The Ever-Shifting Center of Our Lives
I have been wanting to tell you about this winter, about the process of wrestling my body and heart out of a marriage I thought would last until I was ready to leave this life. I have wanted to make sure no one imagines me as anything other than human. Vulnerable. Messy. Lost. (Even as I’m utterly found. Always.) I want to tell you about the horrifying times of groveling, of going back long after it was clear I was not wanted. Of telling and re-telling myself stories that would allow me to feel even moderately okay about my behavior. I’m a fantastic story-teller. Even when the story could kill me. But I really want to tell you – I need to tell you – about how, for eight weeks straight, I would wake up at 4:30 am sharp (after finally falling asleep at 2)...in a sweat, tears already rolling into my ears, my heartbreak raging in my head like a symphony gone horribly wrong. Here, I would look up through the skylight above my bed into the dark midwinter pre-dawn sky and watch the stars fading into diffuse, lost, morning light. In February, it doesn't get light until 7am , which meant I would lay in bed for 2 and half hours, trying to think of thoughts that didn’t involve violently changing what was. Occasionally I would have a wild victory. I’d feel the cold slide into despair, into ‘Why did this happen? How could a person.....?’ and before going so far that my heart would break and I’d fall into sobbing again, I would miraculously get swooped up by the world; by the unflappable (but sometimes elusive) Love that lives so immortally in my heart. These moments are like soaring. I am healthy after all! Honestly. Even as they are the victories, these are some of the darkest moments we humans can have. There were plenty of times I could not remember. Plenty of times gratitude and love would get trampled by rage, by fear, by a desperate desire to do anything to get clarity, to have things make sense, to be partnered with this particular man. Believe me, early Winter is a horrible time to leave a marriage.
Though, as Life relentlessly has it, slowly, over the course of winter thawing into spring, and spring flagrantly unfolding into summer, the muscles of my rightness-of-being got developed, and a different organizational creature began solidifying as Me. I was determined not to distract my heartbreak with other humans. And there was a process of honoring the marriage – and the beautiful possibility that existed within it – that needed to happen for me. I would have felt ungrateful to Mystery if I didn’t demand of myself that I stay present through its full death; like leaving a beloved on their death bed before they've taken their last breath. In this space of endless nights and weekends alone (an unnecessary fate the martyr of me likely brought upon herself at times) I had plenty of opportunity to practice something new. Something I certainly had never had the capacity for in the past. I had already caught on about myself that, here at 48, I was wiser, stronger, more on my path than I’d ever been before in my life. My body was stronger, healthier more vital and more beautiful than ever before. My mind was keener and more voracious than ever before. My curiosity unrelenting. Even through the heartbreak, I was able to see that this exact moment in my life was quite possibly my prime expression. Never before had everything lined up, synchronized, clarified. Even in the midst of feeling as if my core had been compromised by the process of the last months of my marriage and subsequently by the divorce, I also had a sense of never-before-strength and fearlessness about what it is I’m here to do, and why. Here, in this space, an unequivocal experience of No-Doubt slowly entered my system.
And from this place it dawned on me that I had an opportunity here not simply to make it through this heartbreak in one piece (or at least less than a dozen pieces), but to actually LOVE this experience. And when I say ‘love this experience‘ please hear me. I do not mean the spiritual bypass we do in certain communities where we deny the pain, the rage, the heartbreak and betrayal. I’m talking about actually LOVING THEM ALL. “What would this look like?!” I asked myself, as I stood in the pond one morning feeding the water lilies while the fish swam around my ankles with expectation and delight, despite brains the size of earthworm castings. What would it look like to imagine that everything that had happened wasn’t simply a mistake (or even something more neutral) but rather, in truth, exactly what needed to happen in order for my life to stay on track? And from here, what would it look like to turn toward the Mystery (which in my case looks like turning my face upward and gazing into the canopy of the two cottonwood trees) and say, “Okay....I’m still breathing. What’s your next move!?!” What would it look like to love the pain and still feel the pain? My dear friend, Maurice, just reminded me of the Hafiz poem, ‘Tripping Over Joy’:
What is the difference Between your experience of Existence And that of a saint?
The saint knows That the spiritual path Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved Has just made such a Fantastic Move That the saint is now continually Tripping over Joy And bursting out in Laughter And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear, I am afraid You still think You have a thousand serious moves.
What would it look like for me to practice darkly unadulterated love for exactly all the feelings and experiences I was having in the moment...and even ask for more (whatever that means)? What would happen to me physically, to my heart, to my mind, to my capacity to be present, to my capacity to mother (which was required of me like never before in this time)? And most important to this experiment, what if I could stop dead in these moments and greet the pain with welcome? Not because I like pain, but because it's doing something to me. Because just like the ecstasy, the laughter, the broken-open awe-filled moments, the wrenching breath-sucking heart-break moments must also be doing something to fashion me into a certain person who is capable of certain things. What if I could know this, breathe deeper, lean into them and even say, "yes.....I'm right here. You can have all of me." The specifics of this practice included (still include) me feeling the depth of these feelings, feeling my resistance, my tears, my desire to have had a different outcome etc. And then, I begin to recite all the things I love in the moment. In the beginning I had to look hard, frantically searching – the mountains, the trees, the sky, the elkhound, my beautiful children, myself in the mirror. But it would work. At first it would take many attempts and not all of them ‘stuck’. But now, at this point I am well-muscled, honed to this practice. The chemistry of despair has been subsumed, metabolized by a general, generous, love of this life – of my life – and an overwhelming trust. Now in this place of engagement, it often looks like dancing, smiling so wide the tears slide into my mouth, talking louder than the guy next to you on his cell phone to the birds above my head or the squirrels who stare at me from the crook of the cottonwoods, wishing I would feed them sunflower seeds again.
But please hear me. I still sob. I still hurt. I still have moments of feeling lost and tremendously lonely. The difference is, I’m in love with it all and I'm leaning in. I’m grateful, and I’m trusting that whatever has occurred needed to occur in order for me to stay on my path and wildly in my life, wild in my life. But more, that all of this is somehow an extraordinary gift.
And yes, at some point perhaps I will talk about the loneliness and longing, because these are the deepest feelings I’m having right now. As beautiful as my options are, there is no human on earth who could actually fill these vessels of loneliness and longing in my woman’s heart and body. I have come to know that these are, simply, by-products of being alive and awake in a world that is as beautiful as this one. A world in which water lilies bloom by the handful and dragon flies come sit on me while I sip my tea at sunrise. Where drunk cabbage white butterflies spiral like double helixes, mating in the thick summer air, then plummet like their engines died into the grass below to rest and feed. Where a mother garter snake teaches her perfect replica of a tiny offspring how to drink at the edge of the pond without falling in. Where an orphaned baby rabbit, smaller than a peach, comes into the yard each morning and eats lettuce leaves out of my hand. Where a 19 year old young man can find his true life well before other men twice his age have claimed theirs. And where a woman can fall in love with the worst pain she’s ever felt, trusting that the wisdom that got her – and everything else – here has the capacity to hold her, just safely enough, in the ever-shifting center of her Life.