Love, its really at the base of everything isn’t it? It was something I tried to express in a prose poem the other day, how love often hides its face in what seems to be the deepest of despair and longing, it is so powerfully wanted but also so mysteriously absent when those of us with our acute sensitivity, predisposed to experience existential anguish of the most bone crunching despair and emptiness find ourselves in that deep, dark void space.
As I wrote this my fingers typed voice instead of void. And that makes sense cause in that space it may feel like we are all alone only with crippling, punishing voices of doom, fed by the anguish of past mistakes….all the times we reached for love and could not find it and all the times we longed to express love but could not due to fear or anger. And maybe so often at midlife we also find ourselves deep within the deep, dark night wilderness experience so powerfully expressed in Annie Lennox’s song The Hurting Time :
So many times I have wept when I have listened to this song because it is so full of anguish and yet there is also a poignant beauty to it. It speaks to me so much of where we find ourselves when the emptiness is actually leading us to the abyss in which we will eventually find love, realising at some point that the love we so need, so dearly needs to be found from within.
Self punishment and self blame are for some of us the most painful passages that in leading us to the brink of suicidal despair, can also lead us to understand more of what we need to change to show ourselves more love, empathy and compassion and then extend the same to others. For I do believe that all of our pain in some way can be used for growth if we are willing to feel it and release it rather than remain captured inside it, for isn’t the cry of feeling the absence of love a wake up call to us to find the missing love inside us? For this we need love warriors to guide us, to show us that it can be done, that darkness in being faced can be transformed into light.
Lately I have been reading a lot of Marianne Williamsons’ writing. I am half of the way through both Everyday Grace : Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness and Making Miracles as well as her latest book From Tears to Triumph. I probably relate a lot to her as a lot of her work comes from soul wisdom that she actually found inside her own heart from and through suffering her own trials and addiction. She is an advocate for not numbing pain and makes the case powerfully in the second book of how our pain is actually the critical doorway that can lead each of us towards transformation.
In many ways the pharmaceutical industry has been set up in such a way as to make us believe that our pain makes no sense and that we cannot bear it. In many ways this kind of belief system seems to have been forged by souls who in their own childhood were led astray at some critical level. They may think that healing involves the numbing out of pain rather than seeing the transformative aspect of it. I am not here making an case for masochism. There is time we reach for pain relief, but I think we need to be cognisant that it is not the final answer.
In my experience it is really only love that heals us. Only love can help us to bear with our own or another person’s suffering. I think it was Virginian Wolf who said “to look life in the face, to know it for what it is”, how can we look something in the face we are numbing? How can we find our truth if we are fed the lie that our pain makes no sense and is a sign of ‘mental illness’? It is extremely disturbing to me that I heard recently that the psychiatric community is making a push for grief to be called a mental illness, that information just horrified me.
The issue of grief and healing is complex as there are all kinds of different griefs and much depends upon how we are actually encouraged to feel and express it. It was the trauma specialist Peter Levine who through his study and research showed that animals and people who are allowed to discharge and express their trauma and pain as close as possible to the event are less likely to develop long term post traumatic stress as a so called disorder. Those who cannot often end up trapped inside trauma, debilitated by it, losing access to the pure life energy of spirit that could empower them through necessary discharge. We help a wild animal not by capturing it in chains and traps but by letting it run free out into the world of nature, discharge its energy and find its intuitive healing response, rather than block it.
In my own life complicated and compounded grief has been the terrible consequence of getting no help following critical traumatic incidents and instead self medicating with booze and drugs. My struggle to feel and express has also, I firmly believe been the real cause behind three traumatic injuries, two of which brought me very close to death. So its no wonder I feel very strongly about this issue.
For we need to express our grief in relationship. There is a lot of healing we have to do deep down in our own soul and there is are a lot of challenges if our grief is related to some form of abuse because then tangled up with it in an at times seemingly impossible to unravel Gordian knot of pain are powerful mixed feelings of powerlessness, shame, sadness, fear and anger too. Some of us don’t express grief instead we get angry. Some of us don’t allow ourselves to grieve or feel sad or cry as we are terrified to do so. Firstly of how will we be received, will people think we are crazy, secondly due to the fact that we fear that if we really gave vent to or allowed our feelings we would destroy or be destroyed.
How horribly, terribly sad and yet there is some truth in this to a point for at times when our feelings which are meant to flow and have been blocked do become like a raging torrent or burning fire. And yet mysteriously when they get to flow what I feel we actually do come to feel is love, release, letting go, emptying. And when we become empty of our pain for a time then love can rush into the empty space to fill it.
It can be so hard to open our hearts in love towards everything. But really it is our only healing. This open heartedness is beautifully expressed in some writing of Paul Ferrini which I came across this morning.
Each one of us holds the key to our own salvation. And we can offer it to each other with a gesture of support, a gentle word of encouragement. We can offer it to each other by seeing every attack as a call for love.
The heart opens when we accept ourselves with all our contradictions, all our liabilities, all our struggles. The heart opens when we accept another person, with all their trials and tribulations. The heart opens when we offer love simply, as we would to a hurt child. And it opens when the hurt child reaches out for the love that is offered to them.
There is nothing mysterious about what opens the heart. Acceptance does.
There is nothing mysterious about what closes the heart, judgement does.
The heart is a spiritual muscle. It opens and closes. The more it works the stronger it gets.
Don’t judge yourself if you feel your heart tighten. It does so merely to open again. All you need to do is allow it.
Let the pain come and go. Let everything pass through you. Breathe deeply. Let the air come in and out. Be a channel for life. Don’t resist on the inhale or hold onto the exhale. Just let the breath come and go. Just let life come and go. Don’t be afraid of either. Don’t be attached to either.
No matter how hard you try, you are not going to change the ebb and flow of life. It continues regardless… To open your heart you must be willing to move with the ebb and flow, the contraction and the release. Don’t expect to ride the peaks without descending into the troughs. ..Just be present. Be with yourself. Be with others. Be with God. That is enough.
Contraction / expansion, inbreath / outbreath, love / fear, anger / joy these perhaps are all part of the oh so mysterious dance of life, a dance we so often can refuse to enter and flow with due to holdings and blockages on our life energy. Surely love is the attitude that most opens us to encompass and embrace them all by riding the out going and in flowing tide of that energy to awakening, consciousness, connection and enlivened presence.