“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength,
while losing someone deeply gives you courage.”
When you lose someone close to you, you come to understand that life is fleeting and rich with lessons. Each moment, a precious gift to savor as much as it is to relinquish. It’s the dance of life between holding on to what’s most important in our lives, and also letting go, as the one’s we love most transition to another plane through death or through exidus from our lives in some other way.
Parts of us die and are reborn constantly, whether it be from the death of someone we love, losing a job, having to move suddenly, divorce or the ending of a relationship. Each ending, of course, opens up the door for a new beginning and re-birth of some sort, but sometimes it’s hard to see that in the throes of saddness.
We have to remember, that whatever we lose, or have to let go of, the essence will remain in our memories and that there are lessons that the universe is asking us to learn with each death that we experience. It’s up to us, to integrate the lessons, mourn the loss, and see the horizon of what the next chapter holds for us.
I lost someone very close to me recently, and I’m finding as much as he taught me so much in life and through experiences shared, his greatest lessons are coming now as I process and grieve his absence.
First, some background…
J Michael Langenes was a dear friend and mentor of mine for many years. He was one of the magnetic pulls that brought me to yoga. He taught powerful Bikram classes and he taught them well. The kind of classes that pushed you to wonder if you would survive, and if you did, you would have a renewed appreciation and humility for life, as if you had died and been born again with so much more clarity and zest for life.
His teaching was sharp, skillful, witty and unexpected, like when you hear someone drop a powerful truth bomb on you when least expecting it. He had a wicked sense of humour and was known to point out our innate human weaknesses right at a moment when we needed the push and more strength. He used to sing in the very end of class “rolling, rolling, rolling, rawhide” in his beautiful voice during a posture called Seated Forehead to Knee Pose to communicate for the students to roll their ribcage down. This lifted the energy of the room every time.
He was opinionated and outspoken often, just as much as he was charming and gentle especially with beginners coming to the class for the first time, highly intelligent, observant, and often standing on his hands behind the counter as students approached, J Michael holding a handstand as if resting in the position and right at home. It was hard to predict his next move, he was fun, authentic and unafraid to be himself.
He was impeccably clean and particular with the upkeep of the studio down to fine details like writing a new quote on the board every single day and making sure everything was spic and span before anyone came in. He taught yoga from the point of view of how it healed him, through a process of falling and getting back up again, not watering it down, but serving it up full spice. He believed in letting the yoga do it’s work to heal people and teach the lessons that were needed by offering classes that were challenging, cathartic, brutal and comforting all in the same class.
So as I reflect on Michael as a teacher, as a dear friend and as a wise mentor, I’m heartbroken at his passing and the circumstances surrounding his death. J Michael passed away on January 14th 2021 in his sleep due to complications from withdrawels from alcohol addiction. He had a long history of battling the spector of alcohol in his life and I think the combination of Covid 19 isolation and heightened depression through hard times in his later years where he was feeling aimless and restless, opened up the door for numbing with alcohol. I can’t blame him, and I wish I had known so he hadn’t had to go down that road along.
I’m hoping to share this story with you to connect on a topic that is often untouchable, which is the impermance we all face with death. The pain I feel from the loss of such a sweet friend, I realize is not just isolated to me, but that many of us will experience this kind of loss in our lifetime, or perhaps, already have.
In the Shamanic and Buddhist traditions, death is not feared the way it often is in Western culture. They see death as a transition and a rite of passage to another dimension. They hold ceremonies to heal what needs healing of the person who has transitioned and set intentions to open up the pathway for a smooth transition away from pain and into higher realms. I have found these rituals (Phowa Meditation in particular) and this way of trusting that the universe has a way of holding everyone in some way, even when it’s their time to ascend deeply comforting.
Please know, that if you experience this grief from a loss like this, the sun will rise again on a new day and the person you’ve lost, their memory will live on in you. Learn from them, honour them and keep them in your heart.
Of course, J Michael, will always rest in my heart. Rest in Power my friend. This sunset is for you, the last one we saw together in the Florida Keys.
Lots of love,