i love you, i am listening

john-canelis-121969

When Rabbi Rami Shapiro was asked how he experienced God, he responded that God is the experience.

“How are you?,” asked a neighbor of mine the other day during a wave of abrasive heat on a walk with my dog. He asked in such a way that it brought me to tears. Right away. No time to think or process or adjust. Bam! Waterworks. I don’t know, it took me off guard somehow. I wasn’t expecting it. His asking was so earnest and innocent. So sweet. God is in the details some say.

The thing is, I am grieving. I am mourning. But the weird thing is that sometimes we do this before a loss. It is referred to as anticipatory grief. There are so many incremental losses along the way that can and often do paralyze us. Or when we feel triggered by the pain associated with our losses, we may feel more forgetful, angry, irritable, tired, heartbroken, distant, distracted. You name it.

And then sometimes grief does the opposite. You grieve. You cry. But then you feel like part of the world. Part of this seamless mystery that makes flowers bloom. Sometimes grief motivates us to be more human, more kind, more selfless, more apt to just get out there put our grievances aside and show up as much as we can, knowing that this is our one shot at doing so. No need to worry about saying the right thing, looking perfect, or sounding wise. That shit doesn’t matter. What is in your heart, that matters.

What a gift. What an opportunity. What a blessing.

Grief is internal but mourning is the outward expression of our grief. We need both. Sometimes solitude is the healing salve our soul yearns for and other times we need to share our laughter and tears with others.  We don’t need to say things are o.k. or well because they may not be in that moment. They will be again…someday. But crying right in the middle of a heat wave on the sidewalk happens sometimes.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. When we are grieving, our resilience is down and all of our emotions are so close to the surface. Seaweed floating on top of the salty sea. Seaweed, green, tough, and seemingly everywhere. And you have the choice to get entangled in it or swim through the clumps, revealing the clear water everywhere else. The clear water waiting to hold you, to support you, and wipe your beautiful tears away with an incoming wave, dispelling it and joining it with the rest of the sea.

We stop resisting. We surrender. We float.

And when we grieve, we don’t squander or squelch our feelings as much as we normally do, they just come out and recede like moving water, like passing weather.

And this too, as hard and awkward as it is, is also a gift.

Just swim through it like the seaweed.

After being embarrassed for much of my life about my readily available tears, I don’t apologize for them anymore. I don’t wave them away. I tell them I love them. I thank them. They are doing their job.

Which reminds me of a circle of lovely women I sat with recently on a nearby dock. On the steamy summer solstice evening, we listened to the lapping water and mind numbing planes overhead while discussing how we love ourselves in the midst of heavy, hard stuff.

Forgiveness. Self Care. Compassion. And sometimes if we are challenged to access this kind of compassion and forgiveness towards ourselves, we may think of how we would approach a dearly beloved friend and then turn that kind of attention to our own thirsty souls.

Life is here too in this grief. Laughter, smiles, rainbows, big colorful ones that keep appearing over the Bay, and then there is my littlest girl naked with a fuzzy halo on her head playing with flowers.

It is all Spirit. Truth. Source. God. You choose the name you are comfortable with, maybe there isn’t a name.  The soul in me and the soul in you.

It is the experience.

How do you love yourself? How do you thank your tears and your anger as well as your waves of joy?

They are all here to help us heal and to encourage our growth, to encourage our union with Spirit. Loneliness and Separation are an illusion. Or as my friend Erica said the other day, “a thinking error”.

It may be as simple as putting our hands over our hearts and saying, “I love you. I am listening.” – ( From the beautiful and soul enriching podcast, Live Awake by Sarah Blondin).

This is the experience.

 

 

 

 

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i touch the cloud

sunset

“Everything will take care of itself with unexpected grace. Death is perfectly safe. Death is not the enemy, holding to fear is.” – Stephen Levine

“Radical acceptance tells us that the best way to overcome a perceived threat is not to look for ways to ward it off but to change your relationship to it.” – Sameet M. Kumar

The famed psychologist Carl Jung once said that he never had a patient over the age of forty whose unhappiness did not have its roots in the fear of death.

But even as a young child, I feared losing my parents, and strangely, I worried about them getting in a car accident. When my dad died almost twelve years later, I wondered if my childhood fear was actually a premonition or if the worrying itself caused that awful wreck to happen. I grew panic stricken when I would hear people say “be careful what you wish for” and “your thoughts are powerful.” I am grateful to know now that thoughts are just thoughts, and we choose rather to listen to them or watch them go as quickly as they came.

