With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.
~Wayne W. Dyer
The quote above probably causes most of us a good bit of consternation. It’s a tough either/or situation. Okay, so I might be able to drag myself out of having a pity party with some situations, but treating something truly awful as a gift? I have struggled with this more than once, beginning with my father’s death when I was sixteen.
I think timing is a big factor in tragic situations, such as the unthinkable loss of a child. One must have time and space, sometimes years, to absorb such a heart-wrenching loss. And yet…we’ve all seen stories of loved ones who used the illness or death of a child or other family member to galvanize themselves into action—to start a non-profit or other campaign to help other families facing a similar illness or to reform gun control or to alert others to the dangers of drinking and driving. Choosing to take such actions certainly becomes a gift to countless others, and I think it becomes a gift to the loved ones as well, in that it allows the family members to move forward, to turn their loss into something positive and not remain stuck in the past. Continue reading
In the hero stories, the call to go on a journey takes the form of a loss, an error, a wound, an unexplainable longing, or a sense of a mission. When any of these happens to us, we are being summoned to make a transition. It will always mean leaving something behind…The paradox here is that loss is a path to gain.
~David Richo, How to Be an Adult: A Handbook for Psychological and Spiritual Integration
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the first of two things that happened recently, both of which caused me to stop and think about the journey I’m on. Here’s the second one….
The same weekend I bought the rug (maybe even the same day), I walked out of my house to run errands and noticed that one of the terra cotta pots lining my steps and walkway was broken. All of my pots were currently “in transition”—the summer annuals pulled out, the pansies yet to go in—so all of them were sitting there with nothing but dirt in them, the four-packs of pansies waiting nearby.
The pot in question had clearly been knocked over and the potting soil strewn across the walk. I could see where someone had scraped as much of the dirt as possible back into the pot, leaving a thin layer of soil dusting the walk, and had then propped the broken pieces against the sides in an effort to hold the dirt in the now-destroyed pot.
I didn’t know what had happened, but my first guess was that a neighbor’s dog had seen one of my cats on the porch and taken off after it, knocking over the pot in the process. I turned back to the door and mailbox to see if there was a note of explanation/apology; there was none. I began to feel upset, indignant that the person/dog owner involved in the incident would just shove the dirt back in the pot, prop it up as though nothing had happened, and leave no note of apology for the broken pot—or knock on my door to explain/apologize. I leapt to judgment, thinking, How inconsiderate and irresponsible! Continue reading
In that inevitable, excruciatingly human moment, we are offered a powerful choice. This choice is perhaps one of the most vitally important choices we will ever make, and it determines the course of our lives from that moment forward. The choice is this: Will we interpret this loss as so unjust, unfair, and devastating that we feel punished, angry, forever and fatally wounded– or, as our heart, torn apart, bleeds its anguish of sheer, wordless grief, will we somehow feel this loss as an opportunity to become more tender, more open, more passionately alive, more grateful for what remains?
~Wayne Muller, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough
Suffering makes an instrument of each of us,
so that standing naked, holes and all,
the unseen vitalities can be heard
through our simplified lives.
Sometimes we can’t get what we want. While this can be disappointing and painful, it is only devastating if we stop there. The world thrives on endless possibilities. It is what makes nature a reservoir of health. Yet if the heart is cramped or the mind locks on to its pain, we can narrow wonder to a thread. In contradiction to the endless number of eggs that spawn a fish and the endless number of cells that blossom to heal a wound, we can hold out the one thing we want as the only food. From here, crisis and desperation are a short step.
It becomes a sorry occupation, beating oneself up for the one seed that didn’t take. It is an insidious way: the more we refuse mystery, the more we feel responsible for all that befalls us. Indeed, the more we distract ourselves with analyzing strategies that failed, the more we avoid the true feelings of loss that no one can escape en route to a full and vital life.
Even if we can accept this, none of us is exempt from the turmoil and pain that arises when what we want is love. Continue reading
It’s incredibly touching when someone who seems so hopeless finds a few inches of light
to stand in and makes everything work as well as possible. All of us lurch and fall,
sit in the dirt, are helped to our feet, keep moving, feel like idiots, lose our balance,
gain it, help others get back on their feet, and keep going.
~Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith
Most of us have been in this place at one time or another, hopeless and searching desperately for a tiny patch of light, trying our damnedest to pull it all together—or at least not let it fall apart. I’ve been there more than once in recent years.
I do believe that, ultimately, getting through such times comes down to faith. I’m not talking about religious faith. I’m talking about the mundane kind of faith that gets you up in the morning and puts your feet on the ground and points you toward the realization that you are, in fact, still here—that whatever-it-was didn’t kill you while you were sleeping last night, and the world actually continued to turn.
