I remember laying on a yoga studio floor in an office building on the east side of Cleveland, staring up at the ceiling and wondering if I could just stay there and not go home. My mom was dead, she had suffered an acute aortic dissection just days after leaving my house and flying back to Ohio. I had just seen her a week before, she seemed fine and now she was gone.
For a few moments in shavasana I gave up. I did not want to get up from that yoga mat and I did not want to go home. The Universe had delt me a strong right hand punch to the jaw, following up with the left it had given me just 18 months before when my brother died of a stroke and I was on the ground, knocked out, done.
But, I had a two year old little girl back home and a partner who needed me. Breath by breath, moment by moment, I went through the motions of getting up, finding my feet and taking things one step at a time, slowly but surely moving forward.
The answer is elegant in its simplicity: you take the next step.
There are times when life deals us an unbelievablely hard blow. Moments that we would never let ourselves imagine are suddenly our reality. There are moments so dark that we can’t imagine the light again. In the narrative terms of the Hero’s Journey, this moment is called the “abyss” or “death bed,” its a point of no-return and the only way out is through. This point changes you forever, the person who survives and rises out of it is transformed. So, how do you rise through it? How do go on after living the unimaginable?
The answer is elegent in its simplicity: you take the next step. In those moments when you feel the full weight of defeat, when you can see that nothing will be the same again, it may seem impossible to find the strength and will to go on. But, all you need is the strength to simply take the next step. From that step, you’ll find the next one and the next.
I would love to be able to tell you that life only has one “abyss” moment, just one “dark night of the soul.” But, it doesn’t. I am 36 years old as I write this and I’ve been in the valley of the shadow of death multiple times in my life. Each time has felt unfair and capricious, and each time has required me to accept the hardest truth I know: that my life has changed and I’ve lost something or someone I love. Each time has been painful in different ways but the way out is the same: breath by breath, moment by moment and step by step.