By Emma Conally-Barkham
You can spend so much time speeding through life that you forget to stop and notice or maybe you are afraid to stop as self-reflection may cause you to enter an introspection that is fearful and huge.
She died in the searing summer of 2018. Bang in the middle of retreat season, bang in the middle of the night. I had taken flight with water and bag after the ‘phone call and after a period of standing in a peculiar stillness as the words, ‘you’d better come quickly’ sank in. She died and I was hollowed-out but I kept running in repeated mantras of, ‘I’m fine’. A marionette’s rictus smile, love and light dished out to students and retreaters alike. I felt that if somebody touched me, I would crumple in on myself like a helium balloon deflated, so I kept all at arms’ length.
Back from New Orleans, the world closed down, March 2020. All the cruxes I usually placed under each arm to prop me up-travel, teaching, theatre and art, music, human connection were gone, so the running had to cease. I had to be still enough to grow roots down in home soil, not much frequented but now a sanctuary from an encroaching monster of uncertain deadliness.
I came face to face with myself, with a sorrow, which had been hanging on to my coat tails with each flight, each disappearance into a new experience. The roots took hold. I walked without purpose and started to write in her journal. The cheerful songbird cover of the journal in bleak contrast to the tracery of pencil strokes she managed only once. I felt an ache for all I had lost but the sweet turnings of the English seasons turned the cogs of acceptance and renewal in me. In the blazing spring of March 2020, I felt the sorrows expand and when they came to choke, I went out in nature. Here, I saw the tiny, unsung events of new births and deaths, the cycles of renewal and release. The winter I would usually escape, I approached with trepidation but instead I was frozen cold to ice and branches of trees in stasis.
The hidden depths of sorrow found a place in the quiet landscape of frost and also found an angry expression in the crashing waves of the North Sea. My priorities changed and many things I hadn’t thought about percolated towards the surface. I was lonely, grieving and filled with a rage which had began to topple over into everyday life. I realised I needed help. This realisation came way before I could bring myself to ask for it. Then came a period of finding the person who could help and break through my defences. A therapist who could untie my pride and silence. Of course, it had to be an artist. Visual, fiery and creative as myself. Those early sessions I just wept and she held the outpourings and pain finally articulated. Though I was left feeling drained after each session; I felt emptied of the past and was gaining empowering tools to move forward. Layers stripped back, defences down and a minute seed of trust in this process beginning to germinate as we entered a fragile, cold spring. I walked amidst the snowdrops, feeling I had a layer of skin removed. Writing was flowing out of me unbidden and the shoots of how I could carry this great grief forward were beginning to emerge.
Emma Conally-Barklem is a yogi, writer and poet based in North Yorkshire, England. Her articles and poetry have featured in OM Yoga & Lifestyle, Spirit & Destiny, BWY Spectrum, A little Insight & Yours Truly magazines. Emma completed a summer residency at the Bronte Parsonage Museum and was named one of Ilkley Poetry Festival’s New Northern Poets 2022. Her first collection, ‘The Ridings’ has been accepted for traditional chapbook publication by Bent Key Publishing in March 2023. Her yoga and grief memoir, ‘You Can’t Hug A Butterfly: Love, Loss & Yoga’ has been accepted for traditional publication by QuillKeepers Press in 2024.