I am forcing myself to write now, and I am going to just do it and post this today if it kills me. I have no idea what I am going to say or even if I have anything to say (one of my biggest fears, actually.) But whatever. Must unblock or die, so forgive the disjointness of this post.
The last blog post was three months ago. A lot as happened in those three months, not much of it good. Without going into detail, life is certainly doing its best to beat the shit out of me and my family. The last couple of years have been a tsunami of grief— the last three months the wave reached its climax and broke all over our world. It is all we can do to keep our heads above the rising water.
Grief. That is the theme for this holiday season. In the last couple of years, I have lost three family members, some expected, some not. I have lost a marriage and a partnership I really, really loved and believed in. I lost my idea of family. And a vision of the future that sustained me and gave me hope. Because of this loss I gave up the life I worked so hard for, the life that didn’t make any sense without that partnership. I gave up my job and my sense of security, my friends, my world in order to look towards a future that is still cloaked in darkness for me.
I am sitting on my mother’s couch looking at the Christmas tree while I write this. I am thinking of the promise I made to myself to not let these events break me, to not close down and become a bitter, broken middle-aged woman. And though I have not yet given in, it has been tempting. It is hard to keep an open heart. It is hard to keep showing up when others are not willing to do the same. It is hard to take risks and be vulnerable in a world that seems more and more fear-driven, where risk-taking is a negative thing and vulnerability is mistaken as weakness.
I am tired. I want to shut down. I want to give up. I want to curl up in the bed in my little garden shed and never come out again.
I am tired of trying.
Grief is a lonely business. It consumes you, wraps you up in a iron-clad bubble that makes you feel like you are all alone. It makes the world seem dull and grey (oh wait- that might just be a west coast winter…) There is nothing but the constant ache, the restless fluttering of all that love that has nowhere to touch down.
The longing for what used to be but is no longer is such a strong current; it is tempting to let it suck you in and pull you down.
Okay. Enough of the pity party. Maybe this is a good time to write down what I have learned in this maelstrom of pain and suffering, some important lessons from my scenic detour into hell.
- Nothing is permanent.
This is hard one because in many ways, we thrive on the idea of permanence. We have to hold the conflicting notions in our head- that we build for permanence and at the same time realize that it is an illusion and that it can go at anytime.
You will be doing a mundane thing like throwing away a cracked glass bottle and all of sudden you don’t have the use of your right hand for months (true story, but not mine- I still have the use of all my digits, knock on wood). One day, you will come home and the person you have painstakingly built your life with, the person with whom you think you will grow old, decides they don’t want to be married anymore. People die. Sometimes slowly and painfully. Sometimes all of a sudden. One day they are there. The next day they are gone.
How do we keep those opposing concepts balanced in our mind without going crazy? How do we still build and hope and love and work towards a future while at the same time knowing that it might not work out, that all of our love and labour might be for nought?
Honestly, if you think about it is a tad crazy-making.
The only answer I have found is through meditation and mindfulness and the idea of impermanence. It’s that old Buddhist saying, that what causes suffering is our attachment to things or people. We still need to build. We still need to love. We still need to feel a sense of peace and security. We just can’t get too attached to the external details:
Insight into impermanence is central to Buddhist practice. Buddhist practice points us toward becoming equanimous in the midst of change and wiser in how we respond to what comes and goes. In fact, Buddhism could be seen as one extended meditation on transience as a means to freedom. The Buddha’s last words were: “All conditioned things are impermanent. Strive on with diligence.”
…[The Buddha] said that suffering is not inherent in the world of impermanence; suffering arises when we cling. When clinging disappears, impermanence no longer gives rise to suffering. The solution to suffering, then, is to end clinging, not to try to escape from the transient world.-Gil Fronsdal, Insight Meditation center
Ok. Easier said than done.
2. Self-Compassion and Self-Love are not Silly Little Self-Help Concepts
But vital for the progress of humanity. The world feels off-kilter these days. It feels like the pendulum is swinging towards a dark time, one that is dominated by fear-driven anger and shame and a tendency to shut down one’s heart and mind instead of taking an open, honest, lovingingly critical look at ourselves and our own motivations.
I understand. It is the hardest thing ever to do.
It is taking a lot of courage and energy to look at myself and all of my flaws with lovingkindness. This will be a practice I will never perfect but will continue striving towards for the rest of my life. But the hard truth is that I cannot move forward, I cannot be the person I want to be in the world without first being my own safe harbour. if I don’t love myself, if I cannot find it within myself to be compassionate towards my own imperfections, I can’t expect it of others. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need other people to love us, everybody does. But the extent to which we are able to receive that love will be in direct correlation to our ability to love ourselves. Same goes for compassion and empathy- our ability to be compassionate and empathetic with ourselves will be the measure of our compassion and empathy for others.
We are living in an unprecedented time of self-loathing. (once again, I am writing as I think now, so bear with me). Not sure why this is- the fact that we are bombarded with ads that continuously tell us we are imperfect? That our selfie culture has insidiously transferred our self-validation to algorithms and random likes? Or that the norms with which we are being compared to are getting progressively smaller and uniformalized? Or maybe that as a collective society we are the most educated than we have ever been yet have the least time to actually think than ever before?
We are little, self-hating hamsters that keep on running on the wheel because we are scared to stop and actually think about what we are doing.
Unless we can find a way off the wheel and pause long enough to consider who we are and where we would like to go, we are all going to die running on a treadmill going nowhere in an effort to prove something that we don’t need to prove, that should simply be a given: that we are enough.
3. Fear is an Invisible Wall
And you have to bang your head against it several times before you even know it is there. Fear. It has been on my mind a lot lately. Mainly because I have a lot of it. I am afraid of not being enough or too much (both of which I have been accused of). I am afraid that I will never be financially independent. I am afraid that I will never write anything worth reading, that I am somehow not a good enough mother, that I am a burden to my family, that I will never again get a well-paying job I love. I am afraid of my damn large, open, trusting heart and the present and future pain and suffering that I am signing up for by insisting on keeping it that way.
Lots of fear. And these are just the things I am aware I am afraid of and thus can start to dismantle. But what I am really afraid of these days is all the ways my fear, unbeknownst to me, is limiting me. I had an experience the other day in my career counselling session that rocked my boat pretty hard. I had to do an exercise where I list ten things that I am doing in my ideal career. I did it, sent it in to my counsellor. When I got to the session, she had a few questions, namely why, when it is obvious that writing is central to my existence and the thing that gives me most joy, why I did not mention writing in my ideal list.
That is because in my head, the writing I want to do and making a living are so completely separate, it didn’t even occur to put it on the list. I have a limiting belief that I will never make a living from my writing. That is also a fear-based belief because it is terrifying to think the opposite. To believe that it could lead to a living means that I would actually have to, well, try and make a living from it.
Man, this thinking and writing at the same time is taking me to some uncomfortable places. I am going to stop now because I have literally scared myself away from this post. But at least that invisible wall, became a little less invisible.
That’s something isn’t it?