Love and Loss

 

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Today is my birthday, a time for celebration, happiness and being showered with love by those around me. It’s beautiful. As I have experienced more years on this planet and more of the interwoven tapestry of life I have realised how closely happiness and sadness live to each other. How love and loss are two sides of the same coin. On the happiest of days, like a birthday, wedding or new baby being born, we cannot help but be reminded of those we wish were still near.

This is not meant to be morbid, quite the opposite; being utterly present with what is, it is undeniable how love does not exist without loss from a human perspective. Any and everything we love will be at some point lost to our human selves, in the most extreme sense one or other will eventually die, with so many other types of loss in between.

From a universal perspective there is no loss, and love is unlimited; we are all love and whether our relationships change or one of us dies, our love continues infinitely. But our sweet human selves struggle deeply with loss and grief, my understanding is that grief is love with no where to go. As we travel through this life, love and loss are going to be our carriage mates, without doubt. So how do we move through and integrate these experiences?

The only piece of advice I am going to share is this; FEEL YOUR EMOTIONS. Feel them all, let them exist in you, let them move through you, let them devastate you when you are devastated, let them lift you higher than you could ever imagine when you are joyful. I know how scary and painful it can be, and how much we might want to escape those feelings by abandoning and numbing ourselves. Brene Brown, excellent author and researcher, did a Ted Talk in which she talked about the extreme version of any emotion, good or bad, is what triggers addicts to fall off the wagon. Isn’t that interesting? That really feeling the depth of our love AND loss feels just as uncomfortable to us. Which is why we see alcohol as the societal norm for all happy and sad occasions; why people get so drunk at weddings and at funerals. Different sides of the same coin.

There is no judgement for numbing, we have all done it in some way or another, at times it may even be essential. However I have learnt that when we allow our hard feelings to truly be felt, at an appropriate time, it hurts but there is hope and connection, and when we suppress and numb our feelings there is despair and disconnection.

This subject is on my mind as I have lost a most beloved soul in my life recently. At his memorial I adapted a poem, of unknown origin, which I would like to share with you in the hope these words may soothe you too in times of grief….

Am always with you

When I am gone, release me, let me go. I am safe and happy, I want you to know. You mustn’t tie yourself to me with too many tears, but be thankful we had such wonderful years. I gave you my love and you can only guess, how much you gave to me in happiness. I thank you for the love that you have shown, but now it’s time I travelled on alone. So grieve for me a while if grieve you must, then let your grief be comforted by trust, that it is only for a while that we must part, so treasure our memories within your heart. I won’t be far away for life goes on, and if you need me call and I will come. Though you can’t see or touch me I will be near, and if you listen with your heart you’ll hear, all my love around you soft and clear. And when the perfect time comes for us to meet again, our hearts will whisper ‘I know you’ once again.

Your heart knows the way…

Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction. – Rumi

I remember my aunt telling me how beautiful and raw I was very soon after my marriage ended. I felt like I was on fire and like a total mess; sleep walking through each day and at times being in so much pain that I felt like I could spontaneously combust or break apart into little pieces. I had an inkling of what she meant then and now it’s much clearer; she was talking about the inescapable open woundedness that leaves ones heart completely bare and undefended during a very painful experience. Quite simply a heart and a soul that is open and raw allows a level of connection that is usually not available. It is beautiful and also magnetising.

It is this that people are referring to when they talk of the most exquisite beauty being found in the midst of the most unbearable pain. We are cracked open and the depth to which experiences are allowed to penetrate us is far greater than when we have our day-to-day, must get things done, ‘everything’s fine’ armour on.

I’ve recently been very busy and caught up in the day-to-day, I have been aware that my current day-to-day feels like it requires relatively hefty armour. By armour I mean the layers we feel we need to protect ourselves with in order to remain upright, functioning and achieving. Today I took some time to lay my armour down, to allow what usually must stay under wraps to have the floor. It didn’t feel comfortable and it didn’t feel good in the moment, because what I feel I must hide behind my armour is my pain and sensitivity and suffering.

