Compassion at its roots means to “suffer with”. Not to protect or fix or heal another, but to stand in the darkness with another. It is when we hold space by simply being with another person. “It is only when we know our own darkness well that we can be present with the darkness of another.” It is only when we first stand in the darkness of our own being, loving ourselves in the wholeness of our experience and practice compassion with ourselves, that we can begin to truly be present with others.
As I have slipped and slid towards, and now through, the 1 year anniversary of Russell’s sudden illness and death, I have slid away from remembering that first and foremost I have to embrace my darkness and hold space for my own healing. Somewhere around the beginning of this year I shifted inside from holding my own sacred healing space to trying to fix myself and protect others from my darkness. I started getting very sick of hearing the thoughts in my head about death, dying, healing, grieving, etc. It started feeling like “blah, blah, blah” to me and I began allowing my inner critic to silence me and try to lock the doors to the dark places. I placed more and more focus upon what I felt I “should” be doing and planning, upon my kids’ journeys, and upon anything around me that wasn’t about standing in my own darkness. Or at least I tried to. I’ve even had several temper tantrums with my counselor and a few close friends saying I just don’t want to talk about it anymore. I want to be done with all of this grieving.
Well that hasn’t gone so well. The more I pushed away my own suffering and dark places the darker it got. Nothing got better it just got muddier and muddier. I became less aware of my own journey as I tried to fix or protect others broken, wounded hearts. My ability to be present, truly be present with love and compassion, with them quickly slid into the abyss. As I tried to hide myself away from my inner Kraken and instead grasp at desires to rise like a phoenix or fly like a dragon, I somehow got further and further away from the light places within myself. Curiously just wanting to be ready to rise up transformed into a mythical creature of light and magic doesn’t make it happen.
I am starting to settle back into my belief that in order to live with compassion for the world around us we must first be willing to have compassion for, to suffer with ourselves. We must be willing to stand in our darkness – loving ourselves – without trying to fix everything or protect ourselves from the messages that our deep, inner darkness has to share with us. We must be open to the possibility that embracing the darkest parts of ourselves may very well be the path to transformation. Hmmm…
I’ve been playing around with and exploring images of Krakens the last couple of days. One of the things I am drawn to is the way in which Kraken’s tentacles can be so similar to a spider web when they are spread out wide. Webs have long been a powerful image of healing and love for me. Webs are a thing of support with the strands reaching far and wide to include many. They are anchored on strong, supportive structures and can bear much more weight than one would think possible. I am starting to play with the ways in which kraken’s tentacles can invoke this same feeling for me. Tentacles as a web of underwater support hold and guide me through the dark. When I rest in their strength I will not drown in my sorrow as I fear when I resist the dark. Letting go and trusting that the web, the tentacles will hold me up is what I most need to do.
Last year, on this day, I experienced one of the most profound things I believe I ever will. At Russell’s funeral I felt the gathering of a web of love, healing and suffering that was more powerful than I could have ever imagined. As we gathered together to suffer with one another, grieving the loss of Russell and celebrating his life, there was magic amongst us. Magic in the sense of that tangible feeling of love and connection that we all long for. Russell’s funeral was one of the hardest days of my life and also one of the greatest. We honored him with such love and intention to celebrate a life well done that I truly believe he somehow was there with us. Our gathering that day was what I believe ritual and ceremony can be at its very best. In embracing our darkness we all radically stepped into the light that day.
As we continue to move forward with our lives integrating all of our dark places with our light ones I hope that we can each find the people who are willing to suffer with us. Not fix us or protect us from life, simply stand with us as equals. Living our lives with compassion and open to receiving compassion from others ultimately makes for a richer, more loving experience of life. May we all come to know our darkness.
In this time, in this moment I continue to be grateful for you all. I am filled with love as I remember.
(The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown, influenced today’s writing.)