grief

Everything is Love

"Today, I will fall in love with life at least three times..." (Matthew Fox)

We grieve weep and wail because we loveThere is something I am coming to understand… deep in my bones. It's been sitting there patiently waiting for me to find it, and has hinted to me many times before. I calls in small quiet whispers, especially right before I go to sleep or right as I'm waking up. It warms my heart when I'm thinking about how much the people in my life matter to me. It tugs at my sleeve the instant I feel saddened or angered by something about which I've read. Recently its been the possibility of losing polar bears forever or the fact that my country continues to spend outrageous amounts of money on "security" rather than allocating those resources to making sure everyone is educated, healthy and fed. But it keeps shining its bright steady light into my heart in those moments when I judge others or myself as "wrong" or "not good enough" in all the ways my ego does its illusory little job and I remember that I am so much bigger than that.

What I have come to understand is that every act - every single human act - is born out of love… either by being love or wanting love.

In other words, there is nothing we do that is not connected to love. Even when we think otherwise.

Consider that, maybe, we hurt others and cause grief because we are crying out to be seen and loved… sometimes intentionally, most times unconsciously. We level mountains, push endangered species to the brink of extinction, or raze forests because we love our children and want them to have food in their bellies… often not experiencing that there are other choices. We build weapons of mass destruction or strap bombs onto our bodies because we love ideals in which we believe… maybe or maybe not fully realizing the impact of our actions.

We grieve, weep and wail because we love… deeply. We get hot with anger, engulfed with rage because we love… fiercely. We dance with joy, are consumed with ecstasy and raise our voices in songs of praise because we love… widely.

TECUMSEH I went down not long ago to the Mad River, under the willows I knelt and drank from that crumpled flow, call it what madness you will, there's a sickness worse than the risk of death and that's forgetting what we should never forget. Tecumseh lived here. The wounds of the past are ignored, but hang on...

Sometimes I would like to paint my body red and go out into the glittering snow to die.

His name meant Shooting Star. From Mad River country north to the border he gathered the tribes and armed them one more time. He vowed to keep Ohio and it took him over twenty years to fail...

his body could not be found. It was never found...

if we ever meet him, we'll know it, he will still be so angry.

~ Mary Oliver ~

In everything we do, we are inextricably and undeniably acting out expressions of love that are deeply personal and many times misunderstood.

But what if, in the moments when we don't understand the motivation behind someone else's actions, we did our best to discover how they are actually birthed from love? What would be possible in terms of peace, justice and a world that works for all if we really took the time to comprehend their intentions?

Yebuny received this beautiful note from a stranger on the train recently.

What if, for example, we saw our rage as the passionate belief in justice born out of our deep knowing that we are all one and that whatever hurts someone else hurts ourselves? Our anger as the simple defending of our right to provide for our families? Our grief as a reflection of all the moments we were simply giving ourselves an experience of aloneness born out of the illusion that we're separate? Our violence as an unconscious act of wanting Love - a stretching out ones palm to be filled with a mote of kindness and compassion?

What if we could choose in every moment to BE Love… to welcome, accept and embrace all of life, all of humanity? What would be possible if we saw everything - every thought, every belief, every word, every attitude, every action - as Love?

I know I'm posing a lot of questions here. I imagine you may be asking, "What about this or this? How could that be an act of Love?" But, imagine suspending any notion you may have been taught about "how things are" and choosing instead to see everything as a gift of Love… what might be possible then? Imagine what that could be like….

The Guest House This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

I don't have any answers, but what I am coming to believe is that believing we are doing anything other than Loving is only causing more suffering. Yes, pain is inevitable. Suffering, however, is optional. In the end, we will lose that which we love, but the question is how will we love it while it is here? How will we love our children, friends and communities? How will we love distant strangers, clouded mountains and tiny frogs? How will we love this wild and precious life?

When we love- fully, deeply, fiercely, widely - it can hurt. That is part of being human… and that's when we know we've loved.

...To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

(excerpt from "In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver, American Primitive)

I say, let us take on a wild experiment to choose to see every act as an act of Love… and living from that place, welcome the guests who arrive at our door and let ourselves fall in love with life.

Mourning and the call to fulfill our destinies

Sweet DarknessWhen your eyes are tired the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own.

There you can be sure you are not beyond love. The dark will be your womb tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.

