“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ”~Pema Chodron
I woke this morning in a dreamy fugue, not quite able to pull myself from the world of sleep into the bright one of legos and breakfast-making that awaited me. In the kitchen, I danced with my son to this song while I cooked eggs and tried to push away a growing sense of nostalgia for a life that wasn’t mine.
There is something about this music that reminds me of the time I spent in New England, working on an organic flower farm that also offered yoga and sacred circle dance. It was a long time ago, and the friendships I made there still bear fruit, but this nostalgia is not about that place. It’s about something deeper than that. It’s about a life built around the deeper spirit of things. It’s about a life built around seeking, and mystery, and an overarching pattern that I fit within but can never encompass.
I’ve written about nostalgia before—here and here—but today wrapped its arms around me and reminded me that however often I come to this understanding, it will both elude and find me again. There is no endpoint to life. It goes on and on, with its immense joys and unbearable losses. Things come together and they fall apart again. We never ‘arrive’ at happiness.
And yet–there is, always available to us, this deeper place of relating to life, this ever-present and invisible river of other lives, other experiences, those who came before and are yet to come. There have been long stretches in my life when I lived more in that world than in this one. Lately, with the tasks there are to do, with time stretched thin between studies and work and children and projects and plans, I have mostly forgotten that there is more than today’s to-do list.
I danced with my son in the kitchen, and I cooked breakfast, and we walked to Meeting, pausing to look at the striated colors the rain had painted onto the path. It was a beautiful morning, bright and warm, and my heart was full and ebullient as I readied myself for the silence. Yet the moment I sat down, tears began to fill my eyes and drip onto my chest. I played it cool and kept my breathing even, surreptitiously swiping at my eyes from time to time, unsure of the origins of this sorrow.
My youngest son looked up at me, puzzled, and asked why my eyes were crying. I told him I did not know.
The moment I spoke these words, I began to concoct theories. I’m crying because I won’t see the boys for seven days. I’m crying because I’m overwhelmed. I’m crying because my grandmother is in pain and dying. But I wasn’t listening to the reasons. My heart knew. It was bigger than that.
The tears kept falling, steadily, for over an hour. People rose and spoke out of the silence of Meeting, sharing messages of loss, of the connection of community, of the beauty to be found in stillness. I spoke too, worried my voice would quaver but unable to silence myself. I spoke of the world of linear time and the world of presence just alongside us, always, infinite and containing everything. I spoke of the sense that sometimes the boundaries between self and world blur, and I fall in love with the rise and fall of everything, the transience and beauty and impermanence of lives that have brushed mine and passed on. I spoke of the gratitude I feel in these moments of supreme joy, walking in the sunlight with my children, even as I know they are growing and changing, as beautiful children are born, beloved elders die.
The sorrow ended as abruptly as it began, and we walked home laughing, but I’ve been tender all day. I want to hold everything close and bathe it in my attention. I want to understand why that song tugs at my heartstrings, I want to wrap my mind around the scope of all that I’ve lost and all the treasures I’ve experienced. I find myself wondering whether I will still be here in thirty years, wondering and wise, whether I will be strong enough on this path to put my hand on another’s shoulder and say ‘this is how it is, the daily struggles and losses, the small joys, and this is how it will be always, and that’s the beauty of it’.
I think about the ones who have done this for me, the ones who have really seen and opened my heart to seeing: Rilke, and Teilhard de Chardin, and Hildegard von Bingen, all the ones whose names I don’t know who have felt this same shuddering beauty. Where are they now? When I think of this, I am not afraid of dying. I love life so much, and yet I cannot fear to walk a path that these have walked before me.
The days go on, full of floors that need to be swept and dish drainers that need to be emptied; applications that must be filled out and nails that must be clipped; tires to inflate and battles to fight. Each day marches forward from the last, bearing pain and ugliness and boredom and beauty and delight.
And beneath all of it, always there: this still place, containing everything.