“May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of God.”
– John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us
Happiness is in the quiet things, in becoming aware of the beauty and fulness that surrounds you. We are all incredibly blessed yet our minds are not trained to see it. We focus on what is going wrong, on what we lack. The wedding that is not taking place, the career that is not unfolding as it should, our complete disorientation as we try to navigate adult life. Yet there are many beautiful sights to see in daily life: the bird that perches on the window sill, the friend who smiles at us, that good book that is waiting for us at home, the wind rustling through the leaves. Don’t miss it. Life will never be entirely as we want it to be, there will always be something rubbing us the wrong way. Many of us nurse a broken heart. Many of us are dying inside. But with death and sorrow there is also life. One cannot exist without the other. Some parts of us need to die so new life can emerge. So when your tears blind you and you cannot breathe from all the despair that is washing over you, know that yes, a part of you is dying. Yes, it is beyond excruciating. Yes, you have to let it happen. Rest. When you open your eyes after a good sleep, the world will seem new again. Morning will come and you will laugh again. Exactly because you allowed all that hopeless love, all that fear, all those ghosts that you cling to, to die.
Your task now is to find what endures. Who are you underneath the suffering? Underneath the fear? Give yourself space to unfold, to be glad because you are alive.
You are free. You will find your way. You will be alright.
The process of grieving happens in waves, provided that we let it. Sometimes the loss is so big that we have no choice but to succumb to it, willingly or not. Our lives come to a radical standstill and there is no one or nothing that can save us from the overwhelming sorrow, despair and emptiness that keeps washing over us. We look in vain for understanding, for comfort, for that magical spell that will release us from our own minds, but nothing is forthcoming, as if it was intended that way.
We think something has gone horribly wrong and that we shouldn’t have to feel all this pain, but grieving is the only appropriate response to bereavement. Anything else will keep us stuck and only delay the necessary and life-changing process of healing a broken heart.
There are losses in life that we might manage to overlook: the end of a promising friendship, the end of our youth and the naive idealism that comes with it, losing our faith in an all-powerful divine being, losing our fantasies about how it was all going to turn out. We might not even notice until many years later the immensity of what we have lost. Our bodies know of course, but our minds would rather think about anything than a truth where we have no control over, that we cannot fix. Still, if we are lucky, a wave of grief might hit us one ordinary Sunday afternoon, apparently for no reason at all, washing away our illusions of control and invulnerability. Do not be alarmed when this happens, nothing has gone wrong or needs to be fixed. The sorrow you feel is an ode to your beating, aching heart, to the love you were courageous enough to give to the world, to the things that were once important to you. We owe it to ourselves to hold our losses with dignity and not turn away.
Please, do not turn away.
We might have to be broken for a while, as the waves of sorrow and despair drag us to the most inner, arid corners of our being. We might have to walk around in disarray, knocking on the same, old doors of what used to give us comfort, however false, and find no answer. We might have to try new things and fail utterly, until it becomes clear that what we really need to do is to sit still, to cry out with what is hurting us, to listen and come back to ourselves again, and again and again.
It’s only from there that a new, life-giving breathing-in can arise.
Where do we end and where does the other person begin? Waves are a constant in our lives: something ends – there is a pause – and another thing begins. Maybe we laid a sentence to rest with a friend and are waiting for a response, a response that will surely come. Maybe we let go of something that we’ve dedicated years of our life to and are waiting for something new to fill up the emptiness. Small and big waves are part of our daily lives. Tuesday follows Monday. We can only stand still for so long. The world calls to us, harsh and exciting – as Mary Oliver would say – and our life has to go on. Our life, this life where we are constantly influencing the people around us, and are being influenced by them. Our life, this big question mark that we try to make sense of, try to organise and tame and reduce to something very ordinary but which is constantly overflowing its bounds. Our life which we have borrowed, from our mother, from the cells in her body and from the giants who went before her, forever hidden in shadows. One day we will give this strange question mark back to the great, unconscious sea and we hope that it will be enough – what we did, what we said, what our hands and chests and hips made. Who will decide?
What is going on inside of you, sweetheart? What is your body trying to tell you? Why do you judge it so harshly, when it works so hard to keep you alive, to support you and nurture you? What would happen if you just let your emotions flow and let them tell you their experience? Can you tend to the village within?
Everything starts there. A new life is possible when you take responsibility for the part of you that is hurting, is feeling unseen and unloved. There is grief inside of you, waiting to be felt, to be met with your warm presence. Don’t ignore it. Don’t let somebody else step on it, or distract you from what would really make a difference in your life.
I’m hurting inside, yet people tell me I look cheerful and happy. This is because I’m taking the time to feel everything, to cry when I need to and to learn to build a relationship of trust and accountability with myself. In this way I am able to release tension and space frees up in my heart for joy, love and gratefulness. I’m training the important skill of being radically there for myself through whatever comes up.
What a coincidence, to have met at all, you and I.
What a coincidence that we even exist, that the world welcomed us so generously,
and displayed its beauty and abundance so gloriously for us to fall in love with.
It’s so rich here.
So many scents filled with meaning,
so many tastes which nourish us and bring us back to life.
So many ways to inhabit peace, beauty and belonging,
listening to the birds chirp, feeling the wind touch your skin,
the snugness of curling up with a hot cup of coffee
when peddles of rain hit the window and the sky turns dark.
