Grief is one of the heart's natural responses to loss.

“When after heavy rain the storm clouds disperse, is it not that they’ve wept themselves clear to the end?”

~Ghalib

Grief is one of the heart’s natural responses to loss. When we grieve we allow ourselves to feel the truth of our pain, the measure of betrayal or tragedy in our life. By our willingness to mourn, we slowly acknowledge, integrate, and accept the truth of our losses. Sometimes the best way to let go is to grieve.

It takes courage to grieve, to honor the pain we carry. We can grieve in tears or in meditative silence, in prayer or in song. In touching the pain of recent and long-held griefs, we come face to face with our genuine human vulnerability, with helplessness and hopelessness. These are the storm clouds of the heart.

Most traditional societies offer ritual and communal support to help people move through grief and loss. We need to respect our tears. Without a wise way to grieve, we can only soldier on, armored and unfeeling, but our hearts cannot learn and grow from the sorrows of the past.

To meditate on grief, let yourself sit, alone or with a comforting friend. Take the time to create an atmosphere of support. When you are ready, begin by sensing your breath. Feel your breathing in the area of your chest. This can help you become present to what is within you. Take one hand and hold is gently on your heart as if you were holding a vulnerable human being. You are.

As you continue to breathe, bring to mind the loss or pain you are grieving. Let the story, the images, the feelings comes naturally. Hold them gently. Take your time. Let the feelings come layer by layer, a little at a time.

Keep breathing softly, compassionately. Let whatever feelings are there, pain and tears, anger and love, fear and sorrow, come as they will. Touch them gently. Let them unravel out of your body and mind. Make space for any images that arise. Allow the whole story. Breathe and hold it all with tenderness and compassion. Kindness for it all, for you and for others.

The grief we carry is part of the grief of the world. Hold it gently. Let it be honored. You do not have to keep it in anymore. You can let it go into the heart of compassion; you can weep.

Releasing the grief we carry is a long, tear-filled process. Yet it follows the natural intelligence of the body and heart. Trust it, trust the unfolding. Along with meditation, some of your grief will want to be written, to be cried out, to be sung, to be danced. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief to an open heart.

The meditation is taken from the book, “The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace

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AFTERWORD from my latest book BEST FRIENDS

 

          How do we measure our life? All the moments which make up the whole of it. What markers can we point to? Was it the moment when we grew an inch or ran a winning race? Or when we lost our nerve or made an honest assessment of who we believe we are. Does it matter at all, and is it all random?   

          Growing up seemed to be a process in which I measured myself against those who were growing up alongside me. They were the physical manifestation of how I measured myself  well before I put any context to it. Did what I feel or what surprised me or the wisdoms hidden from my consciousness, still affect my actions—the core of who I was becoming, or might have become, if only? Did activity alone become what defined me?  At some of those low points in the process of growing up, my mother would say what she would repeat often.

          You will grow into yourself. Your time will come. Your maturity will tap     you on the shoulder and tell you that you have arrived. You will blossom as      we all eventually do. You must be patient.

          It has been seven years since Betty's death, nine since my husband died; twenty-seven years since my father's life came to an end and thirty-two since my mother died. Their words still linger, and I sometimes whisper back, "Have I. Did I, Can I, Will I?" I look at the faces of my contemporaries and see how we have changed. How some of us have slipped away. How time has not always been patient with us. I get curious middle-of-the-night thoughts. The few last night were, if not surprising or particularly new, enlightening to me. I suppose transcribing our letters for this book of remembrance drew me back in time. The recognition that even the closest and most important people in our lives do not stay. Moments that you feel eternal, turn out to be transient. Losing touch with Betty for all those years struck that chord. While we could not have been closer, that friendship only inhabited a particular time in life, then moved in different directions and finally faded away. 

