As a yogi, you become extraordinarily sensitive to the languages of the body.
Grief has a very distinct and particular language.
There is a look of grief you see on the face of someone who as experienced catastrophic loss. This look is seemingly inconsolable and it pervades the entire gestalt of the body. Grief is a language recognized and known deeply by those of us who have been faced with it.
As I stood at my friend’s funeral yesterday and witnessed his pain, I stood and prayed for his heart. A heart which was completely dismantled and lost and could not find comfort in anything in that moment.
Less than one week ago his parents were alive, and yesterday, he was in a church standing before their two caskets.
After I left the church, I was in a car accident.
We don’t know what each moment holds. One moment we are making a turn, seeing clearly and in the next moment, uncertainty arises.
Life changes in an instant.
I was hurt and I knew I didn’t feel well, but I walked away alive.
In the evening, I was to meet a woman I had never met before. Someone who had her own stories of pain and perseverance, which amazed me in the ways she had written about them. And I found myself inspired by the ways in which she had been healing, learning, and thriving from her experiences. I knew it was very important to me to meet her and thank her for her offerings. And so some months earlier, I “saw” this meeting as real.
In thanking her for the article, she revealed to me that she had received very little response to it.
I was astonished.
I thought immediately of Matthew Sanford, “can you sit in the presence of suffering (and know your own story) without trying to fix it? Can you be in the presence of another person’s pain and just hear it? Just be with it- without trying to fix it or deny it or shape it into something else? Can you tolerate brokenness?”
I heard Matthew’s questions in my head as my friend’s words continued to astound me.
But I didn’t mention Matthew (not until much later and in an entirely different context).
What I said was that I was sorry. And then I offered that I truly believe that people do not know how to respond to grief unless they have dealt with their own grief in a very real and sincere way. That the way most people deal with grief is by finding ways to tell you how to NOT feel the pain you are feeling.
“It will get better.” “Keep a chin up!” “It’s time to move on.” A whole litany of responses which pull you out of your own feelings and demonstrate that the person speaking to you is truly uncomfortable and that there is no active listening happening at all.
Maybe that is why I immediately thought of Matthew’s questions. Because I truly believe that loving humanity requires active and compassionate LISTENING. And listening for what is called for may mean simply sitting with a person in her pain, sitting with your friend in her confusion or in her hurt for as long as needed. Looking into her hurt eyes and acknowledging what is there.
But there are those who do not know how to look into this very look. Or respond to the sheer truth of it. In real time or on the written page.
I needed to show up and say “thank you” for this offering. The universe thanks you and thanks your courage, EVEN IF you have not felt that reflection back. IT IS SO. And I believe that the universe rewards the courageous who risk such exquisite heart endeavors.
The universe may have even been rewarding me.
I have been sorting through my heart these last years and trying very hard to heal it. I have experienced catastrophic losses which I know I have allowed to begin to DEFINE ME. By definition, I was becoming a person who experienced unimaginable loss, was in terrible pain and was doing all that she could to try to heal, but was not healing.
Yes. The truth is, I have been hurting. But that needn’t be my story.
What I want is for the truth to be that I AM healed.
To KNOW that my heart is continually opening.
To know that that no matter how bad anything feels, that I will ALWAYS find my way.
The truth is, I AM all of these things.
The truth is I WANT to sustain them.
What a miracle it is to open to anyone no matter what happens. We each meet as strangers and it is a gift to become close to another soul and to stand with them and honor them and hold them up through anything. But to see them. To just be able to see them.
My new friend described me as unabashedly bold and direct.
And anyone who knows me, a self-described, “pushy Jew from New York” knows how accurate this is. And to know that even as I have been stripped down and felt terribly beaten up by life these last months, to see that an essential part of me came through in a way that was received “well” is a testimony to moving in the right direction.
I was at Physical Therapy today getting help because the accident yesterday caused further injury to my already seriously injured neck.
Somehow the discussion of the film “MILK” came up. My eyes filled with tears and I began to tell the assistant how it is an absolute MUST SEE for everyone. That it should be played in schools. I went on and on. She said flat out, “I WILL NEVER SEE IT. I hate Seane Penn.” This woman is a lesbian. I asked her if she had any understanding or any gratitude for Harvey Milk, “the man” and his contributions to the gay and lesbian world?
My point here is around gratitude.
My first spiritual teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, said something that has always stayed with me: “The ultimate prayer, the prayer that comes from deepest wisdom is ‘Thank you.’”
Thank you, all of the time.
Thank you for the car accident yesterday? Hmmm... Yes. “thank you” that I walked away alive from it. So yes, “thank you.”
Thank you, all of the time.
Catastrophic illness, the loss of a child, the loss of loved ones... I am not saying run and say “thank you.” Let’s put that aside for now. My point is to FIND gratitude.
I am not sure what it is that I am meant to be doing right now. I really wish that were not the case. But the truth is, I DO KNOW my heart and I know my heart well. And if I keep that place open and clear and keep trusting from the places inside of me that are steady and strong, then eventually the “doing” will come into the “knowing.”
Offer it. Even if it is hard. Because you never know what a difference it can make in another person’s life.
Life changes in an instant.
And you don’t know what anyone else is facing or what can happen once you say goodbye.
Thank you, to everyone who has ever poured love in my direction. Even if for an instant. It has mattered. It has changed me.