However what I’ve noticed is that when we armour up to hide the parts of us we feel are not pleasant or acceptable to the wider world, we also shut out what could touch us deeply. The armour hides our dark shadowy aspects, but also blocks the exquisite beauty of deep connection to our hearts. It’s only when we put the armour down and allow all of ourselves to be seen and felt, that we are fully able to see and feel the majesty that surrounds us.

In this armourless state I read the Rumi quote above and my breath was caught by the simple beauty and meaning of these two lines; Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction. I was touched in a way that most other days I wouldn’t have been, I would have scrolled on past without much thought or presence. It felt good.

I’d like to leave you with my favourite Rumi quote, one that has been my constant mantra in very difficult times:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.

The third way…

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I have been thinking a lot about ‘the third way’ recently. I was listening to a podcast a few months ago and the subject was about complex loss, such as when a loved one goes missing and there are no answers as to what happened to them. Dealing with these traumatic emotions and grief is somewhat different to more clearly defined loss, like a death from natural causes. During the conversation they discussed closure, whether it can be achieved after a complex loss, they said closure is not necessarily the aim or the end result, that there is a third way. The third way in this instance was rather than be swallowed by the grief and stay in the obsession of the loss, or shut it out in an attempt to reach ‘closure’, there is a messy, uncomfortable, but more authentic, third way. This third way is acknowledging the suffering and feeling the painful emotions, along with reaching for and moving towards the future without necessarily having a sense of closure. Can you feel in that description the third way feels vulnerable and messy, and yet honest and real?

In so many cases the third way is the way of healing and most true way to move through challenging times. In my case I have been trying to reconcile, in my mind and heart, a failed marriage; it was toxic and painful, but there was deep love and connection. The first way to process it could be; it was toxic therefore it was bad and unhealthy so chalk it up to a negative experience – put it in the ‘bad’ box. The second way could be; the love was so deep that I may never get over it, or feel that way again, the love of my life is lost, wallowing in the loss. And then there’s the much messier, but more authentic third way; there were parts that were unhealthy and toxic, they were bad. There were parts that were magical and loving, they were good. There is no box to put it in, it moves between the two extremes. This means there is no closure per se, it’s an ongoing organic process; there are happy memories which can hurt because it’s over, and there are painful, angry memories which can bring relief that the situation isn’t current anymore.

The third way runs between the first and second ways, which are both the more extreme options. The third way combines the two, it’s therefore a meandering path that traverses both sides without a pre-planned route or destination. This is what makes the third way so uncomfortable for us humans; we like to know exactly where we’re going and how to get there. I feel it’s so important to honour both the beauty and the pain, to feel the full spectrum of the feelings and flow with the third way.

This concept of the third way is applicable in so many facets of life; politics, health, the environment, day-to-day experience. For example when it comes to drinking alcohol, we have a growing binge drinking problem in the UK; large numbers of people don’t drink during the week then drink as much as they can at the weekend. Both of these are extremes; no alcohol and all the alcohol. The third way is the way of moderation, in this case it might be having a few drinks a couple of times a week. You often hear people say they find it possible to either not drink at all, or binge drink, that the discipline of moderation is the most difficult. You see the same when it comes to food; people yo-yoing between eating whatever they want, often to excess, then going on very restrictive diets in an attempt to counter balance the excess. When in actual fact the balanced approach of listening to your body and eating what you need, with some treats thrown in for fun, is the healthiest approach.

In Buddhism it is called the middle way; The Middle Way refers to the Buddha’s enlightened view of life and also the actions or attitudes that will create happiness for oneself and others. It is the rejection of extremes, which is depicted in the story of Shakyamuni; he first lathered himself in luxury, then deprived himself of everything, he realised neither extreme would take him any closer to spiritual enlightenment. ‘In his rejection of both self-mortification and self-indulgence, Shakyamuni awakened to the true nature of life—its eternity, its deep wellspring of unbounded vitality and wisdom.’

