During the last twelve months, I have experienced some of the deepest sadness, pain, and grief that I can remember. I have had challenges with my body, my daughter was hospitalized with a very serious illness and on top of that, I’m walking the path with my son as he goes through aggressive cancer treatments. It has been gut and heart-wrenching. It is so hard to watch others suffer so deeply, especially our children, and not be able to do much, except love them. And love myself! I keep on remembering what author and spiritual teacher, Stephen Levine, said to me when I was studying with him years ago, “The only sane response to Life is Love.”
This body that is aging and this mind that has been struggling while seeing my kids suffer really deserves tender-hearted mercy and loving kindness. Most of the time I can drop down into my heart as I work through these deep challenges in my life. But sometimes, especially in the middle of the night, my mind reacts and my storyteller generates fear and despair that can be so seductive. But I know that any story that contracts me is just not true. It is conditioning that I took on when I was very young. I often put my hand on my heart and say to my struggling self, “Oh sweetheart, I see how hard this is for you. I really do.” And I tell myself, “This is what life is offering. It is just a wave passing through.” Then everything softens and becomes spacious again.
When I think about Love, I am reminded of the quote by Eben Alexander, author of Proof Of Heaven, when he was asked to describe what he experienced while in a coma for seven days. He said his experience couldn’t really be described in words, but if he did, the closest he could come is: “Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything. This is the reality of realities, the incomprehensibly glorious truth of truths that lives and breathes at the core of everything that exists or will ever exist, and no remotely accurate understanding of who and what we are can be achieved by anyone who does not know it, and embody it in all of their actions.” To me, this quote is so powerful because it lifts me out of struggle and reminds me that Love is the essence of whatever it is that breathes you, that heals the cuts on your skin, and that shows up as the challenges in your life – not to punish you or because you are doing something wrong, but to show you what blocks you from the realization of the Love that you are.
Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön says, “Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?” So, how do you relate to life directly with all of the conditioning you have taken on and all of the veils you put up to hide from the pain and sorrows of your life? I believe the most powerful way to do this is with your heart. The pain and sorrows are part of the natural unfolding of life and when you can open your heart and make space for them, you can then touch them with Love. If you resist them, you suffer. But by bringing them all into your heart, you can relax and open back into Life.
The next time you are struggling with deep challenges in your life, reassure your scared one with the love and kindness that he/she so desperately needs. You can simply place your hand over your heart and say, “It’s okay. I see how scared you are and I am here for you. You are loved!”
Image – Wake Up To Love – Artist Mati Rose McDonough