It might be liberating to think of human life as informed by losses and disappearances just as much as by gifted appearances, allowing a more present participation and witness to the difficulty of living. What is real can never be fully taken away; its essence always remains. It might set us a little freer to believe that there is no path in life – in the low valley, … or abroad in the mountain night, that does not lead to some form of heartbreak when the outer narrative disappears and then reappears in a different form. If we are sincere, every good marriage or relationship will break our hearts in order to enlarge our understanding of our self and that strange other with whom we have promised ourselves to the future. Being a good parent will necessarily break our hearts as we watch a child grow and eventually choose their own way, even through many of the same heartbreaks we have traversed. Following a vocation or an art form through decades of practice and understanding will break the idealistic heart that began the journey and replace it, if we sidestep the temptations of bitterness and self-pity, with something more malleable, compassionate and generous than the metaphysical organ with which we began the journey. We learn, grow and become compassionate and generous as much through exile as homecoming; as much through loss as gain, as much through giving things away as in receiving what we believe to be our due.
David Whyte, The Poetic Narrative Of Our Times
This quote from the great Lama Gendun Rinpoche, reminds us to hold lightly experiences we have had and not allow our identity be defined by some of the events in our history. The practice of meditation is really one of trying to let go and then trust that life will unfold in a bigger picture – which is often not visible as we go through individual events. We sometimes need to let go of a memory – an idea of how things were or should be – in order to be fully present for what is here and now. We continue walking in the present until the mystery becomes clear.
Happiness cannot be found through great effort and willpower, but is already present, in open relaxation and letting go. Don’t strain yourself, there is nothing to do or undo. Whatever momentarily arises in the body-mind has no real importance at all, has little reality whatsoever. Why identify with, and become attached to it, passing judgment upon it and ourselves?
All though our lives, we experience loss, in little and big ways. Some we acknowledge explicitly and grieve for. Others we may not have had the time or space to grieve for and they can come up later on in life, and attach themselves onto some other loss. There can also be the gradual loss of our hopes and dreams, or the plans we have invested in our work, or the direction of our lives.
Robert Neimeyer, who has written extensively in this area, says that when we go through a significant loss we have an undoing of our individual and collective life histories. It affects our world, and changes our sense of self. If it is a significant loss, such as the death of one who meant much to us, or the loss of a partner or even a move from work or familiar suroundings, we can feel uprooted and homesick. He says that what is needed at such times is having people to turn to who care for us, as we “tell and retell our story”. We need someone who can listen.
Why is this? Because as humans we like to give our lives meaning by underpinning them with a coherent and consistent story. Thus when we experience these losses we need to reorganize our sense of sense and our sense of meaning in life. We reach a limit where we are invited to tell our story again, but in a new way. The losses of life can make us hard and fearful of life or can make us more open, more caring for others.
The Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa talks about a soft spot, a raw spot, a wounded spot on the body or in the heart. A spot that is painful and sore. A spot that may emerge in the face of a loss. We hate such spots so we try to prevent them. And if we can’t prevent them we try to cover them up, so we won’t absentmindedly rub them or pour hot or cold water on them. A sore spot is no fun. Yet it is valuable. Trungpa Rinpoche calls the sore spot embryonic compassion, potential compassion. Our loss, our wound, is precious to us because it can wake us up to love, and to loving action.
Norman Fischer, Love, Loss and Anxious Times