May 16, 2016

How Yoga & Meditation Gave me the Courage to Feel Again.

Jem Yoshioka/Flickr

I’m kind of a jumble of things. I’m an empath, I’m sensitive, and I’m often at a loss of how to channel that sensitivity into something substantial and of benefit.

About a year ago, I found myself in a depressive rut from which I didn’t really care to see much of an exit.

My relationships with others and with the world around me became apathetically insignificant, my routine of healing and well-being became Wawa runs for food and Netflix for mindless distraction, and the sadness and suffering I’d see on TV or on my social news feeds fueled my anger toward everything bad in the world.

In a nutshell, I pulled away from myself.

I had been practicing yoga and meditation for years prior to my unknown meltdown, but even then, when that was all I needed, I didn’t want it. I became repulsed by the peace of it, because all that I wanted to cultivate in those depressed moments were anger and resentment.

It was also during these episodes of lethargy that social media became more focused on the Syrian refugee crisis. Pictures of lost, hungry, confused, and scared masses flooded my timelines. Headlines screamed for humanity to wake up and help, to support the huddled and kick out the corrupt, and all I could do was stare at the pictures and the words and feel my insides churning with sorrow and hate.

The unraveling of a country and its people reminded me of a similar personal unraveling, back in the 90s when the former countries of Yugoslavia caved in and spat out thousands of soon-to-be-stranded refugees.

Every Syrian kid my eyes met as I scrolled through images reminded me of myself, and the triggers I felt during those wee hours in front of a computer screen broke me in places that I thought were long ago healed.

Here I was, a former refugee, looking the past dead between the eyes, inadvertently forcing myself to recollect the days and nights of being nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

One morning drive, I saw a homeless man standing on the sidewalk. It was bitter cold and he was shivering, holding his cardboard sign. I couldn’t read his message, but I didn’t have to.

I drove right by him and as these things happen for a reason, we looked at one another. I think I tried to pull one of those nervous, “I wish you well” smiles, but it must have looked awful because I quickly turned my gaze toward the lane in front of me and then embarrassingly looked back at him through my rear view mirror.

He didn’t move, and I felt like shit.

That day and that particular encounter, if I can call it that, were different.

I was already depressed and weak, and the horrific news coming from Syria had emotionally sucked me dry. I was numb from the inside out, and I either wanted to break the chains that held me under water or take a full breath in and just let that be it. So, I spoke.

“Show me how to let go.”

You know the old saying, “listen to your heart?” I always twitched a little when people said it. It felt oddly easy to listen to a heart and then pretend that it wasn’t really your brain coming up with the next logical thought and solution.

I found pride in my stance of not falling for that cliché, and I think it was partly so because I was never able to hear what my ticker was saying, anyway. For most of my life, my heart was a silent little companion, but that day, it spoke.


It wasn’t my brain. It wasn’t even a thought. It was, however, a feeling, and to this day, the clearest and most profound feeling I have ever had. Everything, in that moment, fell into place.

It was like someone lifted the curtains to my darkroom of depression and showed me that there was still a little bit of light outside.

I know what you may be thinking—it’s too good and easy to be true. I agree, but the message was clear, short, and concise—just how I like my signs from the Universe.

What fell into place were not the peaceful thoughts I would now have or the fixed relationships that magically weaved themselves back together. No. What came back to me was my sense of being okay and just how close that sweet spot really is and always has been.

Since that day, I feel. I feel the homeless man standing on the curb, I feel the weight of his burden as I look him in the eyes instead of pulling my gaze away, and I feel the loss and the fear of stranded refugees.

I let my thoughts and assumptions gently fade away; I catch myself when I try to justify the situation by thinking someone else will give him a dollar or there are countless donations underway for displaced Syrians.

As my logical mind quiets down, that little ticker of mine that was so silent up until now kicks into high gear and I let myself fall headfirst into whatever emotion is there for me to feel.

Since then, I have come back to my yoga and meditation practice with a new vision. I am not meant to fix anyone’s pain or justify why it’s there and for whom. If I am to make a difference, I must make it with myself first. To then feel instead of think is a way to bypass the logic of suffering and let the heart heal before the mind digests it all.

Some days, I cannot think myself out of a bad spot. Likewise, I find myself at a loss for words or actions to help a loved one or a stranger. In those moments, I allow myself to feel their true pain.

It’s the one genuine action that I can offer because it bridges the gap between two souls. My life and experience are no less than theirs, and with an open heart, I can meet them where they are. In that venture, I meet myself, again and again.


Author: Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Image: Jem Yoshioka/Flickr

Editor: Emily Bartran

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Aleksandra Slijepcevic