calming. Programs for Scott’s mass arrived. I sat in the last pew and read the program.
It was long. It was a full mass. The eulogy, last.
“I can’t do this. How am I going to sit through a whole mass? I can’t do this.” I slammed the program shut. I opened it again. Eulogy…..Katherine Mahon. “Oh man, I can’t do this!” I felt exactly like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, ready to bolt.
I looked at it again.
Just like shavasana.
I think of that moment now in a funny sort of way…the light dawning on me as a beam of Jesus-rays shone through stain glass and a choir of angels sang. “I could do this just like I do shavasana.”
In shavasana an instructor sometimes draws a mental image like a mountain, forest, or beach, or of body parts like feet, calves, fingertips, to bring the mind and body into relaxation, and forms descriptive details, keeping the voice even and soft. The instructor intentionally holds space for the students, acknowledging the sacredness in and around them, giving time to ground the body, integrating mind and spirit. Maybe my years as a massage therapist have given me the confidence and delight in leading shavasana. Whatever it is, I have always loved it and never feared leading it.
It seemed so clear to me the eulogy could ground us individually and collectively in mind, body and spirit. Hold us in a sacred space, celebrating Scott in our lives and honoring the sadness in losing him.
My confidence in shavasana carried me through the whole service, allowing me to be present. There was only a moment of concern, but I quickly regained focus–another benefit of a yoga practice. It was time to walk to the pulpit. I walked to it with reverence, in the familiar way I come to shavasana.
Words flowed. Eyes connected to a person or persons with the right amount of pause for it to sink in. Voice controlled with the right volume so words could be heard clearly. Authenticity rose with each word or phrase bringing to focus Scott as carpenter. Forester. Math wiz. The guy whose favorite superlative I could not say in church, but saying colorful language got the chuckle and connection I was hoping for.
I still am amazed I did it. But not when I remember how I was led to it. Higher power did not let me down.
This experience has not changed my view of public speaking. I hope that if the opportunity arises to speak in public, I can refrain from freaking out for at least a moment to say to myself shavasana, and the shift will come.