Or anything else,
anything else that gives you joy and relief, it’s all here, waiting for us.
Is this really a coincidence, or are we,
maybe just maybe,
really wanted here?
Made for this life, this world, this splash of mortality,
pushed upward like a mighty wave
only momentarily from the sea.
The only sound I have ever found truly sacred
is silence and all the delicious richness underneath.
When I sit back and allow my breath to deepen
until I’m firmly grounded in Nature’s embrace
That’s when I feel like I am infinite, that inside
my small body, vulnerable, ageing, transient
there is a groundless whirlwind of colour, warmth,
sadness and laughter
making love to my heart –
until I weep from the intensity.
Most of all, when I linger there,
when that precious whirlwind is tired of its play
I feel Your presence, patient, smiling, loving
but holding back out of fear of being intrusive.
You are shy, my Beloved, but I have come
to sit with you once more.
I have come
to lose myself completely in Your love.
The fresh morning air rushes in from the window
beckons us, entices us:
Today is not the day for stagnation!
Look around you, everything is born anew
anointed by the coolness of the night
the mystery that opens and spreads out
over all the streets
sweeping away all memories of suffering,
cleansing and blessing it like an old lady would
who knows a thing or two about death
No, the sun does not rise
before this lady’s work is done
Sweeping, cleansing, expertly folding
away all your anguish and broken dreams.
She sings an ancient song which brings
life to shattered bones while cats linger
to be near her and hear her silvery rhymes.
Then she mutters to herself something
about another job well done and
let’s have a cup of tea and see if Martha’s home.
At last she recalls the heavy silence, the birds impatiently
waiting for her cue. She shakes her head and laughs at the erupting
ruckus, her antediluvian voice ringing and jolting the sun awake.
Only the animals know of her existence,
only they are staunch enough to help her with her work.
Yet the sun rises for all of us,
the sheer unapologetic triumph
packed into the sweet scent of the morning air
leaves none of humanity’s hearts unshaken,
leaves none of us without a seed of roaring hunger for life.
Creativity is hard, it is build out of our pain, out of all the feelings we don’t want to face. We cannot be truly creative until we pay heed to the suffering we have been through. Maybe Hemingway was right when he said that writing is like bleeding, you try to avoid it until there is no other option but to sit down and surrender to whatever comes out. It’s not always pretty, the words aren’t always well-chosen or as elegant as you’d like. But it’s real and it’s necessary. We have to do the work or risk suffocating in the monotony of a life that somebody else picked for us. Don’t pick that life.
I’ve never felt that a book actually changed my life. Oh, I have had high hopes in that regard, don’t get me wrong. The marketing plot of “This book will change your life” worked well on me and my decision making process. But it never happened in the spectacular way that the publisher promised. It might have to do with the fact that my mind finds reading easy and appealing enough, but doing the gritty work of sitting with myself and diving into my psyche not so much.
Maybe it’s little tidbits of text that do it – ideas that spark my interest, sentences which are often repeated because I look for them elsewhere – which gradually become ingrained in my soul and as such become the foundation of a new life. Well, not new exactly. As Rilke says: ‘The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.’ If we look closely, interesting ideas which transform us are not alien to us but are part of the weaving of our cells, of the very core of who we are becoming.
Can an author transform my way of thinking before I am ready? I don’t think so. Maybe that’s why some books stay unread on the shelf so long – we are not ready, not quite yet, to do the ideas justice. Some books get read without any noticeable change in my way of thinking, but later I discover that a chair has been moved and a new breeze nudges me resolutely into action.
Ideas take time to ripen, to mature in us. There is no doubt that when they are fully grown they belong to us in a profound way. We can no longer separate ourselves from them. Our future self, our new life which isn’t so new at all, has become a reality.
Is there anything more delightful than waking up in the midst of cold, sturdy winter to find the birds chirping and the sun warming the frozen earth? An unexpected break, a short glimpse into the renewal of your heart. You suddenly remember how happy spring makes you, how it washes away all the cobwebs and little hurts that were hiding in the dark closets of your chest. You suddenly see a way out of this dark dream, if only for a moment, and you rejoice in the beauty this earthly life freely gives you, almost deliberately, to draw out a response.
There is nothing quite like the heartbeat of nature, its quiet tale that endures while people are busy talking of silly nothings. You remember it from time to time, when you stand in the doorway, caught in the rollercoaster of your thoughts. The wind tugs at you, gently, inviting you to listen, to pause, to be silent for a moment. That’s all that is needed for you to regain balance, if you put your whole heart into it and affirm the truth. ‘I know you, sweet nature. I have come here to admire your transient, ever-renewing beauty intensely. I am part of you. I am beautiful too.’
The wind runs on, satisfied, and the birds chirp a little more playfully. ‘You are part of this!’ They shout. ‘This careless playfulness is your inheritance too! Do you remember how we once danced together? Remembrance, my friend, is everything!’ They jump from tree to tree, basking in the sun. They, too, are happy and have found a little sustenance against the bleak dark months. They, too, know pain, loneliness and suffering.
You quietly stand there, the smoke of your solitary tea filling the crisp air. For a moment a smile plays across your lips. Then, that urgent errant comes to mind and you rush inside. But you were there, for a moment, standing in the doorway, knowing yourself completely by forgetting who you were.