In the last several days I have had what I consider the amazing fortune of tapping into some areas in my life where I carry with me a lot of pain and anguish. I feel so blessed by what happened that I wanted to share it in the hopes that others may find meaning in it, and because I want my full humanity to be known. I imagine that the idea that experiencing grief can be a positive experience may be puzzling to some and possibly inspiring to others.
I am reminded of a line that inspired me many years ago, from R.D. Laing:
There is a great deal of pain in life and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain.
Although I have long accepted pain as an integral part of life, the organism still habitually resists embracing the experience of pain. Not much. Just enough so that when I succeed in opening my heart up in full to the wrenching experience, whatever it may be, I feel the difference and the relief of being aligned with life again.
For myself, and I know it’s not so for others, the only reliable way to release that last little closing of my heart is to be in the company of others whose love and presence I trust, either globally or at least in the moment. So the first blessing was having had the experience of trusting another’s presence so much and being able to rest in that trust sufficiently to release the last threads of tightness around my grief.
I was most conscious of that gift in the first instance of touching grief. It was about a fundamental way in which I feel alone in the world. I’ve been blessed with much that I want to offer, and I am receiving more and more encouragement from others that the gifts are wanted. I have many people who are passionate about supporting me and I know I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the ongoing flow of support I receive. At the same time, at the very core level, I lack a sense of anchor in the world, support in the day-to-day of my life, the kind of support that people share with each other when they are in a primary relationship or in a tight-knit community. When this first came up, the person I was with attempted to offer me suggestions for what I could do to structure life in a way that would result in more support for me. I engaged with that conversation without touching the grief that was there. I didn’t experience the suggestions as full presence with me. When I remarked on this to my friend, and when the energy shifted and I experienced her full presence, I was able to relax and in that trust found my way to the grief.
The second blessing was the gift of truth and acceptance. In each of these encounters I came to more clarity about something in my life that I don’t see a way of changing for the moment. In opening to the pain I am opening to acceptance. It’s as if the resistance to the pain comes from the unconscious idea that by not accepting it I can have more hope of changing it. Not so. In the acceptance I find peace, alignment, and the recognition that my choice is internal.
This gift was most pronounced in the second instance of grieving. I was able to share with another friend the pain of having had many significant and close friends exit the friendship, sometimes even disconnecting altogether, by their choice. In certain moments I found the pain so excruciating that it took a certain kind of effort to keep breathing. There was no accusation of others for having left, no self-blaming for not knowing how to show up in ways that people can relate to with sufficient ease over time. Just clean grief. I cannot change what happened, nor the fact that it may well continue to happen again and again. If I find acceptance, I can have more choice about how to meet my life. This has happened about 30 times in my adult life. The only chance I see for continuing to choose, again and again, to show up and keep my heart open to the possibility of being so attached and affected in a new friendship, comes from accepting that all this has happened to me, and letting myself grieve it.
And so comes the third blessing, the gift of energy and freedom. By finding a way to release the residue of visceral resistance to experiencing the pain, I lose my fear of the pain, and I gain back the energy, at times immense energy, that it takes to keep the pain at bay. Losing the fear means more choice, more freedom to be and live as I wish.
The last example of dipping into grief was the clearest to me in this regard. This time I connected with the familiarity and frequency of times of conflict in which I find capacity in me to stretch and open my heart to another until they experience themselves fully heard. And then, when I try to express my experience of the same conflict, the other person doesn’t find a way to be with me and hear me. This one comes to the heart of what nonviolence means to me: the willingness to keep showing up and acting in the world in integrity with who I want to be regardless of how others act. I need all the energy in the world to keep this commitment again and again despite all the disappointments. Grieving, letting myself cry and cry and rip my heart open without blaming, without grasping for change, and without contracting, frees up enough energy that I can keep my heart open.
This energy allows me to re-commit, freshly each time, and without reservations, to keep my passion for my work and plunge without knowing if there will ever be enough support or anchoring; to make myself available to love and be loved without knowing if anyone will ever stay; and to show up with compassion and integrity without knowing if I will ever be received in the way I long for. That, in a nutshell, is the power of grieving.