Sunday, October 19, 2014


I have had more weddings to attend in the space of the last three years than I have ever had in my adult life. Ironically, they happened in the three years following my divorce. In poor grammatical form, it is hard not say, "what's up with that?" Four of the five weddings were of friends 40 years and older. They are different experiences than the 20 something family weddings I remember as a child. No "Celebration Time" was playing as I cringed and tried to hide my eyes from some distant relative approaching me with his/her arms extended ready to swing my silent, but screaming body out onto the dance floor. They would be coming at me with wide eyes and their head shaking "yes," as eagerly as mine was shaking "no" with a terrified, unwanted smile on my face. It makes me want to take a deep breath just typing that as I pinch myself and remember I am no longer in that banquet hall. These recent weddings have had a very different energy. There is a gravity to them that, unstated, says, "we have had life experiences and we know what this moment really means." I take in the couple who are bravely making this vow, despite and maybe because of all that they know, and I feel in myself a deeper belief in marriage than I have ever had. Whether they stay together or not, I believe that these couples know what they are saying yes to. I believe they have learned about themselves and about what it is to love and be loved in a way that only difficulty or pain, which comes with experience, can teach us. I believe they have known heartbreak and acceptance.

But, this post is not about weddings, or finding the love of our life. It is about anything we set our heart upon and the heartbreak that must come from that. I felt heartbreak in my early twenties when I auditioned for the company that I thought fit me like a glove and was cut. I remember walking in the rain from the studio on 19th Street and Broadway to the subway and a stranger telling me that the tie to my raincoat was trailing on the ground. I was numb with disappointment. I felt heartbreak when I learned my dad had lung cancer. I knew what it meant and was so very angry at what was clearly being taken away from me. In a rare act, I took something and threw it across the room and broke into raging tears. I felt immense heartbreak when I knew my marriage could no longer contain who we had grown into. I have experienced heartbreak in numerous other ways, as we all have. I now understand that to know love, or success, or fulfillment is to also know heartbreak. We must experience them both, though of course, we don't want to. We can read the word heartbreak and think, "yeh, that's a hard time," but when you are in middle of it, it is so much more than "hard." It feels impossible to live through and is as if no one around can understand the depth of our suffering. But, we do live through it. We might fall into despair first, but eventually, we grab onto some strand of light where we start to pull ourselves out of that dark hole. It often comes in some subtle gesture someone makes, or just the right words coming from a friend, or the accumulation of time and distance. As impossible as it seems, eventually, we are back on some path toward something we love. The difference is that something in us is changed and, because of that, the next love we move towards has greater potential to thrive. What heartbreak ultimately continues to teach me is how to love myself, which is the only way to heal the wound. It comes in the form of tenderness, of not blaming, and of not crucifying myself for my own suffering. I know that the next relationship, or dream, or passion I embark on is going to be richer for the heartbreak I have had and for the love of myself I have gained.

Standing in these rooms full of people witnessing a wedding, I am aware of a truth we cannot really know when we are young, the truth that we will always have unmet desires and needs. We will not obtain what we think we need to be eternally happy. This is good news. Really it is. I was never promised that I would get what I wanted, but that I can find ways to love what is here, and in doing that, I get what I need. The Rolling Stones were right-on with those lyrics. To see what I do have and not belittle it because a part of me is still longing is where we learn what love is. Though I continue, at times, to mess this up, I am learning that I can create an opening where I consciously make note of what I do have, while also being curious about what I am longing for. I can work on embracing them both and staying present to these truths. I can sit with what this person (or job, or path) so generously gives me and feel those parts that are full. I can also ask what in me is still crying out for something and create some space for that longing to be there. In defining the missing piece and not doing anything but making room for it, something shifts. A weight gets lifted, or an answer arises clarifying what it needs to be full. When we react too quickly, we never get to see what could emerge. The answer often has more possibility and subtlety than we thought. Most recently, when another heartbreak took its seat in my body, I was reminded that this is a practice that I will never perfect, but is one that I can actively work with. I know that there is nothing greater to do than that -- just keep practicing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Falling In The Woods

I have been running in the woods a few times a week for the past few years. Miraculously, though I have taken some serious trips that sent me flying ahead of my feet, I never took a fall. Alas, the fateful day arrived. I was running along a rocky incline when out of the corner of my eye I saw a dark animal running toward me in the distance. I glanced over and when I turned my head back, I tripped on a rock and landed on my hands and knees. I was stunned, saying to myself, "I can't believe it, I actually fell this time! I actually went down!" I stood quickly, knowing I was okay, but still on alert for the possible dog coming after me. On impulse, I instantly started running again, feeling a deep burning in my hand, convinced that there must be blood or that it was on its way. But, there wasn't any; there was simply the imprint of rocks in my hand. As I kept going, I turned on my meditation mind, which said, "okay, this is what a burning hand feels like. It is not bad or good. It is just a sensation." If you are rolling your eyes at me right now, I don't blame you. It sounds too detached to be real. Honestly though, being curious like that stopped my mind from spinning in all the ways it could and instead brought me into the present, which wasn't all that bad. But then, an even greater thing happened. My hurting hand, which had also been cold from the fall air, touched the warmth of my torso and felt relieved, so I purposely put my hand on my warm ribcage as I ran for a few minutes. I realized that I had what I needed to heal myself in that very moment. All of this might sound insignificant, but if I think about what I used to do in response to these situations, I am aware that a critical shift happened somewhere along the way.

Not that long ago, I might have fallen like that and my immediate response would have been to get angry at myself for falling, or at the owner of the off-leash dog for scaring me, or I would have jumped to frustration about how this inconvenience was getting in the way of my run, or my day. In all of that anger, I certainly would not have recognized how the touch of my own body could feel good to the part of me that was hurting. When you drop a plate or a glass and it shatters into a million pieces, what attitude do you take? Do you get annoyed or do you have compassion as you would with a friend who dropped it? Finding that tender way of being with myself did not come on its own. I wasn't raised talking to myself with kindness over hardships. It is a voice that developed over recent years and one that requires practice. The practice of loving-kindness meditation is intended to find this voice, a place inside that wishes ourselves and others well. It is a practice I find myself doing when I am running late and feeling stressed. Instead of getting angry at myself for being behind, as I used to do, I now say, "wow, this is a hard feeling; it is a difficult place to have to be; may I have ease." It is so very different and powerful.

What I now understand is that the tone I take and the words I say to myself can bring me further down the path of love, connection, and openness, or further down the path of anger, blame, and hatred (often self-hatred). We can actually choose what route we want to take and its impact is far reaching. When I take care of myself, when I can feel empathy for myself, I am much more inclined to have empathy for others. The great news is that I am with myself 24 hours a day. There is that much time to practice. 

I fell in the woods and, in the falling, I gained clarity in the powerful nature of loving-kindness and how it opens the door to healing in ourselves and others. It motivates me to keep practicing. I welcome us all to ask how we speak to ourselves when the going gets rough in the daily happenings of life? Is it possible to find a gentle, loving voice to respond to the ongoing challenges we face in any given day? It could be when we are struggling with how our clothes fit, or when we snap at our child in exasperation, or when we feel exhausted from staying up too late, or when we feel stressed because we can't pay a bill, or anything else that might arise. If we can't find that tender voice in those moments, can we respond lovingly to the voice that says we can't? The important part is that we begin somewhere. Over time, it will add up and we will be the person we never thought we could be.