Is loss the portal to love? Love, Death, Letting Go
“In order to enter the portal of love one must be initiated through the portal of loss.” Is the question I asked myself this morning,
feeling the echoes of your having left.
There’s a part of me fighting it, feeling a relief in my own stability, that I’m not reaching back to you saying, “Come back,” or even “promise me anything.” But as I start to breathe and move I feel the familiar ache in my left shoulder, in my heart, in my left arm, how I’ve kept this space inside of myself contracted and pinned…
Navigating truth…I watch myself cautious to set down words, judging myself that I may just be some delusioned person trapped by her own conditions, habits, fears, and thoughts…and somehow, my aim, is to know my truth.
I remember when you died, my brother, which happened twice in my eyes. The first time is when you got so involved in cocaine I didn’t see you anymore, there was a fat masked sad man inside. You left. I know mom pushed you away too. And when you came back, no one ever talked to you about it. I’m not sure if you were ever the same after that, how could anyone be, and what to do with how life shapes us. In a way I waited for 15 years for you to come back – all of you – but I think parts of you were still lost in the ethers and the deep sadness and rage percolated under your skin. I understand. I have rage and sadness too.
When you died, that was the moment when I realized I had no control. Because there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t get to you faster, I couldn’t change your death. I didn’t even get to say good-bye. You were already in a coma in Florida and I was stuck in Guatemala.
For weeks after, I had to deal with the darkness that crept through in the aloneness of myself. How I couldn’t move forward. My left arm grew frozen. I went to an osteopath and I remember him lecturing me, “You should know better, if you’re a yoga teacher and craniosacral therapist, in how to fix this for yourself.” I was too numb to respond. My whole family had been staying at my brother’s house, his ghost keeping us awake at night, slamming doors and roaming through the halls. You kept whispering to me in my ears, I knew you knew I could hear you but I didn’t want to. I kept doing what I thought was best – we all were. How can we numb ourselves from this pain that won’t go away. I drank red wine and didn’t eat and if I did, I threw it all up. I didn’t care how poorly I was managing myself.
When I got to the osteopath I hadn’t showered. The shower was clogged and there were 7 of us sharing the bathroom. The bathroom you died in was off-limits. I understand. Your wife shrouding herself in her grief among your things and the vestiges of your last words. In my mind I replay your death, as if I was there. You standing at the sink, brushing your teeth. It’s early and winter and the sun’s not yet up. You knew you were dying anyway, the chemo had taken your hair, but you thought maybe you had some more time. It was the first of the year and you had a beautiful night, as if the universe knew you were going (is our time of death determined?) and made sure all plans went awry so that they could each happen to have stopped back home to see you. The universe made sure that each of your kids got to say “good-bye” and “I love you.” When you fell, did you know what was happening? I only got to hear about this on the outside. You already had stepped through the veil: you started naming our relatives who had passed…our brother Timothy who only lived for a short while, our uncle Bill and Grandma and Grandpa. For a moment you saw your wife there, her watching you, not knowing what to do, and you told her to tell mom that everything will be okay. Did you have any words for me?
When you were dying your spirit came to me. Under the coffee tree. I was mad at myself because I felt a few days ago that I had to come visit you. I took a boat to another island where there was better internet and tried to change my flights. I called my parents and my mom said I was crazy and impulsive – to just stay put. I wish I ignored my family and followed my feeling. I could have seen you then. Why did you put so many walls up to me when you got sick?
You told me under the coffee tree to drink ayahuasca. I was surprised, I was trying to not take any mind-altering substances…I didn’t want to, but in 2 weeks I was scheduled to go to Peru and there would be ayahuasca there.
When I went to Peru what I first remember is my darkness. It was hard for me to speak. I couldn’t feel my feet. This pain shrouding me and I didn’t know anything anymore. I’d scream into my pillow at night, shouting for God. I’d abandoned God not too long ago, at least my connection. In Guatemala I was with a medicine man and he asked me to give everything up that I believed for awhile…even my teaching and healing…so I could know what God truly was. In some ways it’s a remarkable way to navigate but also dangerous. There wasn’t a quiet space for me to discover my truth…with nature as my guide..instead there was this medicine man who was angry with his own pain and I let him fill my head up with his rules. And stupidly, I took them in.
So I was alone in the dark with my pain, pushing out the ideas of the medicine man and realizing I had nothing I could hold onto. There was nothing for me to reach towards, nothing coming towards me to comfort me. I was in the void.
Eventually I started drinking the medicine..and came back to some of my own joy. But sometimes I’m not sure still what’s real and what’s not. It’s hard to trust something that’s come through after you’ve ingested things – was this just a crazy idea in my head – a mind trip – or a true realization. I know hearing people speak about their experiences – some were enlightening and some of us went more crazy from the medicine. The medicine for me at some point became poison. Or perhaps it was the perfect medicine to show me what I always refused to look at. I fell back into my anorexia and bulimia and got smaller and smaller. I recreated my own safe zone that I do – when I’m sad and terrified and it’s all falling apart, when grief attacks me from all sides and sometimes I’m alone for hours crying and screaming in the shower, when I feel powerless and lost, I just shrink. I get small enough to barely be here…and look for someone to take care of me.
