When my heart first broke, it felt as if something reached into my chest and tore my heart apart. Then, when I realized my heart was not broken, but breaking-open, I could feel a bit of light peeking in. Just a bit. Slowly, very slowly, the light began to grow around and through the scarred tissue that had wrapped its way around my heart. And as the light grew, the scars softened and the tissue that is my heart began to return to a pinkness I once knew, but only vaguely remembered in the cells.
The Heart knows.
It longs to break open.
Grief knows this.
It is intelligent.
It will lead you home.
I don’t say this lightly, or flippantly. I know grief, well. I know joy, well. They are close cousins.
This post isn’t full of the beautiful…at least not the surface beautiful. But stick with me…
This is my edge…
We’re all living, we’re all dying, we’re all grieving, we’re all transforming. It’s life’s nature, death’s nature.
Life is always dying and being reborn. To grasp this truth, to live in this truth is to be fully alive. To never take this life for granted. It’s beauty, it’s power, the fact that none of us know. Can we embrace this? Live it? Touch death as we live life? Touch life as we die? Be with each other in whatever stage we are in? Really be with each other…
I don’t know have any answers. None. No flowery words. No insights.
But what I want to do is share what some beautiful women are writing about grief, dying, illness, death and life… and how reading their words is impacting my heart.
Unconscious to the edge…
The fact is we are alive and we are dying. Some of us are closer to death. Some of us are dead while we live, unconscious to the edge we exist on. Who’s to say what it is to be fully alive?
Joseph Campbell wrote,
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.”
In one of his segments with Bill Moyers, Campbell shared,
Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.
There’s a wonderful formula that the Buddhists have for the Bodhisattva, the one whose being (sattva) is illumination (bodhi), who realizes his identity with eternity and at the same time his participation in time. And the attitude is not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it.
“…not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it.”
I write this post as a somewhat ‘healthy’ person, so I am seeing and writing through the eyes of someone who unconsciously, and perhaps somewhat consciously, tells herself she still has a fairly ‘long’ time to live. In reality, this is BS. I do not know how long I have to live. Even writing these words and saying them aloud to myself doesn’t even begin to cut through the normal denial that is here about death.
I do experience the absence of time, the eternity of which Campbell writes.
Where I have difficulty is in being with the ‘horrible’ nature of life, what my mind wants to fix, eliminate and avoid.
Campbell’s words “that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder” catch me.
Horror as a foreground of wonder.
My mind goes a little crazy wondering how you square this, square the horrors of this world with the mind’s concept of wonder. I notice that I write ‘wondering’ in the same sentence. To wonder…
In writing this, my mind fears it will sound as if I am romanticizing horror in some way, even wonders whether it is wise to include the word rapture and horror in the same post…
I recoil from the horrors of the world. I want to fix them. I want to save others. In reality, I don’t want to be with the horror itself. I don’t want to open to it.
As Campbell reminds me, the horror is the foreground to the real wonder of life, the awe-inducing wonder…
And yet, in those moments of life when the horrible knocked on my door, I did open the door. I opened to the horror, as much as I could. And in opening to it, I caught a glimpse of this wonder… the beauty in the darkness, the love in the horrible, the peace and silence that is always present all around this foreground of horror.
I do know Holy Is All There Is, yet my life, at least right now, is filled with days full of so much love and light. I can be content to sit in this ease, content to not open my heart to the horror…and it is here that I skim the shallow waters of life. Can I open to the rest of the wonder of life willingly, not just when it knocks, but now, of my own accord…
There must be no escape from it of any kind, no intellectual or explanatory justification – see the difficulty of this, for the mind is so cunning, so sharp to escape, because it does not know what to do with its violence. It is not capable of dealing with it – or it thinks it is not capable – therefore it escapes. Every form of escape, distraction, of movement away, sustains violence. If one realizes this, then the mind is confronted with the fact of `what is’ and nothing else.
The mind does not know what to do with its own violence…
This is my edge. This is the edge I recoil from…
I share words…
So I share others’ words, words that open me to this edge, words that help to open my eyes and heart…
In Pema‘s series, “Memory to Light“, she shares her experiences with grief, death, violence and life, leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Rhonda, a woman of 42 years who is dying from MS, is sharing her writing as she dies. Her writing is brilliant. Her words cut to the chase. And in responding, or attempting to respond by way of commenting, I found myself ‘trying’ to write to her, not quite sure how to share how her words have touched me. Perhaps it’s a mixture of things: partly that she is in the active stages of dying as I read her words, and perhaps because I don’t really know her. There’s an element of feeling like a watcher, reading her experience from this place of one who is ‘alive’ and not dying. My dear friend, Jeanne, is hosting these writings, offering a place for us to bear witness to Rhonda experiences and our own opening to how to be with…
What is true, what makes tears come, what causes my heart to open is the raw desire to serve life, to know the sacredness of life, to honor it…and I must admit, I don’t know how to do this… and I know there is no how.
