September 2, 2013

A Moment of Grief (& How to Be Alone, Again).

Self-portrait of the author

There are many ways to be alone and I’m beginning to discover how, again.

So far, this is what I’ve come up with:

1. Cry
2. Dance
3. Sing
4. Pray
5. Cry some more
6. Breathe
7. Love
8. Repeat often

When something dies, we feel like we will die too—and in many ways, we do. We fight it but the truth is there is no escape from death.

We will die, over and over again—and each time we take our last breath into something or someone we love, we give ourselves the gift of new life.

The truth is, being reborn is inevitable and it’s a choice we make, just like every single choice we’ve made this far in our lives.

Death has been my greatest teacher, as has life, as has loss and love and laughter—but death, most of all.

The scars of goodbyes I’ve said so far at times weigh heavily on my shoulders—they are broad and I am strong and this latest fall into grief has made me understand the depth of my capacity to love.

When the towers fell and I saw them crumble to the ground from I don’t remember how many blocks away, and for days and weeks and months could taste death in the air, my heart broke and I lost all ability to produce words.

What is there to say that could ever capture the essence of mass execution and destruction?

I didn’t know, then.

When my mother died, grief showed up three months before she took her last breath, the very day she was diagnosed with the cancer that would kill her.

Grief sat with me, night after night, while I smoked cigarette after cigarette out of the window of my sweet studio apartment in the East Village; grief wedged herself onto each plane I took to fly back and forth between treatments and grief was there when I wrote my mother’s obituary and chose the clothes that she would wear in her handmade coffin, decorated by our hands and touched with our love.

Grief was in every glass that I drank to help numb the effects of her power; grief is feisty and her grip is strong and so she held steady as I did everything I could to escape her terrifying hold.

I cried and I felt sad and I wallowed in my mother’s death, but I didn’t understand grief then and I’m not sure that I do now.

The difference between then and now is that because of my practice, because of the choices I’ve made (after the blackouts and raging fits I wouldn’t remember the next day) I can sit with grief wherever she shows up.

The grief from this heartache I am ever-present for; if it’s alone in the bath, on my mat while I sweat and move or at my cousin’s wedding in the form of a song that reminds me of all the things that can never be, I can sit with grief and hold her hand.

I know I am not grief and she is not me and I can make space for her to breathe into. I don’t refuse her or try to block her out; I don’t try to numb her or scare her away.

When she is here, there is no other place I can be.

So, what does it meant to be alone, when grief is involved and she plays with the aperture in my heart, busting it open whenever she feels like it?

I don’t know.

Pema has this to say and as I read it late tonight, it tingled down my spine and gave me a deeper sense of understanding of this new place I reside in:

“One night years ago I came upon my boyfriend passionately embracing another woman. We were in the house of a friend who had a priceless collection of pottery. I was furious and looking for something to throw. Everything I picked up I had to put back down because it was worth at least ten thousand dollars. I was completely enraged and I couldn’t find an outlet! There were no exits from experiencing my own energy.

The absurdity of the situation totally cut through my rage.

I went outside and looked at the sky and laughed until I cried.

In vajrayana Buddhism it is said that wisdom is inherent in emotions. When we struggle against our energy we reject the source of wisdom. Anger without the fixation is none other than clear-seeing wisdom.

Pride without fixation is experienced as equanimity.

The energy of passion when it’s free of grasping is wisdom that sees all the angles.”

What being alone means is that my life is worth living and I choose to allow tears to fall in the most public of places, dance until I fall over and remain present, open and vulnerable, equipped with breath and the power of my prayer to hold me until the tides turn and it’s time to move.

How to be alone: cry, laugh, dance, sing, pray, move, cry some more, breathe, wear something that feels like sunshine, love, repeat…every single day.




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