A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

photo_hands-1They say that people come into your lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

It seems like it has been more “reason” and “season” than lifetime for the last little while. And it’s those I thought were lifetime that are really throwing me for a loop.

Relationships that I thought would always be there, but for whatever reason, seem to have run their course.

People who I thought had my back, but who really don’t.

Love that is conditional.

What does it say about them? What does it say about me? Why does it happen? Have I changed? Have they changed? Or is this just the natural flow of life and relationships, and I have trouble accepting that?

Lots of questions. Not many answers. And more questions.

What defines a relationship? What is the glue that makes it strong?

Is a shared past powerful enough to keep a relationship together? Or does it need ongoing maintenance and nurturing? Getting together with old friends is fun and nostalgic, but how many times can we recount the same stories over and over again? If the relationship is to continue to be meaningful and current, it feels like it needs more.

What about the ups and downs? The ups are easy. The downs, not so much—but how we navigate these speaks volumes about what you truly have together. The only way through the rough spots is when two people decide to work together—two people who care and are engaged, and who choose to do the dance of friendship together.

I have had, and continue to have many wonderful people in my life. Some I think will be brief, become meaningful. Some I think are forever, end up not being that.

And some of them crush me. The ones I think are rock solid that aren’t. How fragile they are, and how little it takes to break them. This is what surprises me the most.

The intense feeling of loss makes me feel untethered, as do all the emotions that come with it: anger, hurt, betrayal, sadness, abandonment, devastation, and despair. Why are they so hard to let them go? Is it because my expectations are too high? Or because I imagine them to be more than they actually are?

To me, relationships are ultimately about two people who, to varying degrees, care about and appreciate each other. Two people who somehow make the other one better, and are willing to put in the time and do the work to try to understand and help each other.

For most of my life I have fought to save relationships at all costs. But that’s changing. It takes two people to make a relationship work—we’re in it together or we’re not. And perhaps there are other changes taking place as well. My tolerance for bullshit is dropping. My idea of what it takes to maintain a good relationship is evolving. And maybe I am starting to realize, albeit begrudgingly, that some relationships have simply run their natural course.

There are very few I can count on to be truly forever. In the end, everyone is temporary and everything ends. There is an ebb and a flow, and the reality of life is that people come and go.

As hard as it is, I cannot allow myself to continue to be crushed them. It messes up my head and makes me sick. I know deep down that what I must learn to do is appreciate the “reason” or the “season” I have been given with them, think about what I may need to change moving forward, let them go, and wish them well. And carry in my heart the good they have brought to my life.

I need to stop resisting, trust that things are as they were meant to be, hope that the pain and anguish will fade, and that eventually I will feel some measure of peace.

I need to get out of my own way.

But it sure ain’t easy.

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A Letter From A Friend

imageI met a very interesting guy in Toronto a few weeks ago, Austin Repath, author of the Pilgrim Cards and other spiritual books. It was the unlikeliest of meetings…I wrote to him many months before to compliment and thank him for the inspiration I get from reading these cards. After that, every once in awhile, I would get a quick email from him.

I didn’t even make it to the first meeting, in fact I stood him up because I was caught in traffic! But we managed to reschedule. We sat for about two hours together and talked about very personal things–life issues that usually take months or years to get to with most people. There is something very different about Austin….wizened, knowing, and profound. I came away from that feeling changed somehow, like I had connected with someone or something much more powerful than the norm.

I have heard from him once or twice since then, and yesterday he sent me a long note with his thoughts on our time together, and the challenges I was and am facing. Challenges that I suspect we all face at various stages of our lives. I was very moved by this. His words have captured the essence of my difficult journey. And opened the door to healing. And somehow make me feel that it will be OK.They will roll around in my head for many weeks to come as I try to incorporate the depths and wisdom of what he has given me. I share it with you now in the hopes that his words may also resonate with you.

Dear Jonathan,

We sat over breakfast and your told me where you were in your life–unhappy split with your wife of ten years, your decision to leave your job, and the fact that you were about to turn fifty.

Looking at you, warming your hands around a cup of coffee, I saw a good man, in the prime of his mature life, hurting and at a loss of what to do next. You had the style and image of a man well able to get ahead in the world. However, I could see from the way you presented yourself that you were armoured with style and personality.

You did indeed create an image in my mind of a knight in shiny armour. One who had just received the healing wound that could make all the difference in the rest of your life.

I could offer understanding, advice, help you on your way. As I am much older–in my seventies–I knew of breakup and heartbreak. I knew what you were going through, knew also, that in truth the best I could be was a witness to a changing time in your life, one that could drag you down into cynicism, misogyny, and unhappiness for years to come. Or be with you as you endured a rite of passage that would give you fellowship with all who suffer and live from the open heart–the deeply and truly human among us all: a man on the street begging for some change, an older woman looking directly at you, a child sitting by her mother across from you. You sense a caring and a connection with each of them that was not there before. You begin to grasp that you are being accepted into a gathering of others who hurt, vulnerable to the vagaries of life, and yet are open to you and to life in a way your never allowed yourself to be. You see their innate dignity. You feel touched that you are one with them. This is your reward, and of course there is more.

Being much further down this road, some call life, I knew the lay of the land that lay ahead for you. I sat there trying to frame the words that would guide you forward, make your way easier. And yet I knew that although what I would tell you was the way it was, anything I said would not help you move forward. It might ease the pain and that might be sufficient, but it would be doing you a disservice.

