Wide Open Hearts
These days I find myself open to a whole range of emotions. I see others struggling with the paradox of gratitude and grief. A friend who is a staunch advocate for social justice, grieves over the loss of old growth forests, while deeply grateful for her beautiful home where she is able to grow food for her family. And to make it even more complicated, she is also aware of her colonial privilege which has placed her on land that was taken from others. My own seven year old grand daughter, dealing with changes in her life, talks about how when one person is there, she’s happy to be near them, but misses the other that is not present in that moment.
It seems we find it difficult to fully appreciate the joy of the moment when there is an emotion that we perceive of as negative in the background. In these times of confusion, division and general pandemonium, it is easy to be confused about how we should feel.
I was reading an essay by Joanna Macy and she was relating the story of how she first began to realize just how many people were grieving over the demise of our beautiful planet. It seems scientists and ecologists have seen this coming for decades and just didn’t want to verbalize the grief. Joanna began to create space for people to fully express their grief, rage and disappointment in all that was unfolding around them. Never before (at least in our memory) had humans been faced with the fact that the “ongoingness" and safety of the world for humans may no longer be a fact.
Yes, we have felt unsafe in our communities, we have felt threatened by leaders, corporate psychopaths, droughts, wars or even our own families, but the Earth has always been there to hold us. To feel the safety of our Mother slide away from us because of our human actions, can bring a red terror that sits in the pit of the stomach and rises like bile to the brain. Unless we speak it. Unless we speak it.
I am aware of late, as the sun slants through the dusty side roads, thirsty for water, of the gorgeousness of my island home. No matter where I look there is beauty and there is death. Seeds dying, trees dying, flowers growing, vegetables thriving, bees buzzing, insects dying. It’s just all there. I am struck by the beauty all around, even as we struggle with heat and drought and the stupidity of leaders continuing to perpetuate the demise of our world.
But my friend feels it all perfectly. “I’m grieving over the loss of the old growth. I’m deeply in love with and grateful for my land and home and child. I’m guilty about the land I live on. I’m joyful to watch my son grow strong and wise.” It takes a big heart to feel it all.
I told my grand daughter, “It’s okay to be happy AND sad at the same time. Our hearts are big enough to hold many emotions. Life is full of challenges, honey. After this one, there will be another one, and you can learn to say, ‘Oh. Look there, another challenge. What will I do with it?’” She laughs at me. She is a deep thinker and I wonder if I should maybe stick to lighter topics. But I think she’s up to it.
What about you? Are you afraid to feel bliss, happiness, joy because there is also grief, guilt, fear? Balance, friends, balance. How big is my heart? Am I labelling some emotions as “good” and some as “bad”? Or can I simply just let them be emotions. Simple.
Jung teaches that one of the main reasons in life that humans suffer is because we have this idea that life should not HAVE discomfort in it. If we could only understand that life is largely made up of suffering, we would better be able to hold the ecstasy of the precious moments. (my loose paraphrase)
Today I have felt irritation (flies), deep peace (quiet home), confusion (things I need to learn), gratitude (food and shelter), guilt (not everyone has food and shelter), joy (time spent in good conversation with my friends and family). Big hearts, deep breath. Widen.
Shelley Cowan —
Your words are so reassuring and sensible…I really felt calmer connecting with your thoughts. I feel that being mindful daily and trying to have the lightest footprint on the planet possible is what I can do…and hopefully that will inspire others. Thank you so very much.