If we let it.
Often a dull ache.
In classes, I teach the dark truth, “all is temporary, in flux. We will one day lose everything and everyone we love.”
Students stand, fake-bolt out of the room and joke, “now I’m depressed.”
Who wants to sit in the reality of loss? Instead we digest society’s words. “Time to let go.” We lecture ourselves with cultural clichés, “Life goes on.”
It does. But the heart’s tectonic climate changes aren’t rational. Nor are they irrational. Emotions are non-rational and don’t respond to the shushings of the intellect, loud in its attempts to take over as our CEO. As philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “the heart has its reasons that reason does not know.”
Oh, we can get busy. I walk at Audubon or savor cups of tea with friends after a good-bye with a dear one. We do moving-on things: laugh, sing, dance, take time for ourselves, build self-love. All good. Still, eye sockets swell with tears, of course, because activity cannot, does not, erase grief. Yet, often when I sniffle, I hear my scolding voice, “Susan, get a grip.”
If I remember, I then repeat the words of my teacher Ferris, “Life is hard. How can we be anything but kind?”
Self-kindness means to feel the feelings that come with loss, to let sadness be. My father, April-born, died ten years ago. I “should” be over it. But grief peels off in layers, or flows in fluid waves. The heart makes room for its felt sense, so grief and gratitude can dwell together in its shelter. (I miss him and wow, I got to have that great man as my dad). Woe and wonder: a full life calls us into “both….and….”.
Ferris, my first mindfulness teacher, died last week. She greets me daily from the bookmark I made of her pictures, with her wild autumn-fire hair, her contagious smile, her clear eyes behind those funky round glasses. I hear her say, “Mercy. Mercy.” when she’d catch me Sue-bashing. She taught me to “mercy” myself and tapped my shoulders with words she helped me believe, “Susan, you have vast inner resources.”
She wanted me, wanted us, to embrace all of life. Today I hear her echo, “let your hearts carry the contradictions of pleasure and pain, praise and blame, loss and gain, birth and death.” She knew that the heart can hold paradox.
For me, April is a tough month, mucky and muddy inside and out. I feel raw in showery April, my internal weather like soft spring rain. Do we ever get over the grief of a deep love? Maybe. Mostly we get through it. Left. Right. We do our work in the world, whatever it is. Teach. Volunteer. Play. Garden. Meanwhile the heart does its work of unwinding its painful knots. It asks us, I think, not to contract, not to shut down, not to tighten. The chambers in the center of our chest yearn to stay open, to expand into life’s messiness. “Feel the pain in the heart and the heart in the pain,” invited writer Stephen Levine.
Ferris would say that to listen for the whisperings of the heart’s wisdom is an act of radical self-compassion. It’s hard to let the heart be soft. Yet we can walk in the world with heaviness of heart and lightness of being at the same time. Both, and. Our central sweet spot saves space for it all.