Now a few days later sitting at my computer, I want to try to give you what I can.

Jonathan, it was good to be with you the other afternoon. I saw and could grasp the cusp in your life where you stood, anguishing not in grief or sadness, but in that place that seems given over especially for those who have lost love, been given the wound of a broken heart that no one can cure.

I know and you know in some desperate, hopeful way that one day this exquisite pain will wear itself out. I could tell you that one day you will look back on this time and realize that much of the anguish and pain that you are going through was unnecessary. This is helpful? I think not.

I could tell you that you are within a learning process, but learning in such matters is not what it is about. I believe that you are within the realm of possibility that even articulated will have little meaning for you. Right now is not the time for doing. Right now is a time to to trust and endure.

However, you do have some choice and some responsibility in the matter. For if you are patient enough and can endure, you might one day see this as a time of transformation. Think of yourself as in a crucible. If the term crucify comes to mind, you might not be too far off. If you are happy with the alchemical term think alchemical.

In very simple terms, something is happening to you. You are breaking down. Falling apart. Your task is to stay within the process.

I doubt if you could, but don’t jump out of the crucible. Stay within and let the lead of your being transform into, dare I say it, gold. You will come out of the process different. A bit like a creature of the sea who has its hard outer shell cracked open, you will feel soft and vulnerable. You will be the same you, but not the same old you. Some shell of protection, some outer layer of sophistication or stance will have been burnt away. This is the alchemy of such a moment.

You find that people are more open to you. You sense a way of being with others that is less manipulating, less controlling and more fun, more satisfying. You find delight in your own weaknesses that somehow seem playful and harmless.

People want to be around you. You are not sure why. You are safe to be with. You are not demanding, pushy. One day you connect with another and feeling the energy between you, you both you now realize what love is like.

And you would never had known this if you had not endured the cauldron.

Of course there is so much more. One’s life is an endless infinite series of such moments, but they become less painful, less traumatic. More important, you begin to realize that you have been initiated into the adult world of humanity. And you begin to see that life has given you….what some call grace.

If we are fortunate, life blesses us with this, the greatest of human gifts.

Blessings my friend,
Austin

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When Things Fall Apart

IMG_5269It has been perhaps the toughest week yet, with separation emotions running very high. I have spent most of it at a very good friend’s cabin, allowing the painful reality to wash through me. I feel like I have been run over a few times by a train. The worst part is knowing how badly she is feeling and knowing that I am the cause, or at the very least, have contributed to it. And that I cannot fix it.

I drift in and out of sleep. I read. I cook. I work on my music. I exercise. I eat. I bounce around. I sleep some more. I hope that when I wake up it will be better.

I have not been very “up.” I thought of apologizing for the quality of my company, but there is no need with a good friend. He just gets it. Rather, I am very grateful for being given the space to just be. A gentle nudge now and then to get up and do something, but he never pushed me. Thank you Dan-o.

There is a small bookshelf at the foot of the bunk bed, and one book title jumps out at me, like a neon sign: “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. Timely. And certainly not coincidental. Things seem to come to me when I need them most. When I allow them to come.

Here are a few passages that left a mark. Maybe they will resonate with you.

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on the brink and not concretize. Yet spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In fact that way of looking at things keeps us miserable. The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last–that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security. From this point of view, the only time we really know what’s going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. To stay with that shakiness–to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting revenge–that is the path of true awakening.”

“We regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors–people who have a certain hunger to know what is true–feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. Those events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news. We don’t have to go hunting for anything. Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape–all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

“We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. Instead of struggling against the force of confusion, we could meet it and relax. When we do that, we discover that clarity is always there. In the middle of the worst scenario with the worst person in the world, in the midst of all the heavy dialogue with ourselves, open space is always there.”

“Our personal demons come in many guises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage. They are anything that makes us so uncomfortable that we continually run away. We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, hit someone, or throw a pot as a way of not facing what’s happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters in our minds.”

“Underneath our ordinary lives, underneath all the talking we do, all the moving we do, all the thoughts in our minds, there’s a fundamental groundlessness. It’s there bubbling all the time. We experience it as restlessness and edginess. We experience it as fear. It motivates passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride, but we never get down to the essence of it. Refraining–not habitually acting out impulsively–is a method for getting to know the nature of this restlessness and fear. It’s a method of setting into groundlessness. It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up space.”

“To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic. To seek for some lasting security is futile. Believing in a solid, separate self, continuing to seek pleasure and avoid pain, thinking that someone “out there” is to blame for our pain–one has to get totally fed up with these ways of thinking. Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide. Hopelessness means that we no longer have the spirit for holding our trip together.”

“In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “abandon hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something…from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.”

“Death in everyday life could also be defined as experiencing all the things that we don’t want. Our marriage isn’t working, our job isn’t coming together. Having a relationship with death in everyday life means that we begin to be able to wait, to relax with insecurity, with panic, with embarrassment, with things not working out. ”

“One of the classic Buddhist teachings on hope and fear concerns what are known as the eight worldly dharmas. These are four pairs of opposites–four things that we like and become attached to and four things that we don’t like and try to avoid. The basic message is that when we are caught up in the eight worldly dharmas, we suffer. Becoming immersed in these four pairs of opposites–pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame–is what keeps us stuck in the pain of samsara.”

“Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

“The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.”

“Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us–food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things OK. That quality comes from never having grown up.”

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