Grief and Guilt
“Every feeling fully felt leads to Love” — Grace of Mt. Shasta
I lost my Mother last week, which as everyone knows is a huge transition, and even though I know it was her time, I still feel grief arising, in waves that sometimes build and sometimes ebb quietly away. Occasionally the grief has a quality of extreme pain, other times it is soft and warm. I can still hear my Mom’s voice, speaking my name and wonder how long that will last. I saved her final voice message to me on my computer, but alas that computer died and with it – the message… letting go is the message, while remembering to give thanks for her long life, and for the time we had to mend our fences and open our hearts to each other.
What is the pain of grief? My experience is that when grief is allowed, invited, even welcomed that it is a portal to exaltation, to the rainbow realm, the living grace of this world. I have experienced this and so speak from there. But why then is grief sometimes so crippling and painful? The difference, I believe, is guilt. When guilt sneakily attaches itself to grief, huge pain erupts. Thoughts such as “If only I had….” or “why didn’t I…” begin to surface and with them comes enormous pain.
I once read a really interesting book – Power vs. Force and the statement made in that book is that our feelings have vibrations. Guilt and shame, say the author, are the lowest vibration. Lower vibrations (below love) are uncomfortable and make us sick, they bring “dis-ease”. That means that feelings of guilt are necessarily unhealthy for us and our close ones. How do we let them go? Ahhhhh, this is the big work!
I love the word “awareness” and perhaps I overuse it these days – but it does seem that awareness is the first step towards change. After all it is impossible to make a conscious change from an unconscious place. That seems obvious but is truly worth consideration, since taking the first big step of awareness often brings pain. In order to face our uncomfortable habits, thought patterns and neuroses takes courage. Heaps of courage. I for one have a hard time pricking my finger for a little blood sample, why should I want to poke at the demons of my unconscious wounding? Well, awakening the sleeping demons means we will need to tussle with them but let’s for one moment feel confident that we have tools to overcome the challenges of our inner lives. I know we do! You got this! Let’s do it!
Ok so the guilt has been brought to the surface. What is the way to shift and change unconscious patterns? It is remarkably similar to the way we change our bodies – it takes repetition. But unlike building physical strength with emotional re-programming it takes repetition with emotion. Finding the old thoughts and judgements that have created the guilt with us is a huge step, and the painful emotions that are stirred by those thoughts can shift in an instant with new more supportive thoughts. Feeling deeply into the new thoughts creates a new way to respond and the old patterns can drop away, recycle, compost and reappear as grace.
I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again – this is no easy task. I have noticed that when I need to face something uncomfortable in myself that all the little things undone around the house immediately becoming compelling – the vacuum cleaner beckons, the deep cleaning of the closet must happen – on and on the procrastination continues. It takes huge devotion to make space to sit and contemplate. Right now, in the middle of the Shelter at Home I hope that you have found the time and space for your inner life. The world right now is a huge metaphor for what is needed in our inner lives…just be with yourself. Begin Within… Again…
Exiting the Chrysalis
I have spent countless hours observing caterpillars, chrysalis and butterflies. I have witnessed the challenge, the risk and the glory of metamorphosis. Each transition is difficult – when the caterpillar hatches it is fine food for birds, lizards and other critters. As they grow into adulthood, the caterpillar needs to find a safe place to cocoon. This is not an easy search for such a small being, and there are many hazards on the way. Once again, they can be eaten by birds, or other creatures, crushed by man or animal or run out of time in their quest.
When the caterpillar finds a suitable place (or unsuitable, time will tell, a Monarch caterpillar once made its chrysalis on a hinge and almost made it until an unwitting guest closed the door… sadly…) I digress – It attaches to the wall. It needs to hold on in order to let go. That always tickles me to say, paradoxes are my thing! Then comes the intense part as the caterpillar’s body seems to dissolve. Sometimes they just don’t make it through this process, it can’t be easy. If they do make it then they become another kind of being. A being stopped in time. Some of them have little faces, others look like dangly jade earrings but all of them are specialized and precise. For in some period of time, from a couple of weeks to a couple of years, the butterfly will emerge.
The monarch butterfly emerging is a miracle of nature I’m overawed to have witnessed many times. As the jade green chrysalis approaches hatching time, the skin begins to become transparent and the butterfly inside is seen as a kind of origami puzzle. When it breaks out of the cocoon it is a fragile being. It takes time to dry off its wings and is very vulnerable for even a gust of wind can knock it to the ground and its wings will deform. They can’t take off yet so are at the mercy of any nearby bird. And yet, many of them flutter happily (I project) into the sunlight. Butterflies can’t fly in cold weather so they are always beacons of springtime.