I am this life, both the horror and the wonder. When I cut myself off from one, I can’t know the other. When I cut myself off from one, I can’t know the totality of what I am…I can’t feel this totality…
This morning, I’m aware of remembering; yet, this remembrance doesn’t have to take me away from now. It can infuse this moment with love. It can infuse it with possibility. It can infuse it with transformation.
Today, we remember the ninth anniversary of 9/11, those who died, and those who’ve suffered deeply from the events of that day. Nick Kristoff shares the efforts of two women, both of whom lost their husbands in 9/11, in a post titled The Healers of 9/11. These two women chose to respond to their loss with love and possibility.
“Devastated themselves, they realized that there were more than half a million widows in Afghanistan â€” and then, with war, there would be even more. Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley also saw that Afghan widows could be a stabilizing force in that country.
So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects â€” in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverized their lives.
The organization they started, Beyond the 11th, has now assisted more than 1,000 Afghan widows in starting tiny businesses. Itâ€™s an effort both to help some of the worldâ€™s neediest people and to fight back at the distrust, hatred and unemployment that sustain the Taliban.”
Susan Retik and Patti Quigley show us the power of women supporting women. They remind us of how much we are alike rather than how different we are. In the midst of their grief, they could still see just how much they have to give.
In the article, it is clear they know their actions will not end the violence. Yet, their actions underscore something we know about women. Ms. Retik shared, “If we can provide a skill for a woman so that she can provide for her family going forward, then thatâ€™s one person or five people who will have a roof over their head, food in their bellies and a chance for education.â€
Remembrance infused with love, keeps us in the here and now. It brings the remembering mind down into the presence of the deep heart.
Remembrance infused with love can bring possibility into this moment, allowing grief to do its deep work, bringing fecundity to fallow ground.
This is the message that was woven through the powerful dating and relationship course I shared with women who lost their husbands inÂ 9/11. And, this is the message they shared with me as we moved through this course together, back in those first few years after.
May we all “unleash our better angels” (as Kristoff suggests) as a response to our grief, our anger and our fears.
What are you grieving?
How might you infuse this grief with love, bringing you deep into the heart?
What is that one small action you might take, infused by the transformative power of loving remembrance?
Some time back, I became quite aware of where I looked for wisdom. Like the baby bird in its nest with beak wide open, clamoring for Mama Bird to feed it, I noticed myself constantly looking to others to feed me. I hungered for answers. I wanted answers to questions I wasn’t willing to live. I began to see I had to live them to grow the wisdom from within.
Sometimes, we’re thrown into the living of such. Like the fledgling bird that finds itself no longer in the safety of the nest, we too must discover how to get along in the world, and no amount of advice from others can begin to match what we learn when we navigate the new world on our own.
A few years ago, I taught what was loosely called a dating/relationship class to women who had lost their spouses in 9/11. In reality, what it turned out to be was a course on learning how to go ‘from alone to alive’ (how one woman named her experience after moving through it).
For 18 months, I commuted between California and New York to teach this course. It consisted of three day-long classes, each held two weeks apart. We structured it this way, so the women would have time in-between each class to practice what they learned, and even begin to dip their toes in the dating pool.
My colleague, Julie Saltonstall, and I designed the course based on my own experiences as a widow, her experience as a remarried woman with a blended family, on many of the coaching modalities we’d learned over the years, but most importantly on the realization that each woman had her own unique internal wisdom to bring to what she was facing as a widow, as a new single mother, and as a woman who wanted to love again. Because of the nature of the loss, there was no shortage of people offering advice on how best to raise the surviving children. Wisdom was key in supporting her moving back into life. Her body and her heart held this wisdom, so we gently encouraged each woman back into communion with this wisdom within.
The class was so much more than simply learning how to date; it was about learning how to be alive again, how to mother and nurture after deep grief, how to trust oneself, and how to allow oneself to know happiness, love and companionship again.
At the end of each class, we held a wisdom circle, using the indigenous tradition of a talking stick. In the circle, one can only speak when she holds the stick. As long she holds the stick, no one else can interrupt her or talk over her. When she holds the stick, if she isn’t talking there is only silence.
