Two years ago, my aunt called me to say that my grandmother was very ill and likely going to die soon. She suggested that if I wanted to be there to get on a plane quickly. Just the month before, I had visited my grandmother in Florida and we had an amazing time together. She was lucid, loving, interesting, and interested.
My grandmother and I had always been very close. I grew up just three blocks from her and we spent a lot of time together until she moved to Florida as a result of hurricane Katrina.
As a physician, I have been programmed to and rewarded for using my analytical and rational brain. So of course, my brain quickly jumped into action, tossing back and forth the ‘should I go or should I stay.’ I began to mentally build the list of the pros and cons; analytically and systematically thinking through each. Guilt set in and anxiety overtook me; I was frozen in my inability to make this decision.
My mother, the oldest of six children, had passed away from pancreatic cancer ten years earlier. I do not believe that my mother ever fully accepted her fate and she fought until she took her last breath; I was holding her hand. The memories of her struggles have remained with me all of these years. I did not want to have the same memories of grandmother; I wanted to remember her as I saw her during my recent visit. I wondered, however, if she wanted me to be there because my mother could not.
That same day, I had a coaching session with Katie Hendricks. In our session, I asked for guidance in making my decision to stay in Austin or to fly to Florida. First, she asked me if there were any other possibilities besides ‘staying or going’? She suggested the possibility of staying and holding my grandmother in my heart-space while sending her loving kindness. I loved the suggestion and agreed it was a possibility, though admitted it alone did not help me in making a decision.
She asked if I would be willing to do an exercise to get out of my head and to tap into my body’s wisdom. Upon my acceptance, she asked me to write the three options down on separate pieces of paper.
On the first piece of paper I wrote ‘fly to Florida’. On the second, I wrote ‘stay in Austin’. On the third piece of paper I wrote, ‘stay in Austin and hold my grandmother in my heart-space while sending her loving kindness’. I placed each piece of paper on the floor a few feet apart like a baseball diamond.
I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths to center myself and to get into my body allowing myself to experience fully my feeling and listen to my body.
I stepped onto the first piece of paper and as I did, my entire body tensed, my chest felt heavy and my breathing stopped. I felt sad. I stepped away and shook off those feeling and moved to the second piece of paper. Immediately, I felt sad, got a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach and my body tightened again. I stepped away and shook off those emotions. As I moved onto the third piece of paper, I began to focus my attention on my grandmother, sending her loving-kindness, and as I did my entire body relaxed, my breath became deep and expansive, I got goosebumps, and I smiled.
My decision became obvious to me and to every cell in my body. My grandmother died two days later surrounded by five of her children. I stayed and held her in my heart-space. In the end, I knew my grandmother felt my love and she was at peace and so was I.
I invite you to try this simple and powerful exercise when you are struggling with a decision.
If you have tried this exercise, how did it go for you?
Do you have other ways in which you get out of your head and tap into your body’s wisdom? I’d love to hear in the comments below.