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April 10, 2018_ Joan Didion

I watched a film last evening about Joan Didion, produced by the brother of her late husband, John Dunne.  She is a haunting figure now and in some ways I feel a connection that is haunting as well.  Her husband died suddenly on the next to last day of December in 2003.   I remember vividly one Sunday in 2004 probably, sitting in the car reading an article about her.  The article was in connection to a book she wrote (The Year of Magical Thinking).  We were in Connecticut visiting one of Dieter's clients. It was a second visit as I recall, one to take measurements again before he started her project.  The article and the story stayed with me, with a sharp and clear recall, about the journey of losing one's husband so suddenly, so that when three years later my husband died, Joan Didion 's own tragedy, even sadder than my own, flooded back.  Maybe that is why I wrote A Reluctant Life, though at the time that wasn't clear.  But  I couldn't read her book .  Not until I finished mine.  Then I did.  She is a far better writer than I shall ever be, and yet I feel linked to her, and to the honesty of protraying grief in the honest way I did and the amazing way she did.  Her daughter died while she was writing Magical Thinking or just shortly after....she was dead when Magical Thinking became a play and it wasn't till a few years later that she painfully wrote and finished the book Blue Nights...about that experience.  Didion is now a shadow of her physical self.  Grown old and frail and while always thin, now her skin is only lightly draped on her bones...but she lives.  Her speech  her words are short, brief, accompanied by almost wild hand and arm gestures to express those words. The smile is almost a grimace. The sadness pierces her every movement, and yet she lives. She is still heroically, hauntingly significant.

BEAUTY THROUGH TIME, Ursula K.LeGuin

Yesterday I was tasked with looking through decades of photographs belonging to a great friend who died a few months ago.  Her home of many dozen years was being cleared out. What struck me was the overwhelming reality of the journey our bodies take as we are living each of our days, months and years. Our body changes while I believe our spirit does not rearrange itself quite in the same way.  Looking through the pictures of this one woman, I saw her as a cute baby, a lovely teenager, a young woman with children, a young woman gaunt and beautiful, changed through one of the sadder moments of her life, the middle-aged woman, still full of life, and the older woman still full of life but now with a body surrounded by weight,  her soul still shining through.  These days I spend some time recognizing my own metamorphosis...feeling the same as my thirty-year-old self, and wondering who that person is I am looking at in the mirror.

So Reading Ursula K. LeGuin Wave of the Mind,  I felt keenly that she was able to say the words that exactly fit. At this time, her death recent, It seemed to me it would be a good way of keeping her alive and those still here, ever mindful.

"My mother died at eighty-three, of cancer, in pain, her spleen enlarged so that her body was misshapen. Is that the person I see when I think of her? Sometimes. I wish it were not. It is a true image, yet it blurs, it clouds, a truer image. It is one memory among fifty years of memories of my mother. It is the last in time. Beneath it, behind it is a deeper, complex, ever-changing image, made from imagination, hearsay, photographs, memories. I see a little red-haired child in the mountains of Colorado, a sad-faced, delicate college girl, a kind, smiling young mother, a brilliantly intellectual woman, a peerless flirt, a serious artist, a splendid cook—I see her rocking, weeding, writing, laughing — I see the turquoise bracelets on her delicate, freckled arm — I see, for a moment, all that at once, I glimpse what no mirror can reflect, the spirit flashing out across the years, beautiful.

That must be what the great artists see and paint. That must be why the tired, aged faces in Rembrandt’s portraits give us such delight: they show us beauty not skin-deep but life-deep."

 

 portrait by Frederico Piatti

portrait by Frederico Piatti

MORE ON LONELINESS

CANTICLE 6
by May Sarton

Alone one is never lonely: the spirit
       adventures, waking
In a quiet garden, in a cool house, abiding single there;
The spirit adventures in sleep, the sweet thirst-slaking
When only the moon’s reflection touches the wild hair.
There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone:
It finds a lovely certainty in the evening and the morning.
It is only where two have come together bone against bone
That those alonenesses take place, when, without warning
The sky opens over their heads to an infinite hole in space;
It is only turning at night to a lover that one learns
He is set apart like a star forever and that sleeping face
(For whom the heart has cried, for whom the frail hand burns)
Is swung out in the night alone, so luminous and still,
The waking spirit attends, the loving spirit gazes
Without communion, without touch, and comes to know at last
Out of a silence only and never when the body blazes
That love is present, that always burns alone, however steadfast.

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THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS

"A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself." e e cummngs

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LEARN TO DANCE WITH A LIMP

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly — that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
 — Anne Lamott

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A SIMPLE TRUTH

This quote seems even more important today than ever.