And now my children ask me questions about death. This summer after my daughter saw a dead cat on a dirt path in Nantucket, she wondered worriedly if he was alright. Later in bed she asked me whether it is possible to talk after we die. And years before, my son needed clarification about heaven existing in the toilet after we said goodbye to his first pet fish, Nova, with a ceremonious flush.

These questions begrudgingly bring up my own fears and confusion about death. But they also remind me to be as honest, real, and present as possible while thinking about my answers. It is my heartfelt wish for my children and for all of us to be brought up understanding – and sometimes I think my kids get this better than me – that death is not separate from but instead is a part of life, and that everything is impermanent. I hope to never let the fear of dying obstruct living life fully (and not in an “I’m invincible, I can do anything kind of way.”) Lastly, I wish for us to all know that death is essentially okay. (And I know, too, that death feels as far away as possible from okay when something tragic happens.)

I am now more likely to meet their questions about what happens after death with the answer, I don’t know.

But I do know that when someone dies, he or she is still with us. And to answer my daughter’s previous question, I also think we can still talk after we die.

The night of my father’s death, he, in fact, spoke to me. He appeared before me while I slept in my high school bedroom with the bright blue walls. Although I was asleep, this meeting was more real, vivid, and vibrant than any dream I have ever had. In fact, it was not really a dream at all.

We had unfinished business, my dad and I, and it felt as if he came to console me. I needed him, and he was there even though he couldn’t be there in the way he used to be.

Wearing a navy blue suit and tie with his signature warmth, he told me not to worry and not to feel guilty about an argument we had had days earlier. He was relaxed, carefree and at complete peace. I heard his message loud and clear: everything is going to be okay.

This particular encounter, and subsequent experiences with people at the end of their lives, stirs in me the soothing, albeit enigmatic realization that when someone close to us dies, he or she remains in our lives forever. And not just in the obvious ways found in old photographs, videos, and memories faded and grown soft with time. This subtle reprieve lies in the knowing that our relationships survive death. And with hopeful watering and loving tending, continue to grow. There, flowers bloom where there was once only dirt.

It is often in the presence of beauty, nature, silence, and serendipitous moments, that we are shown that we too will be okay.

When I feel overwhelmed with the weight of grief or anxiety, I know it is time to simplify…to slow down and feel my feet on the earth. And to stop thinking so much…to not look at the big picture for a spell but instead try to narrow my focus with the eye of an eagle on the miniscule details before me…the hot shower, the dishes in the sink, and the pretty punch-colored petal on the ground.

And while I don’t know much about death, I do believe that when we die, we don’t just disappear. Energy doesn’t vanish, but rather, it changes and transforms. This is not simply spiritual discourse but is in fact the science behind the law of thermodynamics. This theory states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. Caterpillars become butterflies; the crushing of shells makes sand by the sea; and fires bring new growth to the forest.

I believe that the light we carry within us never extinguishes but instead transforms into brilliant, omnipresent, and eternal sparks. These sparks move through us. I have felt them manifest as smooth ripples in the ocean, in the smile in my son’s eyes, and the quiet stare of the hawk that visits my mom’s backyard in December.

Through my own misty eyes, I recently read of the cyclical nature of growth and life in Elizabeth Lesser’s book, Broken Open; How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. She writes of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching on death. He says, nothing is born, nothing can die. In the below excerpt, Hanh offers this explanation:

Look into the true nature of the paper. What do you see? You see – in a very tangible, scientific way – that paper is made of non-paper elements. When I touch the paper, I touch the tree, the forest because I know that deep inside there is the existence of the tree, the forest. Right? I also touch the sunshine. Even at midnight touching the sheet of paper, I touch sunshine. I touch the cloud. There is the cloud floating in this sheet of paper. You don’t have to be a poet to see the cloud. Because without the cloud, there would be no rain and no forest could grow. So the cloud is in there. The trees are in there. The sunshine, the minerals from the earth, the earth itself, time, space, people, insects-everything in the cosmos seems to be existing in this sheet of paper. It is very important to see that a sheet of paper is made of – only of – non-paper elements. Our body is also like that.

I don’t know what really happened the night my dad came to me or what happens when we die. And death still makes me anxious and sad. But while it is hard for our human hearts to bear, I also believe that it is okay, just like my dad said.

*I referenced these beautiful and helpful books above and recommend each one wholeheartedly. A Year to Live by Stephen Levine, Grieving Mindfully by Sameet M. Kumar, and Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser.