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  • Leigh

Grief, fear and the ultimate surrender



Dear friend,

I took a side trip to Bali last week. I could sugarcoat my reasons and tell you that it was a rare chance to practise with my teacher at The Yoga Barn, or that a girlfriend had a holiday planned and invited me along. Truth is, I booked my flight out because I was desperate to heal. 

I knew I would grieve for a long time when I lost my aunt to a sudden, aggressive breast cancer two years ago. What I didn't expect was for grief to appear wearing the mask of hypochondria — I got increasingly, ridiculously afraid of getting cancer. The paranoia strikes in waves, and each onset sees me spending too much time and money in clinics and hospitals, waiting to be told I am fine. My aunt had delayed her screening till it was too late; surely I could nip anything in the bud if I were proactive? Alas, my relief was often short-lived. Another wave would soon hit, and I realised with a sinking heart that the waves were only getting bigger, never smaller. I was slowly drowning in a whirlpool of my own making. And then the latest wave hit — it was a riptide.

Thankfully, my gut sent me running to Bali with only a reservation at the guesthouse I usually stay at, and a haphazardly put together backpack. I was too winded from fighting the riptide to give much thought to what I would do on the island, and that disoriented me further. You see, for pretty much my whole adult life, I'd always had a plan.

Turns out, not planning was the first step in my healing. My short four days there put me in the most serendipitous path of like-minded souls, many of whom I didn't expect to be in Bali — old friends, new friends, even a Harvard philosophy lecturer whose work I'd admired for a long time. He delivered an impromptu FREE lecture just hours before I was due to fly home. What are the odds? No amount of my rigorous planning could have brought all these diverse characters together, not to mention the chance encounters that primed me for the next, and the casual conversations over chai that set the tone for deeper ones I would have later in the day. It was clear to me now that something bigger was at work, that every person placed in my path was sent my way to teach, and that the biggest lesson of all was to come. 

True enough, after almost 33 years of seeking, I found God.

My conversation with God was esoteric in its ordinariness. In many ways, God was a culmination of every moment I'd encountered in Bali, from the various divinely timed conversations, to the sunlight that filtered in through the yoga shala and stopped short of falling on my sticky skin, and the unexpected traffic jam that gifted me a glance of a motorcyclist greeting the messy sight with a smile that held ancient secrets. And I realised, beyond Bali too, in every moment of my life thus far — every door that'd opened and all the others that slammed shut, in all circumstances of unspeakable beauty and unbearable devastation (yes, including my aunt's cancer)... these were all part of the cosmic plan; every seemingly ordinary moment was Grace in action. 

How foolishly then I have lived, grasping in the assumption that I know better, that I could stay one step ahead of disease, were it meant to be. Every decision I'd ever wavered making, every crossroad I'd ever stood at, frozen with fear as I weighed my options for the thousandth time... how childish that all seems now. I would never know better. How could I, with my human short-sightedness, ever glimpse the divine plan? The moment I recognised that, the moment I embodied that truth, I surrendered my controlling ways. I surrendered, fully. And I have never felt more free.

I escaped to Bali in a last ditch effort to save me from my fear of cancer. Turns out, my fear of cancer saved me from myself. Having truly tasted freedom this past week, I realised how I'd spent my whole life trapped and living from a place of fear, and how cunning fear can be in its disguises — from the way it has me conscientiously checking the bus app on my phone while waiting for the bus and fixating on how smoothly appointments can fit into my schedule (fear of wasting time), to saying yes to invitations and appointments when I really want to say no (fear of missing out, fear of offending). And that's to name only a few.

I am humbled and grateful to have clambered my way to this shore, where I am learning daily to make decision from love instead of fear, and to live in the knowledge that to surrender is not to lose our power, but to step into it. I stopped hanging out with Doctor Google, because I trust that what will be will be. And so, I smile at strangers with less abandon, because I'm no longer held back by the fear they wouldn't reciprocate. I speak my truth without hesitation, because I no longer fear I wouldn't be heard. Also, I got over my desire to stay with safe topics and instead penned these words about God, because I no longer fear I would make you uncomfortable, or that you would misunderstand.

Fagan and I just booked a trip from surprise travel company Anywhr for our upcoming fourth wedding anniversary. Unlike the last time we booked a trip from them (I tore open the envelope containing the travel itinerary the moment we received it), I promised him that we'll open the envelope only at the airport this time. No matter where the trip takes us, no matter where life takes me, I have absolute trust that it will be beautiful.

With all my love,

Leigh