You must learn one thing. the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

(David Whyte, The House of Belonging)

It has been quite a month. On Presidents Day weekend, I mourned the loss of two ancient redwood trees and of two of the most important women in my life, my godmother Carol Granger Bennett and my teacher Debbie Ford. And today marks the 12th anniversary of my mother's death. Needless to say, it's been a powerful, deep and insightful time as we celebrate spring and Women's History Month.

On February 16th, I had the great honor of sharing the day with Megan Hollingsworth, my dear friend Mark Dubois and Trish Noble. Starting out at 6:30 am, we hiked the 7 miles from my home to Big Trees State Park to mourn the tragic loss of two of the oldest beings on the planet - the Discovery (grandfather) Tree and Mother of the Forest (grandmother) whose lives were unceremoniously cut short in acts of greed and shortsightedness over 100 years ago. After a beautiful ritual of grieving and blessings for the lonely stump of the grandfather tree, we walked to the grandmother tree whose bark was stripped off up to a height of 116 feet, leaving her unable to withstand the massive injury. If you look up at her charred remains from a particular angle, you can see that she looks as though she is screaming a loud, long "Nooooooo!" at the injustice of this cruel act.

We went to honor these sacrificial trees in the hopes that future generations may witness what we are capable of and make other, better choices. Little did I know that this ceremony, this ritual of grieving the trees which have been lost forever and so much else which we stand to lose forever, would be the harbinger for my personal grief two days later.

On Sunday, just as Megan and Mark were preparing to leave, I learned that my dear godmother, Carol Granger Bennett, had suffered a massive heart attack Saturday morning - during the time we were in ceremony. She was deeply sedated after having three stints placed in her heart, and the doctors weren't sure she would survive. So, after many phone calls and much deliberation, I decided to ride to the bay area with Mark and Megan so my daughter and I could make the six hour drive to Ashland as early as possible Monday morning in case she wasn't likely to make it. It felt good to be mobilized and close to my daughter.

Early Monday morning, however, I got the call that they had taken her off of life support and Carol had died peacefully with her loving sister and nieces by her side that night. I was heartbroken. I had so wanted to be with her, to see her one last time and tell her I loved her before she left her ravaged body. I spent some time allowing myself to feel the guilt of not having rented a car to drive up the night before, of not having called her more often, of not having gone for a visit over the holidays. There was so much more I could have done to let her know how very much she meant to me. It also brought up the sadness that still sometimes washes over me at losing my mom Wendy, Carol's best friend, confidant and soul sister, nearly 12 years ago on March 15th, 2001.

Then, a few hours later as I was riding the train to return to my mountain home, I read that my teacher and mentor Debbie Ford had lost her long battle with cancer that same night. I was overwhelmed with grief and shock. Debbie was truly one of my greatest teachers and in many ways I struggled with our relationship. A true dichotomy - a fierce tigress with laser-like ability to cut through the bullshit of the ego, and a fragile little girl who just wanted to be taken care of, she challenged me, called me out on my shit, and pushed my buttons pretty much like no one else. She also supported me and thousands of others in finding freedom in embracing our deepest shadows and creating the lives our dreams. Debbie embodied Love in only the way she could - with passion, directness, humor and the deep compassion of a Bodhisatva.

Debbie, Carol and my mom were courageous, fierce champions for the triumph and freedom of the human spirit, deeply committed to everyone around them remembering their divine connection to themselves, others and all that is. They exemplified that triumph by showing us that the only way to live from our divinity was to be brutally honest about our humanity… to own the ugly and ridiculous in order to allow the beauty and brilliance to shine through. None of them could ever have been accused of living small lives.

As I continue to be with the passing of these three very special women, I have been musing about the trajectory of my own life now that I'm well into my 51st year. Debbie Ford was so young when she died - only 57. But she loved big. And wide. She touched millions of peoples' lives. My mom was only 60 when she succumbed to her illness, but she lives on in the lives of everyone who knew her as the colorful, big-hearted matriarch of our community and a pioneer in so many ways. My godmother, Carol, was 78 when she passed away, but she was deeply loved for being the "mama" of her 12-step community, for being unabashedly expressed and for having a huge heart.

