7 Years ago . . .
Early this morning, still half in dream, I awoke dreaming of this essay from 7 years ago (2012). It’s one of my favorite writing pieces, one that has stayed with me in my heart.
I wrote this piece just days before a (surprisingly phenomenal!) first date with a friend who would soon become a boyfriend, then partner, now beloved husband.
Before I wrote this essay (in 2012), I had been lonely, grieving a 7-year partnership that had ended without resolution 7 years before. This essay (below) was the resolution to that 7-year grief.
I offer up this post tonight for all who long for partnership, for all who grieve a lost love, and all for who love unrequitedly. May there be comfort, healing, and illumination here!
Most of all, may you always remember that you are deeply loved. You are. 💚🙏💚
Handprints in morning mud, my beloved nearly (but not yet) discovered
A fun side note! This first photo (hands prints in mud), was from a walk I’d taken a few days before I wrote the essay. In Tucson, when the summer monsoon rains come, our dry washes come alive, flowing as the rivers their sandy souls know them to be! Then, within hours or days, the water seeps into the subterranean world where desert waters go, and there is mud. Soon it dries and cracks into dust, but for a tiny window of time, we have gorgeous, thick washes of chocolate mud!
Early one morning, I had invited my friend to walk with me, and we made designs in the mud with sticks and then our hands, talking and laughing.
When I wrote these words below (and chose this photo of his handprints), I had no idea that I was seeing the handprints of my future spouse and very best friend in the world!!
I’d thought it was just a passing moment, like the river-running wash.
Sometimes the seeds of great beauty to come are hidden openly in our view . . . kind of like ephemeral mud prints in a chocolate river . . .
In we go . . .
On Autumn Equinox 2012, this is what I wrote:
What is single?
One cell afloat in a locked petri dish is single. The rest of us are in relationship. I am amazed at the expanding, interwoven web of relationships around me. This dance is not static, although sometimes there is a great longing to go deeper with a person.
It seems that every day there is a new opportunity to share an hour of honest, meaningful conversation with someone—or even a few minutes of insights and amusement. Sometimes, there is a ceremony and celebration, or a hike to see beautiful medicine plants, or an hour of exploring art made in river sand (damp from the rain), or a shared dinner.
The catch is that I must be very flexible and active in tending this wide net of friends and companions, each with a busy calendar and each with multiple emotional commitments. I think basic logistics must be much easier when a person has friend monogamy, but for now I experience both the pleasures and complications of balancing the wishes of so many. Mostly I am not lonely.
Today is about relationships. It is the autumn equinox, the balance point between light and dark, as summer turns to fall. What will we each experience as powerful 2012 twirls to its end? For me, today marks the end of a significant 7-year phase. It is the 7-year anniversary of breaking up with my ex-partner; we had been together for 7 years.
At the time, Lama Tsultrim Allione, a spiritual teacher of mine, observed—in a verbal finger snap— “Now you have him. Now you don’t.” That same summer 2005, weeks before we broke up, my ex had walked around the Buddhist retreat center where I was living wearing a T-shirt that was printed on the back with one large word: “Impermanence.” As I walked behind him, sensing the changes soon to come, I saw the deep teaching of this—and the cosmic humor of it too.
That summer, Lama Tsultrim also shared with me that she likes to interact with every person as though it will be the last time she will ever see this being again— because it might be. And it has been. Although there had been much love between us, my ex-partner and I did not remain friends; we have not spoken to each other for years, and it is most likely that we will never speak to each other again in this lifetime. Finger snaps. Poof!
Although I aspire to experience equanimity, and although I know that this particular relationship was not supposed to continue (truly, on some very fundamental levels, he and I were incompatible), still the grief comes. Many months will pass with barely a thought of this old relationship, and then suddenly there grief is—again! I tell it, “Go away, go away! Haven’t you pestered me enough. I’m over this. For goodness sake, it’s been seven years. I’ve moved on! Leave me alone.” But when I do that, grief just sits there, looking at me with those big weepy eyes.
