Grief and sadness fill the world. There is so much loss, disappointment and frustrated attempts that impact so many people that I have come to believe that these are not just feelings but real entities that have weight and even take on a form inside of us. One of the dangers of learning to feel deeply is how impacted you are by the feeling experience of others. The Buddhist name for this practice is tonglen, when you deliberately breathe in the grief, fear and sadness of others and allow it to transmute into peace inside you, breathing out love and compassion. I need more practice at this- turning our collective pain into peace.
By comparison, my disappointments seem silly. Good Clean Love was rejected by Walgreens, cash flow concerns, late payments… these can weigh heavily, but put beside my friend’s young daughter with a mysterious and untreatable debilitating genetic condition or her other adopted daughter’s fight with lymphoma, these are nothing… Not even worth mentioning. I listen, bring food, give ideas about energy healers. I have known enough worry and fear about my own children at different times to know how thin the floor under us really is… How things happen, unthinkable things and loss. A mother is only as well as her least well children. I know this personally, so I want to have the courage to take in this fear and sadness and transmute it into peace.
Then there is death, the unthinkable death where someone’s threats to kill themselves are realized. I can’t get the family that this just happened to out of my head. How do you recover? How do you look at anything with the same eyes? How do you find a new normal when the grief has consumed everything? Loss remakes the world every day. It takes seemingly normal families and shakes them up like a snow globe until nothing feels solid. Then life starts to settle into a rhythm again, except nothing is really much like before.
We want to turn away from pain. This is when we know our true friends, the ones who stand near through all the shaking, who show up as the dust settles, who invite us back into life. Many people turn away- so loss’ frequent companion is loneliness. This is what makes grief so unbearable, having to hold it all by oneself. The most essential emotional intelligence we can cultivate is compassion. This willingness to bear the weight of sadness that is not our own is one way to deeply transform the world.