In my musing, I have come to the conclusion that my desire to live past 100 is not so much because I want to have more adventures or make my mark - which mom, Carol and Debbie did so beautifully. But it's because I want to have the time to create as many opportunities to love as possible - which they did wholeheartedly with utter grace. To be of service to Love as long as possible is my greatest wish. And, when I really tap into that desire, I come to the conclusion that my life will be as long as it needs to be for me to do that.

Last night, as I was thinking about her, I heard Debbie say, "Stop resisting what you are here to do. Write this blog, finish your book and Be Love. Fulfill your destiny. All who are grieving the loss of me can say that I gave and taught you so much, but you let me. In the end it's not about me. It's about each of you."

How right she is. We may think we're grieving those we lose because they gave us something or taught us something or changed our lives, but the truth is we did that. We let them in. We said "yes" to their love. And when we say yes to letting someone in, our hearts expand to make room for them and everyone and everything else. Our grief is for the holes that are left in our lives because they are gone. Our grief is for what we haven't done to live better and love bigger.

So, I wonder today, as I write about these three remarkable women - Wendy, Carol and Debbie - and as I remember that day of grieving for the trees, how am I contributing to the world? Who will have felt their lives made just a little bit better by my presence in it, remembering that it's not now, nor was it ever, about me? What will I do with the rest of this one wild and precious life to Be Love in the biggest, best way possible?

As hackneyed as it sounds, it's not about how long we live... it truly is about how well we live.

What About My Heart?

 
I said: what about my eyes?
God said: Keep them on the road.
God said: Keep it burning.I said: what about my passion?
I said: what about my heart?
God said: Tell me what you hold inside it.
I said: pain and sorrow.
He said: stay with it.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
-Rumi 

 

 

I woke up at 4:30 this morning, not with my semi-usual semi-anxiety, but with a sense of deep loss, as if someone near and dear to me had died. I didn't feel sad… just somewhat empty and curious. It wasn't "bad." I was simply aware that there was an experience arising in me that I hadn't felt for a long time. For a few minutes, I couldn't put my finger on what it was exactly. But then I realized I was touching - almost as if for the first time yet very ancient and familiar, and very tentatively - an underground lake of grief that has always lived inside of me. It was a grief for fallen trees, for innocent children dying every day, for enslaved women, for extinct and endangered species, for young black men arrested simply for being who they are, for the pillaged earth, for a species so lost we don't remember who we are. It felt familiar and yet so buried that I had forgotten it, like a letter to my future self from years ago, saying, "Remember me? I'm still here."~ Rumi

My question is - do you feel this same lake of grief inside of you, too?

When you hear about about another ancient tree that has fallen, another of our earthly companions who has stopped walking the planet forever, or another mountaintop that's been blown to bits, do you feel that deep, aching emptiness? When you read about millions of bees dying off and children born sick, do you see a connection? When teens, college students or little children are gunned down in their classrooms, do you wonder what we're waiting for? When a father in a small Sierra town kills his two teenage children, the family dog and then himself, do you ask yourself if he himself was deeply lost? When you hear about a young woman in India who dies from being gang raped or the Amazon rainforest being destroyed at a catastrophic rate, do you see the correlation in how we treat women and how we treat our earth, Pachamama?

What do you mourn? How do we live with all this grief? How do we cope with the massive amount of bad news that is out there on a daily basis? How do we keep hope alive?

I'm sure there are many more people who feel it than I am aware of, but I wonder how many of us divert our attention from it in the name of carrying on and getting through our days? We all have mechanisms for dealing with the grief and bad news… denial, avoidance, numbing out. There are a multitude of ways to keep it at bay. But that's the problem. We just keep it at bay. That lake of grief is always there. In the end, it is unavoidable… and the only way to deal with it is to be with it. In other words, we have to feel it to heal it.

Because, as we know, our personal and global attempts to avoid being with it have actually become the very causes of what continue to feed the grief… addiction, eating disorders, bullying, sexual harassment, fracking, a vortex of plastic as large as the state of Texas floating in the Pacific ocean, corporate greed, political power-mongering, a war that costs $720 million a day, racial profiling, the massive rift between the "haves" and "have nots," and ultimately, murder, suicide and extinction. Sadly, the list goes on and on.

