On loss

In the past week, I lost a lot. An opportunity to shift my career pathway. A teacher participant in my inquiry-to-action group (ItAG). My partner's beloved dog, Ruby. I also gained some new insights, thanks in no small part to Pema Chodron. She wrote,

No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear. We are very rarely told to move closer, to just be there, to become familiar with fear...the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves, but by all means make it go away.

I have been trying to lean into the fear and pain rather than run for cover. In the process, I have discovered some wonderful aspects of my present life, which I was taking for granted while so focused on future steps.

For one thing, I finally looked up and saw numerous colleagues, friends, and students who value not only what I do but also who I am. These folks are helping me envision ways to stay where I am and not only make do but also enjoy that space, which holds a multitude of possibilities. Indeed, I may have to change my blog title to "On (re)becoming an academic"...

I also have had to sit with the reality that I can only take responsibility for my own words and actions, not those of others. Losing a study participant after sharing my critical analysis of our ItAG's process with its members means that the adolescents associated with this teacher will no longer participate in what I think would be an amazing opportunity for them and others: the presentation of their educational visions to a university-based and policy maker audience. Yet, as Charlotte Kasl wrote,

Being real with people does run the risk of evoking strong feelings or conflict and can sometimes lead to loss. It also has the potential to deepen understanding, draw you closer together, and change the direction of a relationship.

Perhaps some day that potential will be realized. In the meantime, I take solace in knowing that I honestly faced, to the best of my ability, the tensions and fissures that have been troubling me for months.

As for losing Ruby, an amazing companion and source of support to my partner and me, I have received the gift of witnessing selfless love. This love reminds me of another loss that a woman I respect and admire experienced this past week--the death of a long-time partner. As she wrote, "If you really love someone, there are indeed times that you need to let them go--as painful as it is." I trust that Dori and Ruby have found peace.

Through the many tears of the last few weeks, I have come back to believing a central lesson of Chodron's: usually fear underlies anger, and sadness underlies that fear; in the sadness--the undoing--lies an amazing learning opportunity. In Chodron's eloquent words,

Sometimes...everything falls apart, and we run out of options for escape. At times like that, the most profound spiritual truths seem pretty straightforward and ordinary. There's nowhere to hide...Sooner or later we understand that although we can't make fear look pretty, it will nevertheless introduce us to all the teaching we've ever heard or read.