A very wise mentor explained the paradox of being a human being who continuously loves another, despite the pain of that love, with two Adrienne Rich quotes:
Save yourself; others you cannot save.
The waste of my love goes on this way trying to save you from yourself.*
When someone we love consciously chooses to end their life, how easily we turn on ourselves. "Why didn't I see that as a red flag?" "I should have reached out more." "If I had done something differently, s/he would still be alive." In the stages of grief model, such words represent a kind of bargaining with the reality of our loss. We want to make sense of this tragedy and our role in it.
When we are able to observe these thoughts as part and parcel of our experience with which we do not have to do anything--when we can accept them as elements of this kit and kaboodle called life--a little more breathing room emerges. Those moments when we reject our experience is when our stories of deficit and decay take over and diminish us. We begin managing. Controlling. Doing. Organizing. Performing. We channel our energy toward shoving all that pain--the pain that feels like a tidal wave we cannot possibly survive--into some kind of bottle. We turn away from the belief that the universe can hold us and our pain, if we allow it to do so.
I write today to come back from that place of refusal. To remove my armor and recognize that enough love already resides within to return to the land of the living, where joy and peace accompany the anguish and sorrow. I can choose to live from the inside out--to save myself, for I cannot save others. The waves will continue to come from all directions, but now I know I can bear them. I can even flow with them. On this day of Thanksgiving, when I desperately want to turn toward rather than away from my loved ones, I listened to Tara Brach's interview of Frank Ostaseki, the founder of the Metta Institute.
How grateful I am for his wisdom:
Welcome everything. Push away nothing. We don't have to like everything that comes. We just have to meet it...We have to discover something in ourselves that's capable of that kind of welcoming.
What is that something within? I have no doubt it is the ability to practice love. Self-love is not selfish. It saves us when we feel so powerless to save others. It is the thing our grieved one could not find, even though it was there all along, which is the largest source of my anguish. "You stubborn fool! You belonged. You were loved. You touched so many lives. Why, oh why, did you turn a blind eye to yourself!?"
Right now, in this instant, we can halt that line of questioning and turn inward, toward the life still here, with compassion. I find great solace in Ostaseki's rendering of compassion:
Compassion isn't about taking away people's pain...Compassion is that capacity that allows us to stay with what we would otherwise like to get away from, until the real truth, until the real causes of that suffering show themselves. The presence of compassion is that it allows the defenses to fall down. When the defenses fall down, we can see the real causes of the suffering, and we can be of some help.
Such compassion creates the ground for the seeds of belonging, connection, and love to grow. "Why" questions, like the one above, too often engender shame with their incessant and exhausting quest for causes. They tend to breed more controlling. More resistance. More internal warfare. I find "what," "how," and "when" questions more interesting. They present opportunities to connect the mind with the heart, to come back to our embodied experience and the present moment, to arrive at an understanding rooted in love, not rightness.
My own inquiry process goes something like this: What would I have to feel if I stopped bargaining with reality? Oh, there is pain there. I am suffering. It's okay. I pray: May I feel peace again soon. May I remember the love that is here and all around me. May I take myself into my own heart and mind and love this life no matter what. May I embrace every living and dying part of this universe. May I offer my love whether it is accepted, rejected or met with indifference.**
Ultimately, we all must find our own pathway to a love in which we can finally rest. There is no script to follow. We certainly can turn toward friends, family, and professionals for support, and I hope we choose to do so. Isolation, after all, begets more isolation and disconnection. But we cannot force this love to manifest, and we cannot force others to find it. Our grieved one took our breath away with that searing truth. We can, however, listen to others' stories of encountering the love within for some guidance. Here is Ostaseki's:
The most extraordinary thing was discovering the love of my own being...I became much more intimate with it. And that love opened me to a certain kind of trust. Not a trust in others' behavior...It was really a trusting in the unfolding of things. All the things that we imagine we're in charge of. That trust became an abiding trust...It was a deep rest...My whole being at rest. A certain kind of seeking, a very subtle seeking, just stopped.
As I attempt to allow all of the preciousness, precariousness, and pain of this life into my mind, body, and heart, I can feel my inner fire returning to the glow it had before this devastating loss. Slowly by slowly. At times, I sense the vastness of warmth and light that fire can offer. If I let it.
I happily cede the final word to Danna Faulds:
Despite illness of body or mind,
in spite of blinding despair or
habitual belief, who you are
is whole. Let nothing keep you
separate from the truth. The soul
illumined from within, longs to
be known for what it is. Undying,
untouched by fire or the storms of
life, there is a place inside where
stillness and abiding peace reside.
You can ride the breath to go there.
Despite doubt or hopeless turns of
mind, you are not broken. Spirit
surrounds, embraces, fills you from
the inside out. Release everything
that isn't your true nature. What's
left, the fullness, light, and shadow,
claim all that as your birthright.
* The first quote comes from "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law," the second one from "For the Dead."
** Frank and Tara have some wonderful prayer words in their talk on which I am heavily drawing here.