"In a world whose absurdity appears to be so impenetrable, we simply must reach a greater degree of understanding among men, a greater sincerity. We must achieve this or perish. To do so, certain conditions must be fulfilled: men must be frank (falsehood confuses things), free (communication is impossible with slaves). Finally, they must feel a certain justice around them." Albert Camus

TIME

The days have been cold and wet and has been for some time.  One gets these middle-of-the-night thoughts...the one last night was, if not surprising or particularly new,  enlightening to me.  I suppose transcribing Betty and my letters for the new book I am putting together has placed me back in time. A  recognition about how the closest and most important people in our lives move away. Moments that you felt somehow eternal, are transient. They cannot last. People are transient.  Losing touch with Betty for twenty-nine years struck that chord. We could not have been closer, and yet that friendship inhabited a particular time in life, and then it ended.  I can think of so many other people.  She was an unknown by then. It makes it clearer to me what the Buddhists' say about loss, being in the now, and letting go.  We do let go, but sometimes it takes time.  More to the point seems to be that one can't assume that we will be tied together by virtue of a time spent together forever. There is no forever on this plane.  Those ties will loosen and float away.  Most often I accept that, as others do.  We go on with our lives, remembering sometimes vaguely of those ties which for a period of time bound us to each other.  That became clearer to me in the darkness of last night.  We are no more, except maybe an occasional surfacing memory that will bring that time back to them or to me, for a moment.  That particular kind of loss doesn't always feel real, until it does, and when it does, I understand completely the journey we travel on.  The connections we have made and then have let go of.  The memory of certain times from a backward look can be visceral and immediate, but no longer have the ability to stay or ever be again.  There is sadness in this recognition, but the truth of loss of each moment of our lives that ended when that moment ended is what it is. Life IS immediate. What occupies me now will be over as it is being lived. We will step from each of our now moments to the next now moment. The parade of time really does move forward.  You can stand in one place and you will still be moving.  Now becomes then just like that.  then...is now a memory. It no longer exists. It is a "was", a has- been.  It will never happen again...If I counted  and contemplated the seconds of my life, I would be struck deeply by the meaning of time, the filling of time. The movement of time. The inevitable change.  We are not static. That's the realization which while not very clever, became very real and an amazing understanding that went towards acceptance.

From a work in progress: Best Friends

The interesting thing is that now I have a different view. When I was young I was impatient for my future to begin, and now I am stuck in the life that already was.  I have traveled through many years, seen every season many, many times. Sitting here on my tiny deck, a witness to so many decades swirling around my mind, I feel the full weight of those years. I moved through some of them with eyes half closed—at other times fully engaged in the demand that I take part in finding my particular place and recognizing all the reasons for needing to be here, discovering with some relief, that after all, none of this will matter in one hundred years.

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About the act of writing

"In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space"  Joan Didion

HEARTBREAK

From David Whyte;s book: Collision:
HEARTBREAK is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control...Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life's work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak is the beautifully helpless side of love and affection and is [an] essence and emblem of care... Heartbreak has its own way of inhabiting time and its own beautiful and trying patience in coming and going.

 

HERMAN HESSE SAID...

I would simply like to reclaim an old and, alas, quite unfashionable private formula: Moderate enjoyment is double enjoyment. And: Do not overlook the little joys!In certain circles [moderation] requires courage to miss a première. In wider circles it takes courage not to have read a new publication several weeks after its appearance. In the widest circles of all, one is an object of ridicule if one has not read the daily paper. But I know people who feel no regret at exercising this courage.Let not the man* who subscribes to a weekly theater series feel that he is losing something if he makes use of it only every other week. I guarantee: he will gain.

Let anyone who is accustomed to looking at a great many pictures in an exhibition try just once, if he is still capable of it, spending an hour or more in front of a single masterpiece and content himself with that for the day. He will be the gainer by it.

Let the omnivorous reader try the same sort of thing. Sometimes he will be annoyed at not being able to join in conversation about some publication; occasionally he will cause smiles. But soon he will know better and do the smiling himself. And let any man who cannot bring himself to use any other kind of restraint try to make a habit of going to bed at ten o’clock at least once a week. He will be amazed at how richly this small sacrifice of time and pleasure will be rewarded.

 Herman Hesse

Herman Hesse

WHO AM I

In Simone deBeauvoir's autobiography, ALL SAID AND DONE, 1972, she talks about something that I have often contemplated and indeed experienced.  Her words capture this experience far better than I can:

"Every morning, even before I open my eyes, I know I am in my bedroom and my bed. But if I go to sleep after lunch in the room where I work, sometimes I wake up with a feeling of childish amazement — why am I myself? What astonishes me, just as it astonishes a child when he becomes aware of his own identity, is the fact of finding myself here, and at this moment, deep in this life and not in any other. What stroke of chance has brought this about?