Years later, this grief and this feeling of the void returns quite often for me. It cycles through. And my own questioning of what God is, what love is, what death is, what life is. My terror that I’m a teacher and am I transmitting a lot of bullshit. Yoga to me is the preparation for death. And how am I meeting that?
After your death, you were relentless with your messages to me. Some could argue it was all in my head but after a while there were too many signs for me to ignore. How you made sure that any song I associated with you was played in any store I walked into – that my ipod for hours played on shuffle just your songs. You visited me in dreams, you visited my friends in their dreams. Just months after you died I met someone named “Brother” and someone else named “Bobby” – my brother bobby who died. But who knows if I’m just recreating this for myself. I still don’t know.
You told me 2 days after you died, when I walked out with dawn just hitting the trees, a soft pink through the bare branches, the crunching of frosted grass under my oversized slippers (I left my clothes in Guatemala when you died –I left many of my things – and showed up to be with my family with not much. Just overpriced presents I bought in the airport because I didn’t know what else to do. I showed up with 3 huge bags stuffed with scarves and masks and chocolate and coffee. Anything to pretend we weren’t in pain.
The only store closest to us was Wal-mart. A place I very rarely frequent. And yet there we were. I bought my funeral outfit..which was a small size to begin with…and after 2 months of grieving in the mountains of Peru…it just hung on me, the pants fell all the way down.)
So I walked through this frozen grass and I could feel you. You kept saying, “You don’t know how lucky you are, your ability to feel. You can put your hands on a table and feel it. You know the feeling between your hand and the wood. That is a gift.”
And I know this. Despite my mental meanderings, the truth is simple. The gift of presence. Not trying to improve ourselves or wish to be elsewhere. To find our home in the moment we are in. But I forget this. Over and over again.
And this is why I get confused when I’m with people. It happens when I say good-bye to friends that are dear to me – I can’t hold back the tears that erupt. I feel embarrassed for how much I feel and weak that I care so much.
I spend so much time alone, becoming friendly with my aloneness…I remember the first time healing myself from anorexia I knew that was the only way – to become friends with myself. And yet I didn’t come here to be alone. We also came to connect and reflect, to discover that self and other are the same. I watch my urges for intimacy and don’t know what’s true. I pray for true love and I smirk as I write this because true love is connected to Cinderella’s castle. Finding your prince. Not having worth as a woman. And I’m not talking about finding a man and somehow it all being better. I know that’s an illusion.
But what about love? The power of our bodies when we connect? I was with a man a few years ago I fondly call the “pirate” to myself, and the way we made love made us both radiant. I didn’t need to sleep. I looked more beautiful. And yet I knew that he was going to go and I remember sitting with my own pain of having this beautiful connection that I have to let go of.
Sometimes I hide from intimacy because I don’t want to feel the pain of loss after the joy of connection. And then, when it’s become too long, I connect again. And then for one reason or another, the person can’t stay. And I’m with my own pain again.
I wouldn’t want someone to make me stay and I can’t make anyone stay. But is this the navigation of life? Because really everything we know will die, leave, transform. Even people who stay in our lives always changing. And the misery we create for ourselves by hanging on.
But is it to stay on the periphery? To be a little numb? That classic phrase, to be in this world but not of it. To engage and love to be fully present…which sometimes is already hard enough because I have this mind that likes to leave, that fears staying…and yet to know that once the moment is met, it dissolves. The only thing true is the dissolve.
So how do I navigate love? I ask myself. And love to me is synonymous to Life, God, Home, Truth, and Self. What would it be like to trust so that I know that when things change, when things fall apart, which is the only thing I witness continually, that instead of collapsing into my own grief, I know that love is just transforming into one of its infinite forms. To not look for love as a condition or situation…but to know that it’s the current underneath that binds us.
I watch when I dissect and control and plan, I’m miserable. That only when I let myself be open to the surprise that suddenly God comes through with magic with a life I could never have fathomed myself. I step into the miracle. And yet fear will grip me or I think I need to be more organized and together like other people and do it their way. But it doesn’t work. And so I ask myself this morning, after you’ve left, after having sat so many times with my own pain of saying good-bye, I never know if or when I will see you again, can I still stay open to life. That love and loss are intertwined. That, as one enlightened being said to me when I sat in front of him years ago, “Life is infinite joy and infinite sadness.” And after he said it a few more times, the deep joy and pain came through me and through tears and laughter, I understood.
Is there a solution? I get tired of feeling like somehow I have to have some sort of answer. Or to quote Rainer Maria Rilke, Can I “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
And also as Rainer Maria Rilke says, ““We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.”
Is this my own art in life, my personal poetry, the art of letting go, and eventually, at some point, I know?