Despite the climate-changed warmth, we’re still in the dormant season of short days, low light, and long nights. For me it prompts reflection, nudging consideration about big questions. I’m not inclined to have solid answers; mostly I’m trying to listen. This introspective time feels extra dense as six people I loved and cared about died within the last six months. That’s not a pity-seeking claim, just a truism. Others have harder ongoing challenges; but it’s affected me, for sure.
The inevitable yet strangely unfamiliar process of grieving rends one’s heart open. When it happens several times in a row it leaves little time for it to close back up. I’ve noticed that in this more porous state, though not always in an unselfish way, I feel more sensitized to others’ pain.
When loved one’s die, it’s an unasked-for opportunity to review our relationships with them. A bittersweet yet beautiful reality is how the “loss” we feel offers the chance to question the notion of our separation, and whether we were ever really separate beings. Which in turn may bind us more intimately to those still breathing.
I’m trying to give this cycle its due, but not by clinging to past pain. This year of transitions has brought an undeniable awareness of the precious wonder of life. It’s heightened the importance of how I interact with folks (and I hope, how I navigate the world). I feel more conscious of my relationships, and my behavior, and the affect we all have on one another.
I’m trying to genuinely listen more deeply. I’ve learned by error that even when not offering “answers”, how I ask questions can be insensitive or come off as arrogance. From witnessing my own erratic days during grief, I understand better how we never know what loads another may be carrying, and better appreciate how these may affect their interactions with us. Encounters with Death have a way of exposing us, revealing our habits. They also push us to not take anything for granted.
Rather than stitch my heart together, I’m aiming to leave it more open. A risky idea. Especially in this digitized world that divides and bombards us with input. It’s a challenge to discern what is worth digesting out of what we’re exposed to. We’re overwhelmed by info, and linear-thinking is the foundation on which our culture is built. So our world is defined as a mechanical process, and based upon the conveniences and “successes” technologies have granted, everything is made to fit an unquestioned scientific paradigm of things and materialism. Our society prioritizes speed and efficiency—time is money—with little concern for the trade-offs.
Yet lately, I just want to slow down and sit with some of this mystery within living and dying. I want to cultivate safe spaces (for me & others) to be still, and maybe even be comfortable accepting we don’t have answers or “solutions.” Rather than looking to “solve” all that’s discomforting, I’m trying to embrace all my emotions, even as I recognize they’re ephemeral, and will always come and go. Kinda like our days in these bodies.
Contrary to the media norms, I want to highlight our commonalities rather than differences. Without denying life’s challenges, I want to focus on sharing joy. The quality of life is directly related to how we relate with others, and how we navigate the environment we’re in. Lately I’m trying to remember to take the extra seconds to talk to the cashiers, really see the service people, and ask unseen human voices on the phone how their day is going (before they’re all replaced by machines). I’m working to be less absent-minded and more present while doing daily routines, even the essentially mindless ones.
When we categorize and label the world (plants, animals, people, cultures) “they” become something apart from us. In varied ways it’s been said really experiencing and “being” in the world is forgetting the name of the things we see. I’m trying to pause long enough to hear the birdsongs, notice the leaves waving, and feel the breezes without giving thought to what species it is or the next day’s forecast.
Ultimately the path seems all about how we interpret and attend to this sense of “self.” I’m evermore rooted in the notion that my being (this thing we all call “I”) is not defined by, nor limited to, my experiences, thoughts, or feelings. I instinctively feel we’re all far more expansive and interwoven.
For a long while I’ve struggled to articulate this felt sense of our interconnectedness with each other and our world. This has been heightened the last couple years. I loathed our societal response to the pandemic, especially the notion that distancing from each other, and the wishful promotion of technological control, is the primary path toward us being healthy. A lot of our response seems subtly intertwined with our cultural phobia of death. Death is very real, but I question the trade-off inherent in promoting behaviors that are mostly further disconnecting. Rather than physically distancing from others during times of crisis, I want more intimacy and physical contact. Especially during our moments of hardship, suffering, and when we pass from this life. It strikes me that living in a culture that promotes the opposite reveals a pretty insecure and unwell society.
This was a year for me to get acquainted with, and indeed, befriend this taboo yet ubiquitous thing death. In turn I’ve grown increasingly weary of our emphasis on the idea we’re independent, separate beings. I’m tired of participating in a culture that highlights and is anchored by what I see as an essential falsehood.
I enjoy the conveniences of our modern world but can’t accept the “solution” to everything is simply seeking more control through more technology—often without consideration for what is lost in the barter. More understanding, acceptance, and wisdom seems better. I don’t want fear-mongering to drive the social aims of the culture I am in. Maybe we ought not be defined by and constrained within a materialist view of the universe — built upon illusions that give us a false sense of control. I feel there’s a wisdom and understanding that transcends words and numbers.
Ironically the insecurities that drive our economy and steer our society seem to me the root of all our suffering. I don’t have answers. But I’d rather humbly walk toward a more holistic compassionate recognition of our shared being, our intimate bonds with each other and all life. I’m unsure where all this porous pondering is leading me, but it seems articulating what isn’t working, and what feels true and real, is a step toward recovering and unveiling peace. Hopefully this aids me in being able to better cultivate and share it. Where I’m headed may not be clear, but amid the uncertainty I can feel a coalescing.