I woke this morning and the very moment I opened my eyes the grief was right there, so close, aching in my chest; asking to be felt, acknowledged, allowed. I nodded silently, briefly in its direction, and then pulled myself out of bed to rise for another whirlwind morning of getting two kids off to school.
As I stood at the kitchen sink, washing the remaining dishes from the night before, I listened to the morning dialogue of my children. As they searched through the pile of clean laundry for suitable outfits to wear, they chattered about the never-ending rain, then squabbled about who would take the dog out into the wet morning. I found myself quietly noticing: These are the sounds of my life, passing. These are the sounds of my people, living. These ordinary moments— are the very substance of a family, my little family, being.
Somehow one day flows into the next day into the next, around and around, and all of a sudden the kids are impossibly big and all-knowing, with lip-gloss and faux-hawks. It's all so fast, so full. Am I missing my own life? I heard myself thinking. Again, I could feel the raw, poignant pulse of grief rising— in my heart, in my throat. Turning the faucet off, pausing with the dishes, closing my eyes, I placed one hand on my aching heart. “Soon,” I said to the grief. “Soon.”
Minutes later, as I pulled back into my driveway from dropping the kids off at school, as soon as I turned the car off I could feel the call of grief once again, tugging on me, trying to catch my attention, saying: “Now? Now?” And I said to it gently: “Almost...” knowing I wouldn’t be able to brush it off much longer.
Walking into my home I considered the messy kitchen for a moment, but instead turned into the living room, unrolled my yoga mat, took off my shoes, my coat, and quickly lay flat down on the mat before I could talk myself out of it. I pulled my knees up into my chest, closing my eyes, just resting there. And then rolling to sit up, exhaling, stretching over my legs, feeling the deep muscles in my hips and hamstrings snag and pull, the stubborn injury in my right shoulder a dull, pulsing pain. And— there it was, now, yes. Finally— this grief.
The primal grief of a body— mourning the flexibility of its youth, so innocently feeling the loss of what’s gone, what’s never coming back. Letting the body’s grief unleash its tears, then letting the tears rise up from even deeper layers of grief held in my seasoned woman heart, my weary mother heart, my anxious human heart, my hurting world heart. Letting the tears flow, letting the deep primal wail of grief move, sobbing itself out and through me.
No need for the mind to tell its story— of what’s broken, of what could have been, of what’s missing, of what’s wrong. The grief doesn’t even need to know these things to simply be felt, to flow, to be honored, respected, and allowed. More stretching, opening the hips; more waves of grief tumbling out, moving through.
What beauty— this raw realness. These are the sounds of my dear heart, my body, my life— feeling itself today. These are the sounds of my human being grieving today. This is what’s here.
It’s intense how certain moments, certain days, certain chapters in the larger world story ask us to meet layers of pain within ourselves, right? Sometimes clearly triggered by outward circumstance, personal loss or trauma, and other times seemingly unrelated to anything we can quite place our finger on, beyond the ongoing intensity of life itself! The process of healing, of awakening, of LIVING in this world, is mysteriously unique to each soul, and deeply layered indeed.
It seems the longer we walk an awakened path, the more we are asked to hold and meet within our personal hearts, as well as the larger heart of our troubled world. We might mature in our capacity for stillness, presence and resilience, strengthening our skills in empathy, compassion and forgiveness. We might come to feel courageous in sharing our vulnerability or increasingly confident in our relationship with uncertainty. Yet always there is an invitation to stretch open wider, to lean in and land more deeply into ourselves; to come home more fully to our place in this world, with all our tender humanness and wholeness intermingled.
For me there is a direct correlation between this ever-landing, this homecoming, and the simple willingness to be with whatever is here. Since what's often here in this challenging human life includes some quality of discomfort, what this means is that I have to want to be with myself, more than I want to be comfortable. I have to want to open to this moment of life, more than I want any number of more preferable states.
Sometimes opening to what's here means opening to the experience of not wanting to be here at all!! But we can notice that deeper than this transient feeling of not-wanting-to-be-here, there is a deeper, truer want: to somehow find a way to rest in ourselves, to bear the unbearable and open to what’s hurting, to make more space in our hearts for whatever pain is present.