What happened in these circles was profound. Even though none of us knew what we would say in advance when we sat down to the circle, when the stick came our way we dropped down into our bodies and trusted what flowed forth from our hearts. And out of every beautiful mouth wisdom flowed. Remarkable wisdom. By the end of the circle, the air was so thick with truth and silence, tears ran down cheeks, eyes gazed knowingly, and smiles broke open. The wisdom was palpable in our bodies, in our circle and in the air.
The effect of the realization of internal wisdom spoken aloud in the presence of other women is life-changing. Being in relationship with women, holding each one as a wise being who knows something integral to the whole, something that is yearning to be spoken aloud completely shifted how I see women. I know our wisdom is needed, now, in this world.
I’ve learned deep things from being silenced. I grew up silenced for I learned silence from my mother. It was no fault of hers, as her mother was silenced. It’s a cycle. As Adrienne Rich wrote,
“The woman I needed to call my mother was silenced before I was born.”
The woman I needed to help me know I am wise from within, couldn’t know this herself. The silencing has been here for millenia. How life would be different if we had been taught the wisdom circle from birth, and now we can help each other remember it.
In October of 2004, thirteen indigenous Grandmothers from all parts of the world gathered in the land of the people of the Iroquois Confederacy in Phoenicia, New York. The Grandmothers sat together for seven days, creating an alliance in service to the healing of Mother Earth and all Her inhabitants.
Carol Schaefer wrote a fantastic book, ‘Grandmothers Counsel the World‘, collecting the wisdom of these Grandmothers, and includes many other wise women’s wisdom as well.
“We must be warriors with the power of love, the Grandmothers say. The great goal of the Grandmothers is to unite the hearts of the world. We all share the sun and the moon, the planet and the stars, they say. Our blood is altered when we come together as one people, allowing the Divine Feminine within and without to unite us and free us from fear.
The Grandmothers tell us that together as warriors we need to hold the spirit of the land, the spirit of the ancestors, and the spirit of the people who are resisting the yearning in their hearts, which is the Light. Breathe the light of Spirit in, they say. Move with the Divine Feminine.” ~Carol Schaefer
I’ve had this yearning in my heart for a long, long time, the yearning in my heart, which is the Light. There has been no logical reason for the yearning. It’s not about logic. I finally figured that out years back. In fact, trying to make sense of the yearning takes me out of my heart, out of the yearning. No, it’s about trust. Trusting that which is calling. Trusting that which moves through me, and you, and all of us. It is the Divine Feminine stirring within, returning now to bring us back into balance. Balance within and balance without.
The Grandmothers say we must remember our nature, our wisdom. They say that “women carry the ancient knowledge of the Divine Feminine deep within the very cells of their being”.
Our wisdom is unique to us, unique to each woman, just as unique as she is. This is another thing we must trust. That we are inherently wise, that our bodies hold this wisdom.
Learning to once again trust the body and trust one’s wisdom when we’ve been out of touch with them takes a community of women, where each woman is held by the rest. A community where she is nurtured, loved and supported simply as she is, without having to strive to be something she cannot be, a striving for perfection that keeps her from knowing what is already enough within her.
In reading the Grandmothers, I now look back on those women in New York and realize what was happening. We were holding each other in our hearts, and in this holding, our resistance was melting away. In community we began to move together with the Divine Feminine, both individually and collectively.
“Remember, the Grandmothers say, we women have been gifted – we are all-knowing, the creators and makers of life, the seed carriers for the children of the Earth. We must walk strong and walk in our innate knowledge and power…women must wake up this great force they possess and bring the world back to peace and harmony…”
Now we can find our community, trust the yearning in our hearts, and awaken to our deep love for all of life. We can awaken to our creativity, the sacred creativity that we’ve been gifted with.
The one thing that shakes me to my bones is looking into the eyes of my three grandchildren, knowing we’ve made an awful mess of things and wondering what kind of world they will have to live in. What will they face?
We are all mothers and grandmothers to all the world’s children. There isn’t time to worry about whether or not we qualify for the job. All women were made for this. As Joan of Arc said,
â€œI am not afraidâ€¦I was born to do this.â€
If you get very quiet and listen to your body, it will lead you. Our bodies know the way.
So gather your community. Trust the yearning in your heart. Move with the Divine Feminine. Wake up this great force within. Hold each other in your hearts. Share the talking stick. Walk and talk your wisdom, loudly and clearly. I am honored to be waking up with you.