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
I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. And especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it. Most of us don’t value ourselves or our love enough to know this. It has taken me a long time to believe in the power of simply saying, “I’m so sorry,” when someone is in pain. And meaning it.
One of my patients told me that when she tried to tell her story, people often interrupted to tell her that they once had something like that happen to them. Continue reading
The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope and love.
~Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: Journey Toward an Undivided Life
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
If somebody were to cut me into a thousand pieces,
every piece of me would say that it loves…
The man who said this is a deeply spiritual person who is a native of South Africa. He like many others grew up under apartheid. He told me that he was taught by his ancestors not to stay bitter or vengeful, for hate eats up the heart, and with a damaged heart, life is not possible.
In a way, we are each confronted with the same dilemma that Chris faces: how to feel the pain of living without denying it and without letting that pain define us. Ultimately, no matter the burden we are given—apartheid, cancer, abuse, depression, addiction—once whittled to the bone, we are faced with a never-ending choice: to become the wound or to heal.
Terrible things are hard enough to experience the first time. Beyond their second and third and fourth experience as trauma, their impact can easily make us become terrible if we do not keep our want to love alive. Perhaps the most difficult challenge of being wounded is not turning our deepest loving nature over to the life and way of the wound.
This touching statement by this South African man affirms that the nature of the human spirit is irrepressible. Just as a vine or shrub—no matter how often it is cut back—will keep growing to the light, the human heart—no matter how often it is cut—can reassert its impulse to love.
~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Every year I live I am more convinced that the waste of life lies in the love we have not given, the powers we have not used, the selfish prudence that will risk nothing, and which shirking pain, misses happiness as well. No one ever yet was the poorer in the long run for having once in a lifetime “let out all the length of all the reins.”
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
~Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey