Saturday, September 29, 2012

the cost of being open

I’m learning something new. . . . and for lack of a better description, it is that living with an open heart has a “cost”.   

I am beginning to realize that my experience of grieving Matt’s death, of being stripped down by that sadness until there was only gaping hollowness inside, has another truth to teach me.   I now understand that the hollowness was necessary so that I could have the capacity to hold the magnitude of the sadness I felt.  My inner life just wasn’t big enough for all that I had to feel.  Now, in my intent to stay as open as possible, not to shut down, I am more or less defenseless against the sorrow I encounter in others.  I take it in, deeply, unfiltered and whole.  The “bigness” of my own sadness has opened me to the “bigness” of the sadness of others.   I know it isn’t my responsibility to carry someone else’s sorrow “for them” – that isn’t even possible - , but still, I believe it helps when someone else can share that burden for a while – at least until our legs stop shaking and we can begin to breathe again.

The rest of the “cost” of being open is a new coping skill that I must develop.  I need to become clear about when my capacity for carrying sorrow is full.  If I feel impatient and have difficulty listening, I know that it is time for me to take care of replenishing my own reserves.   I intentionally find a way to empty my time of commitments and fill it with all the things that ease my soul . . . beautiful music, being outside and paying special attention to what I’ve been given.  
When I do that,  I feel myself soften inside,  growing ready to open again to all that life brings, all that love offers, all that comes to rest deep inside as peace.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

the medicine carried in our stories

Mark Nepo (in his book, The Exquisite Risk) claims there is medicine carried in our stories.  He says:

The moment we dare to speak humbly and directly from our heart . . . from the truth of compassion . . . we speak the same language always waiting underneath our differences.  The mystery here is that when we speak from the divine center of things, from our own understanding of God, things become one again.  So, we carry this in us . . . . the possibility of Oneness.

In the moment of stress, in a moment of building a dream we don’t believe in, in a moment of being more concerned with the task than the person doing it, we slip out of compassion.  In that moment, we lose the ability to understand each other.  In that repeatable moment we lose access to our common, original language.

Yet, in a moment of vulnerability, in a moment of suffering or acceptance, in a moment of letting the truth of things rise within us, in a moment of risking to be who we are in front of others, we can feel the life of others wash over us as we slip back into the sea of compassion.  And in that repeatable moment, there is only one tongue.”

This is the power possible in support group gatherings as people bare their wounded hearts in trust within this circle of kindness.  I've watched this happen time and time again. The support group gathering is a place and time to begin to tell the story you are living and try to begin to put the pieces into some kind of meaning.  It takes time, patience, effort and courage . . . and you can feel the comfort in those who patiently listen.  It washes over each heart.  Feeling heard is healing medicine for the soul.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

more on "broken" and "broken open"

"What is the difference between being broken and being broken open?”

Recently I was asked to unpack this question with a group of people in training to be grief support group facilitators.  The phrase has such powerful meaning for me that I was lost at first as to how to describe each feeling and the relationship between them.  Ultimately, the way that felt most respectful was to go to my journal and find how I described my own experience of both.   

So, this is what my being broken sounded like . . .

          “crying on the outside, screaming on the inside
            stumbling & grasping
            searching and trying to focus”

            “my days feel like burdens”

            “a piece of my heart is gone
            something central to my breathing is missing
            I can’t figure out how to be me”

            “Tears are my only words.”

            “The world feels blank in places – empty of the beauty you radiated
            jagged, torn, ragged . . . familiar but with holes in it
            I’m singed, seared, burned around the edges of my life.”

            “I’m gasping for spiritual breath.”

It seems fair to say that being broken is something that happens outside our control, shattering life as we know it.  Loss obliterates gift and is an honest, full body response to being at the mercy of indescribable sadness.  

Then, this is what my being broken open sounds like . . .

          “whose to say how long a life should be -
            it was long enough to love deeply and that is no small legacy”
            “this has pushed all the negative emotions out of me . . . and left me with only love and tenderness”

            “I will miss him every day of my life
            it is that simple and that strong 
            his life – either here or there – is woven into and through mine”

            “living wide open seems the only way now
                        without protection or fear
                        being vulnerable
                        as honest as I can be
                        but kind”

            “I want to live with the door of my heart open . . .
            let this make me soft and strong all at once”

Being broken open, is something we allow to happen.  It feels all the devastation but doesn’t turn away . . . and as it feels, it drops small seeds of healing into the shattered heart.  What was surprising to me was that both seem to happen simultaneously - at first in an uneven jerky movement with no rhythm or predictability.  But in time, as healing takes hold, the unevenness smoothes out and life begins to flow again – having learned to absorb this part of truth into our being. 

So maybe when we submit ourselves to the depths of grief, at the same time, we open a door to healing.   There is wisdom in this painful experience that we can touch, look at, learn from and eventually absorb. And when we do, the hurt will begin to ease.  Not that being broken will be fixed, but rather that it will be transformed into something we cannot yet see.

So, then, could  “broken open” be a way to live ? 
If we continually allow life to open doors, to surprise us, to suggest another way to imagine something or someone, then Truth can be invited to grow wider, deeper and intimately more compassionate.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

stumbling blocks


For many people who are working hard to heal from deep grief, there are moments in that journey that seem simply too painful, too tangled, too confusing to be resolved.  Recovery stalls.  And because each grief journey is unique and different, each stumbling block is unique and different as well.  Maybe it is a mental image that won’t leave you alone - some picture that keeps replaying in your mind.  Maybe it is something you said or your loved one said that keeps ringing in your head.   Or maybe it is a question your heart keeps asking, begging for some answer.  I believe that everyone who loses a child has memories or thoughts that they long to either erase, change or resolve.  

Some people call this “being stuck”, but that suggests we are doing something wrong.  I think there are simply some aspects of grief that are harder than others.  There is nothing wrong in taking extra time to work through the hardest parts of this heart wrenching journey.    

Poet Ranier Maria Rilke says it this way:

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart . . .
try to love the questions themselves
like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually,
without noticing it,
live along some distant day
into the answer. “