The Cambridge English Dictionary explains ‘the third way’ as a political movement in which the development of business is balanced with the needs of society. It is proposed to be the third way between capitalism and socialism. Taking the example of American politics at the moment, in some ways its easier for people dehumanise President Trump and his followers, and even hate them, than it is for them to have their own opinions and at the same time have compassion for, and see the humanness in, the opposition.

The tricky thing is choosing either extreme can often feel more exhilarating; there is usually adrenaline associated with the high of excess, and there may even be a sense of accomplishment in the extreme of denial. Taking the third way can feel unstimulating, boring and overly measured. There are of course circumstances which require an extreme response; a high level of adrenaline and life or death commitment to a cause. For example it took a World War to neutralise the threat and horrifying atrocities committed on behalf of Hitler.

I’m sure you can think of many circumstances, in your own life and globally, where navigating a third way between the extremes would bring more peace and healing. However as we have seen it’s not necessarily the easy option for us, in most cases it takes discipline, vulnerability and radical honesty. Cultivating this third way in our own lives, in our own struggles, and on a global scale, is a worthy practice. It will feel messy and uncomfortable, the path may not be clear, but it is where we find wisdom, acceptance and true healing.

Peace

peace

Feeling peaceful, connected to nature, the colours in the sky, the skip hop and jump of a crow in the park, the deep pain and extreme joy of classical music, the love of a pet, at ease alone and in stillness.

The emptiness of the mind allowing for sensory experience to be at the fore, not trying to work something out or do anything other than just be. The beauty of random desires and appreciation of cool sheets getting into bed, the warm glow of a candle, the wind on your face, the smell of freshly washed hair.

The acceptance of thoughts and feelings without judgment. Being honest without explanation. Feeling the sharp cut of pain and not feeling the fear that it may never end because in the pain itself is beauty and love and meaning.

The simple amusement of seeing a bald man as the only client in a barbers shop. The silence broken by sounds of the city. Living in an ongoing meditation. The voice of a wise woman. No need to feel happy or sad or lonely or comforted, just being good with just being.

Space. Time. Stillness. Movement. God. Energy. Mind. Heart. Whatever the moment holds is essential for that moment and they are all equal. The soul.

Peace; to be luxuriated in like bathing in exquisite champagne while hearing choruses of angels sing.

Loss


At the end of a relationship, in my case the end of my marriage, loss and grief are huge. The emotions come in waves, similar to peeling an onion, just when you think you’re making progress another wave looms up and crashes down on you. 

It’s not only the loss of the person you were in a relationship with but also so much surrounding the parts of life you shared. In my case I dove right into my husbands life by moving to where he lived, our day to day friends were his friends and I built a whole new life around our relationship. Many of those special friends I have known and been close to for over 10 years. In the aftermath of our separation I moved back to my family and eventually back to my previous home, leaving all the people I whose lives I had been so entwined with behind. 

At first I didn’t fully register the loss of the friends I had left, I was utterly absorbed with the direct feelings of the end of my marriage and desperately trying to get through each day. A year later and it’s my soon to be ex husband’s birthday, I’m sure he will be spending it with all our friends, just as I have done with him for many years. The overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness at not being a part of my old life are unexpected. I expected of course to feel the pangs of a memorable date that was once so important to me. But the enormity of losing so many people leaves me again unsure how to find some relief. 

I love making birthdays special for other people! And each year I would make my husband a special cake, once it was a giant scone cake with cream and jam – one of his favourites. One year I organised a themed birthday for him held in a hotel nearby. The theme was a surprise and it was ‘kids party’. I decorated the table and make snacks, blew up balloons and planned party games for us all to play – ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ etc. The cake that year was a super indulgent chocolate cake with pure chocolate bar icing and covered in sweets. It was hilarious as our aged 30ish friends at the party reverted back to behaving like kids and a food fight ensued! 

Happy memories which are more painful than simply memories. I’m hoping and longing for a time when so much of my adult life and the memories associated with it are not a warm fuzzy feeling quickly descending into a hot knife piercing my heart. More time, more love and more life I’m sure will be the best cure. 

My heart is full for all those feeling sadness, loss and grief for any part of their lives. I’m praying with you.