“There has to be more to life than this dark gloom,” I wrote. I was sinking under the weight of my widowed life with no sweet husband to listen to my smallest fears, to care if my belly ached or I was scared.
I was scared.
Submitting my book proposal meant waiting for doors to open a crack or smash in my face, so I went to default mode, longing for Vic and my old life. I forgot that his death meant it was time to create a different world for myself and that I was doing well with my rebuilding project. Instead, I defended against despair like a boxer in the ring before I dumped my misery on paper in Ellen Schmidt’s writing class.
As I read the despairing words I’d written to the others at the table, there was an inner commentary. You’re annoying and spoiled. Others have real issues and big problems. Get it together, you brat.
The more I scolded, the worse I felt. My heart knotted as I chastised myself for wanting what I couldn’t have and for not being grateful enough for what I had for so long. Have the years of meditation and psychological work taught you nothing? You should be ashamed.
I was ashamed.
Driving through the dark winter night toward home, I glanced through a stack of CDs on the passenger seat. At the bottom of the pile was Pema Chodron’s Audio Collection. I chose a CD randomly from the three box set. The cover said “Good Medicine.”
In her warm voice, Pema Chodron spoke of maître or unconditional friendliness with oneself. She reminded me how I usually accept my friends’ dark moods and difficult moments with kindness, whereas I attack myself without mercy.
“This all has to do with our relationship with pain, our relationship with difficulty…,” Pema said. “A certain amount of pain in life is inevitable…, such as dying…, such as the more you love someone, the more grief there is at the loss of that person.”
Then she suggested we stop struggling against pain. I knew she was right. I knew this was my chance to practice letting discomfort in and letting it transform me. My breath softened as Pema’s gentle voice encouraged me to befriend my pain and so befriend myself.
“Stay. Stay. Stay,” she said about not running from difficulty. She paused between each word as though training an unruly dog.
“Stay. Stay. Stay,” I said to myself using the kind tone I use with my dog Willow. Stay with longing. Stay with fear. Stay with discomfort.
When I got home, I sat by the warmth of the wood stove and admitted to myself how scared I was to be challenged and exposed, how frightened I was of change or failure. And I stayed. Then I cried. I accepted that I was unmoored and forgave myself for being human.
The next morning my gloom had lifted. Once again, I learned that there is nothing more exhausting or futile than trying to hold grief and fear at bay, no matter how small or large the issues.
May I learn to breathe in whatever I feel, accept my weaknesses, and become my own best friend.
Stay. Stay. Stay.