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Going Off the Deep End

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When our beloved dog Mira died, there were those who walked with us, honoring the truth of where we were, no matter what had brought us there. These were the compassionate. And there were those who felt our grief from a distance, though they were puzzled at the depth of our loss, given that she was only a dog. These were the sympathetic. But there were those who thought our heartbreak too wide and deep, and they grew impatient when we didn't repair in what they thought was a reasonable length of time. For them, the depth of our heartbreak and the rawness of our feelings brought them to the edge of their comfort zone. Their fear of walking in this rawness with us made them minimize the nature of our loss. They thought we were too sensitive. They thought we'd gone off the deep end.

It doesn't matter what splinter the Universe gives us to stop us in our tracks. It doesn't matter if those around us, near or far, think that our pain or fear or sadness is out of proportion to what punctured our world. It really doesn't matter what triggers us into the depth of life, only that we swim there. And it's no one's place to judge or say that what unhinges us doesn't make sense or that our heartbreak is too much or that our grief is lasting too long.

There are infinite ways we can trip into what matters. Life simply and harshly demands that we dive into the depth of what we're given, meeting life, not avoiding it. All that matters is that we finally stand on the ground of things in the heart of the Mystery. There's no point in questioning the legitimacy of whatever breaks us open or the capacity of those who are broken open to meet what is opened. All that matters is that we walk through that opening. And love demands that we sweetly and bravely go there together.

The truth is that we are here precisely to go off the deep end--the way a diver opens up completely before entering the water--so we can be baptized in the Mystery of Life and renewed by the aliveness that only meeting life in its depth can offer. The test of love and friendship is the degree to which we can go there together, without judging or pushing each other; not letting each other drown in the deep or rescuing each other from the baptism of soul that waits there.

Love demands a soft patience, when a friend doesn't get that second interview and it crushes them. Or when your partner can't recover from the harsh criticism of a stranger that cuts too deep. Or your aunt gets depressed when she breaks her favorite mug. From outside the experience, a part of us wants to say, "It was only a job. It was only words. It was only a mug."

For sure, we can make things bigger than they are. But how we face and absorb the rearrangement that rises out of loss is a very personal journey that can't be compared to anyone else. Our work, alone and together, is not to minimize the pain or loss we feel, but to investigate what these sharp incidents are opening in us. It's not helpful to tell ourselves or each other to get over it, but rather to encourage and help each other to get under it.

A Question to Walk With: Look closely into the field of feeling that was stirred by a recent experience that stopped you, hurt you, and opened you more deeply than the incident seemed to warrant. Describe what you see there and your history with such feelings.

Last month, Atria published my new book, The One Life We're Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in Your Heart. To make the most of being here, we're required to learn when to try and when to let go. This is our initiation into grace. The gift and practice of being human centers on the effort to restore what matters and, when in trouble, to make good use of our heart. No one quite knows how to do this, but learn it we must. There is no other way. By fully living the one life we're given, we're led to the wisdom that waits in our heart. The above piece is an excerpt from the book.

For more poetry for the soul, click here.

For more by Mark Nepo, click here.