It happened again last week. I was at a beautiful picnic at dusk with five friends, and we were telling stories. I felt inspired to leap up and share an outdoor adventure story that illuminated my ex-partner’s chivalrous nature (and our humor)! It was fun to tell. It’s a story I haven’t shared in years, believing that I need to put all of the good stories of our times together away, stuffed in a box somewhere, that doing this somehow “proves” I’m over it. So I never tell them. Somehow, though, this one little story of adventure, joy, and amusement slipped out of the attic and down the stairs that night, and danced a little memory jig right there in the sand in front of my friends. And I was transported to a happy moment in the past. Nothing was wrong with any of this . . . except that, after I came home that night, a tremendous sadness descended.
A few hours later, I experienced a little iPod miracle. I went to play some music, and instead of my regular play lists, an audio file popped up, one that I was given over a year ago but had never played. It was teacher, storyteller, and shaman Martin Prechtel speaking about grief and praise. I was totally amazed.
In the words of Martin Prechtel:
“If you are praising something, true grief has to be present for the stakes to be high enough for the praise to be legitimate. If a true praise is coming along, then it’s got to contain the notion that you’re mortal, and that [the person you are praising] is mortal, and that the beauty is that this moment we are all together at this place to be together. And there’s a grief in that that makes the magic of the praise very real – because the stakes are extremely high!
“At the same time, any grieving, what is that? Somebody dies or a loved one goes somewhere else or, like myself, having your whole country ripped out from beneath you. What is that grief that you finally do, what is that? It is a form of praise! Of life! Because it means you miss it—you miss the damn thing. Because you gotta love the thing you lost, just like you gotta love the thing you got! So when you are grieving for the thing you got, it’s praise, and when you are praising the thing you lost, it’s called grief.”
In the moment I heard these words, I received a blast of insight that cleared the fog! My goodness! All my suppressing of these stories—of the praising of what was good—this has been the main reason for this ongoing cycle of returning sorrow. This is why that old hungry dog of grief has been trailing along behind me so very persistently all these years, just trying to get a little attention and a bone!
Somehow, in my quest to follow the Buddhist teachings on turning one’s mind from attachment, I thought that my task was to “let go” of those past happy times within this relationship, that remembering them – or telling stories about them—was just creating suffering. Actually, I realize now, that the opposite has occurred; it’s the suppressing that has caused the suffering, not the little stories. They are just love.
And the funny thing is that I know that when the “demons” of emotion come up, they need attention and care. I know because I have had the great fortune of learning and practicing Lama Tsultrim’s Feeding Your Demons practice (a very straight-forward, modern, and helpful meditation technique based on an ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice of offering up your body/mind/ego to nourish and feed your inner demons and complexes—rather than trying to fight them). I have been practicing this for years!
Usually, when I have called on this practice, it has been for something very messy and obvious, like feelings of anger, despair, or self-doubt. These are big and clear “demons”—and feeding them is fast and dramatic! They appear as great hungry monsters, and then they are sated, and they let go.
But somehow, in all of these years, it had never ever dawned on me to feed and nourish the “demon” of this grief. Not even once! Why?
So last night, on the eve of this powerful autumn equinox day, I sat in meditation and met with this demon of grief. “What do you want of me?” I asked, “What do you need?” I was amazed. This was not like any other demon I have ever encountered in the wild backcountry of my mind! This one was so large and soft, and full of such tenderness. This demon is tremendously loving. Really?! Yes! Amazing! This grief demon wants to praise. It wants to love. It wants to share.
It wants every single being I have ever cared about in my entire life (and there are oh so many of you!) to know this: you are deeply loved!
In the light of this first autumn day, I see into something else too. This is becoming so clear to me now. For seven years, I have been holding back my care from others. I have been standing in the shadows, afraid to be truly open. I have told myself that it is others who need space, who are always busy, who have all those commitments, who need their privacy and downtime, etc. But really I am the one who keeps saying no. After giving my heart so completely all those years ago, I guess I thought I would just keep it safe from now on, you know, up in that dusty box in the attic . . . as though doing that ever kept a heart safe! Goodness, what was I thinking!
Well, my heart is officially out of the attic now, on this sacred day, autumn equinox 2012. Hoorah!! Yip, yip!! Welcome back!! Woot!! Love, love, love!! ❤
Now I can hardly wait to see how this new season unfolds . . . 🙂
“The ability to laugh and the ability to grieve, they live in the same house.”
— Martin Prechtel
PHOTO CREDITS: Alyson Greene May, except for Kuan Yin photo (unknown) and double rainbow photo.
Double rainbow photo was taken in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, by Eric Rolph. License: Eric Rolph at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.