In the summer of 2001, my best friend and I went on a road trip of a spiritual nature. We had registered for two different conferences taught by the same teacher in which we would practice meditation, learn about different spiritual practices and histories, and experience ourselves.
The first conference was held in Albuquerque, the second in Denver; they were a week apart. Our plan was to head out from Houston on I-10 and camp along the way. We had arranged to stay with some people associated with the conference in Albuquerque and in a hotel in Denver, but other than those few days we would be out in nature.
I enjoyed our time in Albuquerque. I developed a liking of the green chili culture we discovered in almost every meal, the city was free-wheeling and lively, and we spent a day exploring. While they city was incredibly impressionable, I took more away from our conference then I ever imagine the city itself could have offered.
The group leading the classes was The Growing Place (www.the-growing-place.org) and was taught by a married couple - Sharon and Patrick O’Hara. They had devoted their lives to teaching people how to find spiritual peace amidst their busy lives. I had never met either of them before, nor had I ever experienced a series of classes akin to these, so needless to say I was a little nervous. That was all quickly put to bed once the classes began.
We spent two days with them in the little hotel conference room. We ate our meals with the other attendees. I met a man who could tell you what you had eaten by how you smelled. He was also confident he knew me from somewhere. I told him that it might be because I looked like Christopher Reeves (which in hindsight I never did, it was just a curl my hair liked to do - you be the judge). I found out I was the only non-vegetarian in the group, or at least the only one eating meat during the meals. We practiced meditation, finding ways to ease our consciousness into deeper relaxation, we worked on seeing the world in a new way and deciphering what it might mean.
During our last session, we talked about being held hostage. Some of our classmates were veterans of the classes and had experienced this portion of the conference before. They were ready with experiences to share and volunteered to speak. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My defenses were still up in certain areas and so I was perfectly fine to sit and listen without participating. Eventually the stories stopped and Sharon lead us through some directed meditation. We were asked to relax and to focus on the first thing that came to our minds. This would be one of the things holding us hostage. I relaxed and silence descended on the room. Everyone was so still, you couldn’t even hear the breathing of the person immediately next to you. I cleared my thoughts, sure nothing would emerge from the silence. Something did.
Up from my subconscious floated an image of my Grandpa, my mom’s dad. He had just recently passed away after spending four years suffering from intense Alzheimer's brought on by a sudden heart attack. The only thing that had kept him alive after the heart attack was the cold water of the river he fell in, the vigorous CPR administered by his fishing buddy - a man of 80 years - and the EMS that arrived almost 30 minutes after it happened. I was a sophomore in high school at that time and wasn’t really sure how to deal with this sudden change in my life. For me, from that point on, the man I knew as my Grandpa wasn’t there any more. I saw glimpses of him from time to time, but mainly I only saw the familiar face and body, although these changed drastically for me as well. His death seemed to be the simple closing of a book that had long been finished.
As I sat there in Albuquerque with his image floating in my subconscious, I understood what she had been talking about. I was being held hostage by my Grandpa. This wasn’t any act of his, all he did was live and die as the universe directed. I was being held hostage by my inability to let go of his memory. I had attend the memorial service, had helped spread his ashes, had seen my parents deal with his death, but I had not faced it, allowed it to work it self out, and accepted it for being truth and reality. Sharon’s class helped me do that.
While we sat there in silence, I started to cry quiet tears. I was vaguely aware of the emotion in the room, but was solely focused on my own grieving. During that time, and I couldn’t tell you how long it was, we sat in silence broken only by periodic instructions from Sharon and the periodic sniffle from one of our classmates. I worked through my Grandpa’s illness and death. I allowed the feelings I didn’t know I had to release letting everything go.
Today, I remember him, but I don’t allow the weight of his death to hold me down and keep me back. I don’t allow his memory to hold me hostage any longer. I know there are other memories and experiences holding me hostage, but thankfully, because of my Albuquerque experience, and because of my Grandpa’s death, I am aware of the knowledge that I can free myself from them at any point.
The death of a loved one is not the only thing that can hold you hostage. I have been held hostage by broken relationships and the pain they caused, by unfulfilled desires and wishes, by unchosen career choices, and so many other things. I chose to face them and allow them to go, removing the weight they previously held. By freeing myself of their power, I move forward into what comes next, bringing the memories and knowledge gained from the experiences into my continued life.
Therein lies the value. The universe places these experiences in our path for us to learn and discover who we are and where our place is. Without them, none of us would be who we are today, but we don’t have to be defined by them. They are only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that helps to define who we are. I love my Grandpa and cherished the time I spent with him when he was alive, but I thank him for his death, for without it, I could never have learned such an important lesson.