Once they are aloft they have two activities to fulfill. They sip nectar and aid in pollination as a side effect. They make love and procreate. I once watched a monarch butterfly couple do their coupling for almost an hour. When it was complete, he (I imagine, perhaps wrongly) lifted her up and flew her up to a branch where they rested for a while. It’s a short life, but valuable for sure.
Why am I rambling about this right now? We’re quarantined to be safe from the corona virus, we’re watching our world come to a standstill. We are cocooned. It is a challenge perhaps the biggest challenge of our short lives. Life, as we imagined it was, has ceased to be. We have let go, collectively and individually. We have let go of activity for the most part. We’re not allowed to gather or recreate together. It’s very strange. It seems unnatural. For those of us who have meditated and vision quested it is not difficult but most people have spent their lives avoiding being alone and quiet and listening to their inner voice.
What’s next? I imagine us, like the butterfly, emerging slowly from this cocoon. Taking it one tiny step at a time, into the sunlight. Everything has shifted and I hope that we can collectively make more loving choices as we recreate our systems to better serve humanity and our ecosystem. There are some important things each of us can do to contribute and “be the change”. We can get comfortable with ourselves, honest and true and be clear on what we stand for. I stand for love, for caring, for holding each other up with nobody left behind. I think a basic universal income and guaranteed housing would be a fantastic place to start. All the money spent on the war machine can be turned to providing that and health care, education and funding for the arts. Animal agriculture should be ended and hemp and cannabis farms allowed to prosper and provide.
The sky is the limit! What kind of world do you want to live in? Keep marinating in your cocoon and we can discover that together….I love you!
Love and Devastation
When a love relationship turns to hate, or dislike or disharmony – what is that about? This is one of the most troubling, painful and challenging situations in life for me. I imagine it is the same for others. One of my spiritual mentors said it this way: “In order to love you must be willing to face the devastation”. A Buddhist friend and I were pondering this turn of events and he relates it to the idea that in the light there is also the dark, in happiness there is sorrow – it is the yin/yang truth of life. Absolute duality. In the emotional realm it makes sense that once again the idea of attachment and aversion is where the suffering lies. Attached to “good” feelings and afraid of “bad” feelings – there is also an unconscious awareness of the pain embedded in the pleasure. True freedom is acceptance, but that is not a Pollyanna-ish idea. Acceptance includes everything. Leave anything out and it is not acceptance.
These spiritual “basics” are bandied about frequently in my world. The basics don’t change but my relationship to them and understanding of them does continue to deepen and expand. Contemplation and experience, rinse and repeat. The cycle becomes a spiral…unwinding towards understanding, and then acceptance.
There was a time when I mourned my lover’s death while he was alive. Deeply entwined in a long term relationship I feared its ending – and sometimes felt I should leave before he left me or died. I imagine this is not an uncommon way to react to intimacy and love. If I push it away then i can save myself from the pain of loss. Well – that is a losing game! It is not win-win, it is lose-lose. Perhaps it is easier to avoid intimacy and love altogether, and so avoid the pain of loss. Pondering that it is easy to see that life then collapses into pain, loneliness and depression. There is no the easy way out.
So, what is the way out? My experience is this – the way out is through. Through the pain, through the difficult emotions, through the grief and through the loss. Remembering all those I have loved and lost, the grief remains but the love, wow, the love was so good. My life was so enriched by the loss, by the love and continues to be enriched with the memories. Happy, happy memories. Ironically it seems that happiness is easier to remember than pain. Is that true for you, too?
Emotions are tricky turf. Our coping mechanisms and addictions seem to be born from the desire and need to suppress what we are afraid to feel. The British culture was molded from the idea of “stiff upper lip” which is shorthand for “show no emotion”. What happens to feelings that want to be felt but aren’t? Where do they go? One theory is that they turn into themselves and cause disease (dis-ease, duh). I see the possibility here. The psychiatric diseases are clearly seen as suppressed emotion and energy.
How, then do we feel emotions? It takes so much courage to let the painful feelings be felt and pass through. The more deeply and completely they are felt, the more quickly they pass through, at least that’s true for me. I consider this process to be the sacred fire, as the allowing of intense emotion seems to burn something – and there is a purification that completes when a feeling is fully felt.
A wise person once said to me “Every feeling fully felt leads to love”. I have experienced the truth of this – the complete and utter bliss that lies on the other side of grief. The Tibetan Buddhists belief is that we have the possibility to attain a “rainbow body” – and the process of burning off all that is not true, all this is not love, leads to this illumined state. Bring it on!