There are limitless ways to distract ourselves and avoid what’s actually present~ everything from substance use, to staying busy, to internet addiction, to worrying, to buying things, to gossip, to texting, to obsessing about other people’s issues. But there’s really only one way to be with what’s here~ and that is to stop, and turn to face what’s present; to be willing, if only for a moment, to tell the truth and open to what’s arising.
There is a latent quality of suffering so many of us live with, that is made all the more layered and complex by our chronic avoidance of it. Often we avoid facing what’s present because we fear if we do, it will take over, and we will no longer be able to function, or get through our work day, or show up to take care of the children. But in my experience, all it usually takes is one pure moment of checking in with myself— saying with curiosity and kindness to myself “What’s here right now?” And then opening to feel whatever the honest answer is…
This morning, it was grief. I didn’t even need to ask. It persistently made itself known, demanding to be felt, heard, respected. If I had kept brushing it off, and hadn’t finally allowed myself to feel it and let it move through, I know from experience it wouldn’t have taken long for it to morph into some low-grade depression, or painful sense of futility, or some cynical story about life and the hopeless challenges of single motherhood. Letting grief move allows my heart to discover its own authentic grace and gratitude, forgiveness and joy. Unfelt grief festers furiously like a wound in the heart, trying to get our attention in a million ways. Often its last resort is illness.
Sometimes "what's here" to be met is ours, arising internally, and other times it appears to be outside us, and yet as we open to it, it then becomes ours as well. As unique as we all are in our individual lives and stories, human pain and suffering are universal, and our lives are irrevocably connected.
I remember almost 5 years ago, when my dear soul sister Victoria lost her 3 ½ year old son Koa in a tragic accident, I was personally initiated into an intimacy with grief unlike anything I had previously known. When a child dies it is way too much, too big, for those parents to grieve alone. As it is, they might not survive it; it’s literally an unbearable level of pain for the sensitive human system to manage. We hear all the time that it takes a village to raise a child? Well, in this same vein, it certainly takes a village to grieve the loss of a child.
When Victoria’s beloved Koa died, this amazing, precious boy who had grown inside her womb at the very same time as my own precious boy had grown inside my womb, this tragedy and quality of human loss were something my heart could neither make sense of, nor shield itself from feeling the brunt of.
In the mysterious bond of our sisterhood, I felt I was given an assignment~ to let my own heart and body be used by Victoria to help metabolize even a fraction of her unfathomable grief and trauma. And so at unexpected moments of the day, I would suddenly be hit by the full force of it— her grief, the traumatizing death of her incredible little boy— and it would literally knock me down to my knees, rendering me breathless, breaking my heart afresh and shattering everything I thought I knew about life and love and God. This went on quite frequently for about a year following Koa's passing. Fiver years have passed, and it still happens at times.
I remember one such day, only a few months after his death, Victoria somehow sensed I had received "a grief wave" on her behalf, and from the bottomless pit of her own abysmal devastation, she somehow managed to text me: “Thank you Sister. Use Cedar now. And Rose. Lots of it.” Sobbing, I ran a bath with rose oil, tears pouring down my hot cheeks, burning the Cedar in my abalone shell, letting the sacred smoke bathe my heart, her heart, our broken Mother Heart, our ruptured Human Heart searing in its utter loss of control and trust and faith.
Along these same lines of "sharing the load" of human pain, in the last few months I’ve been meeting an unfamiliar and surprising quality of anxiety. This extremely uncomfortable anxiousness has been arising out of the blue in the middle of the day, seemingly unprovoked by anything in particular, and at times it has also woken me in the night, filling my chest with an excruciating sense of looming doom. After examining it fully and praying into it deeply, I've come to sense this anxiety is more of a collective emotion than a personal one for me. It seems to be part of the larger emotional body of our current tumultuous times, arising here in my personal chest, so I can simply do my part to feel, to process, one small piece of the whole. Have you been feeling it too my friends? Have you too been called upon to help meet the pain of these times?
When this anxiety arises I have to consciously shift to make more room, so it can have my breath and my heart and my presence for as long as it takes to be met. In this, the anxiety of our world comes home to love, in some small way, in my personal heart. Apparently it takes a human village to meet the losses our humanity is facing in these times. It takes a human village to meet the searing angst of our collective human heart. It takes a village, my loves.