The penetration of that particular ovum by that particular spermatozoon, with its implications of the meeting of my parents and before that of their birth and the births of all their forebears, had not one chance in hundreds of millions of coming about. And it was chance, a chance quite unpredictable in the present state of science, that caused me to be born a woman. From that point on, it seems to me that a thousand different futures might have stemmed from every single movement of my past: I might have fallen ill and broken off my studies; I might not have met Sartre; anything at all might have happened.

Tossed into the world, I have been subjected to its laws and its contingencies, ruled by wills other than my own, by circumstance and by history: it is therefore reasonable for me to feel that I am myself contingent. What staggers me is that at the same time I am not contingent. If I had not been born no question would have arisen: I have to take the fact that I do exist as my starting point. To be sure, the future of the woman I have been may turn me into someone other than myself. But in that case it would be this other woman who would be asking herself who she was. For the person who says “Here am I” there is no other coexisting possibility. Yet this necessary coincidence of the subject and his history is not enough to do away with my perplexity. My life: it is both intimately known and remote; it defines me and yet I stand outside it."

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COMMUNICATION AND WORDS

"Nevertheless, this meaning does not cover all that is signified by communication. For example, consider a dialogue. In such a dialogue, when one person says something, the other person does not in general respond with exactly the same meaning as that seen by the first person. Rather, the meanings are only similar and not identical. Thus, when the second person replies, the first person sees a difference between what he meant to say and what the other person understood. On considering this difference, he may then be able to see something new, which is relevant both to his own views and to those of the other person. And so it can go back and forth, with the continual emergence of a new content that is common to both participants. Thus, in a dialogue, each person does not attempt to make common certain ideas or items of information that are already known to him. Rather, it may be said that the two people are making something in common, i.e., creating something new together.

But of course such communication can lead to the creation of something new only if people are able freely to listen to each other, without prejudice, and without trying to influence each other. Each has to be interested primarily in truth and coherence so that he is ready to drop his old ideas and intentions and be ready to go on to something different when this is called for." David Bohm

I-Thou--and--Self. Versus the Authentic Self...the Differences

Martin Buber

Buber’s philosophy of dialogue views the human existence in two fundamentally different kinds of relations: I-It relations and I-Thou relations. An I-It relation is the normal everyday relation of a human being toward his or her surroundings. A person can also view another person as an It, and often does so by viewing others from a distance. In the I-Thou relation the individual enters into the relationship with another human with his or her entire being. This relationship becomes an intimate meeting, a real dialogue between both partners. Buber saw this as a reflection of the encounter between the human being and God. The I-Thou relationship allows for dialogue between the human being and God.

 

 

Kahlill Gibran:

My friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear — a care-woven garment that protects me from thy questionings and thee from my negligence. The “I” in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence, and therein it shall remain for ever more, unperceived, unapproachable.

The “friend” Gibran addresses is the idealized self, the self we present to the world, the aspirational self of who we would like to be rather than who we are — a self that invariably obscures our incompleteness and imperfection, which are the wellspring of our richest humanity. Gibran writes:

My friend, thou art good and cautious and wise; nay, thou art perfect — and I, too, speak with thee wisely and cautiously. And yet I am mad. But I mask my madness. I would be mad alone. My friend, thou art not my friend, but how shall I make thee understand? My path is not thy path, yet together we walk, hand in hand.

THE ACHE INSIDE THAT MAKES ME WRITE

When I cannot resolve what is happening, or what has happened in the past, when I can't say clearly to anyone what I am feeling, then it is only in writing that I find my voice. That is why I write. To extract what I otherwise find hard to comprehend at once.  I can dig out of the recesses of my consciousness, that which I already know and explore it with a depth that is unavailable otherwise. Writing whether memoir or fiction is a long slow journey.  We are explorers of the human condition at large and of our own personal self. Our attempt-- my attempt, is to find what makes us most human.

I have used "self" as a way of making what I  write something that hopefully is a universal truth. I hope I have written characters  with compassion, even when they are flawed, even those I perceive as having done me harm. It is the personal experiences we write about which help us discover a small truth about ourselves and a bigger truth about our world. When I write in the first person, I think I may be revealed. Or that someone will recognize themselves.  and when i manage to write without fear of having to be safe I have the chance of finding that amazing moment, the thing that turns on every light in the house Even while the sun is still shining.

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