This is kind of a good news/bad news thing to realize. Continue reading
And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.
~Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
I’ve been in this place before, and I know exactly what Anne Lamott means when she says “I just had to lie in the mud…grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.” There were people who wanted me to “get help”—which was code for drugs to dull the pain—and I stood and listened while people tried to tell me that I shouldn’t still be feeling what I was feeling. But I believed then, and I believe now, something that I once heard Oprah express beautifully on one of her shows, “When someone says something to you about how long you’re taking to get over a loss, just remember, it’s different for everybody—tell them it takes as long as it takes.”
I don’t discount the benefits of antidepressants in certain situations, and yes, there are people who wallow in their grief to the point that it takes over their lives and becomes who they are. However, I think we as a society have become increasingly uncomfortable with uncomfortable feelings. We want to “fix” them and make them go away, in spite of the fact that those feelings are often the very means by which we grow and deepen as human beings and by which we become more truly ourselves.
My big a-ha from the teleclass I did with Brené Brown yesterday: Brené says the most terrifying emotion we experience as humans is joy. We’re so frightened of loss that we can’t even allow ourselves to lean into those moments when we’re standing over our children watching them sleep or when we’re falling in love and it feels like our hearts will burst. The second most of us start to feel joy, instead of relishing the blessings, we tend to get swallowed by the fear that the other shoe is about to drop.
Brené said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” Instead of allowing ourselves to feel the vulnerability of how much joy we feel and how much hurt we would experience if we lost what we have, we dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch. We look at our kids with so much love and then imagine them dying. We feel such tenderness for the person we’re falling in love with that we fast forward straight to the day when we get our heart broken. If things are going well in our professional life, we imagine the day we get fired or lose all our money, power, and status. It’s like, by trying to imagine the worst case scenario, we somehow think we’re protecting ourselves from what we fear most.
But guess what? It doesn’t work. Continue reading
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
~The Talmud (attributed)
pathwriter’s note: I love Anne Lamott. I am in awe of her open heart and her willingness to be so uncomfortably honest and so perfectly imperfect. She posted this (complete with typos) on her Facebook page just a few minutes ago.
Oh, all of you who have sustained hardship today, I am so sorry. i wish all of us at this site who are just watching could rush to help you. We really would if we could. Tell us if there is anything we can do, beside the obvious–donate, pray, breathe, wait for the water to recede, and be exquisitely kind–especially to ourselves. That’s the hardest thing.
I’m probably writing this to myself as much as to you, but it is okay to be having any inappropriate feelings and responses and obsessions you may be experiencing. If you still feel obsessed with the election, even in the face of these images of destruction, it’s really okay My mentor, Horrible Bonnie, would say that something beautiful is being revealed in the current weirdness, in brokenness and the not-knowing. I always say back, “Oh, yeah? REALLY?”. Then I swear I’ll never call again.
But it is, every time, no matter how huge the family mess, or loss, or in this case, nature’s terrifying power and force. Truth is revealed. People’s natural outpouring of generosity will be revealed, & their ability to sacrifice for the common good, which you don’t see all that often without darkness. How resilient and loving we are. How we ALWAYS end up getting our senses of humor back, which to me, is one of the ways we know grace is real.
I’m not suggesting that the next few days are going to be easy for Continue reading
I envy the tree,
how it reaches
but never holds.
Things that matter come and go, but being touched and feeling life move on, we tend to cling and hold on, not wanting anything to change. Of course, this fails and things do change. Often, we are stubborn enough to go after what we think is leaving, trying to manipulate and control the flow of life. Of course, this fails, too.
We can’t stop life from flowing. So we are left with feeling what was and what is, and we call the difference loss. But all the clinging and holding on only makes it worse. Now, new things come, and some of us anticipate the loss and just let the things of life go by without feeling them at all.
I have done all these things, but when clear enough and open enough, I try to let things in, to let things touch me. I try not to poke and pull at them as they move through. It doesn’t eliminate loss, but when trusting enough to let this happen, I am tuned like a harp held up to wind.
- Sit quietly, and bring to mind a feeling you’ve tried to hold onto.
- Breathe evenly, and bring to mind a feeling you’ve cut off.
- Breathe slowly, and bring to mind something you are feeling deeply right now, and try to allow it in without interfering with its presence.
~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Losses aren’t cataclysmic if they teach the heart and soul their natural cycle of breaking and healing. A real tragedy? That’s the loss of the heart and soul themselves. If you’ve abandoned yourself in the effort to keep anyone or anything else, unlearn that pattern. Live your truth, losses be damned. Just like that, your heart and soul will return home.