Another place I’ve noticed this is in meeting a very deep, core place of shame within myself. Yes, shame. There is a personal vulnerability I experience in exposing myself so nakedly, with all my imperfection and growing edges, like I'm doing in this very article. And as I courageously turn to this tender vulnerability, and open to what's sourcing it, I touch into what feels like a core wound of shame.
Underneath my current personal story of vulnerability in exposing imperfection, I discover a core place of shame within that truly doesn’t know self-love, that feels inherently not good enough for life and love; insecure, unworthy, unacceptable. There’s something so raw and helpless about this quality of shame, so preverbal and even pre-cognitive, it’s made me wonder if perhaps this is the very place where my ego first crystalized in this lifetime? It actually feels like it lives at a cellular level, deeper than the mind and emotions. And as I open my heart to it, I wonder if there is a core, universal, human shame simply in being; the painful shame of imagining oneself as separate and excluded from God, from Love??
And not to oversimplify intrinsically complex matters, but I cannot help but feel into the greater implications of this possibility. What if this universal Shame of Separation (merely a delusion!) is what essentially gives rise to wars between nations, perpetuates the horrors of sexual trafficking, racism and hate crimes; is actually what's at the root of every school shooting, every terrorist attack, every genocide?
If the awakening of the humanity happens human by human, and begins here, with this single human, with me, with you? Then we have no choice but to open to where the disease of separation lives in us— as terrified self-doubt, as cruel self-loathing, as heart-wrenching resentment, as self-righteous judgment, as ferocious hatred. If what we really want is the world’s awakening, then we have no choice but to find the courage to turn and embrace what’s desperately wanting to come home to love, right here, right now, within us.
If in any given moment I honestly ask myself “what’s here?” and this core shame is what presents itself? I have no real choice but to open to it. And I'll tell you— this is not a pleasant feeling to open to! Much harder for me even than mundane grief or anxiety, this essential shame somehow feels like the source of all emotional suffering within me. It's excruciating to feel this place within myself that still doesn’t know itself as God, as Love, as Home. I even feel a bit ashamed to expose this layer of shame to myself, and to you! The tyrant spiritual super-ego can hardly stand to acknowledge such profound vulnerability and limitation: Aren’t I past this already? Haven’t I already seen the truth a million times? Shouldn’t I know better?
But guess what? Love wants to receive this painful feeling, too. Especially this feeling. God especially wants to claim that which somehow believes itself to be separate from God. Love especially wants to embrace that which has forgotten it has always, already belonged to Love. Love wants everything. Did you figure that out yet? Did you figure out yet that Love especially wants YOU? Love wants everything! No exceptions.
As I settle into this new season of my rapidly passing life, as I move through the endless string of ordinary moments that make up each sacred day, I can't help but notice it’s a seasoned season, bringing fresh creases to my face, gravity to my flesh, aches to my bones. It's humbling. The relatively superficial pain of vanity that arises in moments is humbling, and the physical pain that this human form includes in moments is certainly humbling. Being humbled by life allows my head to bow down to my heart, allows my smallness to bow to my vastness, my mortality to bow to my eternality.
I notice an honest loneliness here too, that asks to be opened to right alongside the grief and anxiety and humbling shame of separation. But when I really check it out, I notice that it’s not a loneliness that is suffering in desire for something to be different. It doesn't need to be a sign that something or someone is missing, and doesn't need to mean that something's wrong. It feels more like a sober, mature loneliness that realizes loneliness is just part of the deal here, in this thing we call Life. It doesn't need to be avoided, or denied, or numbed, or filled, or fixed. Maybe this loneliness can just be here, too? Maybe all the effort to make it better, different, less broken, more perfect, can simply come to rest, right here where we are.
In this sacred Rest, in this Love that wants everything, I can ask: “What’s here?” And I can continually dare to tell the truth to myself, opening courageously to this moment, and this one, and now this. If you like? You can too. You can open to yourself, to what’s here in this moment, to what’s simply asking to be seen, felt and honored by you. This that is yours, and this that is theirs, and this that is our world’s. You can open to life, and see what’s revealed.
In this opening to life, we can revel together in the mysterious chance to meet what's here; this precious, fleeting chance to simply be, to live and to love, together like this.