Tending to Our Personal & Collective Heartache

Aug 7, 2021 | Blog, Featured Watch

I’ve been especially struck lately by where my personal grief, anxiety, and heartache seem to coincide with that of the collective.

Sometimes when I wake at 5:00 AM with anxiety pounding inside my personal heart, it’s so clear that I’m simultaneously tapped into the anxiety of the collective: this insidious, addictive, understandable collective thought pattern insisting that something is seriously wrong.

And likewise, when I turn to meet the tender heartache alive within me, grieving as a human and as a mother in these times, I quickly find myself opening to the heartache of our world.

It might seem counter-instinctual to openly admit to ourselves the precise places and ways that our hearts are feeling anxious or broken about life. It might seem like potentially dangerous territory, to start wading into the parts of our hearts, bodies, minds, and souls that are frozen in unresolved disappointment and grief.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay busy avoiding it, transcending it, medicating it, numbing it—drinking, eating, shopping, and scrolling it away—in all the ways we know how to do?

But I know from experience that when I brush off true pain, it doesn’t take long until it morphs into some low-grade depression, or sense of futility, or worthlessness, or some cynical story about life and our world.

Unattended grief festers furiously like a bitter wound in the heart, trying to get our attention in a million ways. Often its last resort is illness.

When we turn towards that which we least want to face, fully and completely, this never fails to bring us deeper home to love, compassion, stillness.

What a miracle, this invitation, this possibility: to simply open to what’s here. Always at our fingertips, as available to us as our next breath.

My own deepening in this teaching lately has come around self-confessing places where my heart is feeling anxious and broken—personally, yes, and also collectively.

When I recently noticed a place of feeling armored in relation to my home, I decided to inquire deeper.

I saw that ever since the Alameda fire tore through our valley in Southern Oregon last September, along with countless fires that tore through countless other valleys all over the entire west coast of America, my heart had been a little bit closed to our home, our land, our valley, and even our region.

How when we scurried through our homes, gathering up all the items needed to evacuate, knowing we were the lucky ones who even had the time to do so, and then doubly lucky when we were amongst the ones whose houses were spared… still our mammalian nerves were rattled to the core.

In the weeks that followed, with so much of our community traumatized in loss and grief, and the air too hazardous for us to safely breathe, how I began to seriously question whether this was indeed the best place for my family to be living in these times.

And how with those questions came a slight shielding of my heart, a subtle withdrawal of my commitment to this place, this village, this house, this beloved home.

And how here we are, one year later, smack in the middle of fire season again, our town covered in smoke again, from monstrous fires tearing through communities north and south of us. Here we are, living on edge again, wondering what the next day will bring.

And here I am, feeling a bit armored towards my home.

Just to see it is so helpful. Just to tell the truth about it is an essential way of facing it and embracing it, allowing it to be as it is.

As I leaned deeper into this honesty of my heart, other places of subtle, even subconscious heartache and grief were revealed.

The layer of tender sobriety and disillusionment surrounding intimate partnership.

The place of feeling profoundly wearied by years of single motherhood, exhausted by the strain of wearing so many hats and having so many arms.

Heartbroken by the ways my work in the world has made me vulnerable at times to harmful projection, accusation, and attack.

Deeply disappointed in my failure to publish my first book.

Telling the simple truth about it. No need for a detailed narrative. No need for any story of drama, blame, resentment, or shame.

Just confessing the simple truth of disappointment and heartbreak is more than enough to inspire an opening.

And it was then that I could feel all the wider layers of grief and trauma, from the outermost global layers, pulsing at the level of Being, to the closer layers held within our American culture.

Collectively heartbroken by Covid, by the multi-layered losses, conflicting and dividing streams of information, burdens of limitation and isolation.

Broken by the painful divides within America, unending racism and inequity, political corruption and insanity, devastating poverty existing alongside unfathomable wealth and greed.

Collectively trembling in the face of this dire climate situation we are facing as a planet, with droughts and fires and floods impacting all corners of our world.

Collectively trembling in some ominous sense of catastrophic expectation: What now? What next?

To embrace a tender self-honesty.

Opening wider to what’s scared, disappointed, armored, shielded, protected within us.. And in this truth-telling we open to it all. We feel it. We face it head-on. We meet it.

This simple, multi-layered confession of anxiety and heartbreak has proven deeply medicinal for my own heart. And so I invite you to try it out for yourself, my dear friend.

As I turn towards each of these places, from the innermost intimate to the outermost global, with a simple willingness to tell the truth and to open, each place reveals a mysterious grace of deeper peace, spaciousness, stillness.

One of the most powerful things about this teaching, is that there is no end to it. As long as we are alive, there is always more for us to meet.

So what about you?

What’s possibly asking for your deeper honesty and seeing?

What’s asking for your deeper breath of compassion and curiosity?

What’s asking for both hands upon your heart today?

Whatever it is holds the key to the possibility of resting into yourself and this heartbreaking world, just as it is.

I meet you here, at the gateway of this moment, open and willing. Where our personal and collective suffering overlaps and collides, inviting us deeper.

Together we can turn towards it, and open to what’s here. Together we can make medicine.


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