The more I think about it, I am cognizant of how this ever-present grief affects me in every way. It influences my choices when I shop. It drives me to write articles like this. It guides me to continue to question my impact on the planet and how I can reduce it even more. It fires up my righteous anger and motivates me to speak, write and take action. But ultimately, it makes me remember how very much I love this world and everything and everyone on it.

I just listened to the "Animal Sacrifice" episode of This American Life2 about the story of the thousands of "Dogs for Defense" who served and died in World War Two. The story touched my heart so deeply because these loyal, innocent beings - mankind's oldest friend - had no idea what they were getting into. They went into service with the joy only dogs can bring to any situation. There was even an elite group of "Bunker Dogs," outfitted with saddlebags filled with explosives, who were trained to be suicide bombers. The narrator said, "Without knowing what the war was for, the dogs had done what they'd been asked to do... because that's the nature of the bond we have with dogs. We take care of them and ask them to trust us… and they do." That's when I broke down.

I was so stunned, I just kept asking myself, what have we done? What are we doing? What more are we are capable of? What choices are we making, all from this place of forgetting that who we are is Love?

I believe we must choose to allow ourselves to feel the grief at how deeply we do not understand what we have done and what we continue to do.  In response to the murder/suicide in our community earlier this month, Merita Callaway (one of our county supervisors and a neighbor of the family) said, “…We do not understand and hope that time brings some peace.”3 I, too, do not understand and trust that time will bring some peace. But I also know that it will take more than time to bring peace. It will take the intention to make different choices… to reach out when we would rather stay focused on ourselves, to use less when our habit is to consume without thinking, to write letters even if it means getting up earlier or staying up later, to do what is not comfortable because, ultimately, that is the only choice that will ensure peace. Our addiction to comfort has lulled us to sleep. But we can no longer afford not to wake up.

We have been making choices from a place of not seeing the forest for the trees, so to speak - out of the illusion that our comfort is more real and easier to achieve than the greater good of the whole. We all do it. However, if we truly love the only home we have and all of its inhabitants, if we truly love each other and ourselves, we will choose to get uncomfortable.

Megan Hollingsworth, founder of ExtinctionWitness, is someone who is a living example of a commitment to getting uncomfortable enough to live from love. She allows herself to feel her grief - all of it - deeply and fully, and she comes out the other side empowered and more committed to being of service in the world. I am deeply moved by her capacity for compassion and ability to be with this deep grief by truly allowing herself to experience the incalculable pain of the world. Megan is doing some of the most important work on the planet - reminding us that, in order to shift the vast amount of unconscious damage we have done to the planet and each other, we must allow ourselves to feel our grief about the violence, ignorance, greed and inhumanity or our thoughts, words and deeds. Again, we must feel it to heal it.

As my friend Alex wrote in a most touching and memorable post on facebook:  "I heard a story on the radio about a refugee camp near Kabul, Afghanistan…. A girl my son's age died in the night from the cold. Many others are suffering the same fate…. I got off work a little early today, and laid in the afternoon sun that spills into our home. I had a nice snack, and now will go pick up my son from day care. I'm warm and satisfied, surrounded by love and abundance…. I am blessed beyond what I deserve, and I don't understand suffering. If I could give up one blanket, one meal, one set of clothes, one tank of gas, any of these comforts I take for granted, so that another child like that can live, I would. I think any of us would. I wish it were that simple. Maybe it is."

I believe our grief at what is happening in the world - whether we're aware of it or not - is actually the evidence of how very much we love this world of ours. It's not our anger and fear that source this lake - it's love. We do what we've done simply because we've forgotten that what we really are is Love. That forgetting has consequences far beyond our understanding.

So, as Rumi so wisely wrote hundreds of years ago, "stay with it… the wound is the place where the Light enters you."

 

 

There is a light- a light that guides you through the storms.

There is a place- a place of healing and calm.

There is a peace- a peace that lives beneath the waves.

Beneath the sorrow and the joy, there is a stillness and grace.

Beauty is like rain, falling from the skies.

It is God's love that's pouring from your eyes.

The wounds of life, they bring healing my friend.

The heart that breaks is but opening again.

The heart that breaks is but opening again.

- "There is a light" by John Astin

Resources:

  1. Rumi poem
  2. Union Democrat, "Three Dead in Murder-Suicide," February 4, 2013
  3. This American Life, episode #
  4. John Astin, "There is a Light," Remembrance