Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Staying with the Aching Heart

Here's the question I am holding in my life: How do we go through what feels like unbearable pain (loss, grief, sadness, fear, terror) without closing or disconnecting from our hearts? I wish I could say I was asking the question as a “spiritual teacher” exploring how to be helpful to others. But I’m not. I’m asking myself this question as one small human being who is in anguish, one woman who is facing the probable dissolution of her marriage, her shared home, her dream of being with a particular man for the rest of her life; as a person who, at moments, feels the unknown stretching out before her not (as has sometimes been the case) as an empty, fertile expanse of exciting possibilities, but as an abyss of pain and loneliness, as that which is terrifyingly unknowable.

I tried to write about something else today. I really did. But everything else came out as false. Because this is where I am: breathing through an ache in my chest that feels like it will split me open. The medical term “sucking wound” comes to mind as many breaths- conscious or not- are gasping, struggling, wet with tears. It feels like there is a gaping hole in my chest. Sometimes I’m numb with weariness and fear, sometimes frantic and driven by pain, and sometimes unable to reign in the mind that wants to move too quickly to definitive answers, possible explanations and concrete plans. But sometimes I am able to surround and hold the internal screaming with just one breath.

So, I’m paying attention to what makes it easier or harder to do that- to simply breathe without moving away from pain, without disconnecting from awareness of my own aching heart, stressed body and busy mind. Exercise helps, particularly rigorous exercise which grounds me, moves the pain out of my body and makes me pay attention to my breath. If you are someone who exercises regularly this is probably not news to you. But, for me (a woman who has only recently started to do a little exercise) how effective this can be is a bit of a surprise. Yoga, working out, or going for long walks seems to increase my capacity to at least slow down the mental hysteria. Similarly my usual daily creative and spiritual practices of writing, prayer and meditation help me stay connected to my heart without going into denial about what is happening and the anguish I am feeling. I am so grateful for the years of cultivating these practices. It would be difficult if not impossible to start a practice in the midst of this upheaval.

I’m not looking for advice,and I will not be sharing details of how Jeff and I got here. Both of us have skilled professional guides we see (and have been seeing for a long time) together and separately. But I am struck by how little the usual spiritual adages help. Like, “Be in the present moment.” The pain of the present is, at times, so overwhelming it makes it difficult to be anywhere else. It strikes me that the most helpful spiritual practices are the simplest. Like the prayer, “Help me,” or at most, “Help me, please.” Concepts like compassion and seeing the other as another myself while true, feel too lofty. More useful is the essence of all the spiritual ideas and practices I know to have some truth: kindness.

So, this is how I am going through my moments: I am paying attention to my breath, breathing into my heart, crying when I need to, talking to friends when I need to, exercising my body to stay here and reminding myself to be kind- to myself and to Jeff. Eating healthy food or going for a walk is being kind to me. Not dredging up the past and being careful about what gets discussed on the phone is being kind to both Jeff and me.

I do not know where what is happening will lead. From the perspective of this present moment, outcomes are unknowable. I suppose that is always true (although we often think we know where current decisions will lead.) It’s hard not to have clarity about what love is asking of me. But I am listening deeply when I can, and I have faith that there will be clarity, guidance, and a way to be true to the Sacred Presence that lives in each of us and holds us all.


  1. In my own experience, it's the perspective that has to change. In the darkest moment in my life, I suddenly had a flash of insight: 'nothing of this really matters' and since then I'm looking at events as lessons that life has layed out for me to evolve. It's life's proposal to dare a new journey- look for the lesson...I embraced the pain, the confusion and only asked myself one question: what do I have to learn from this about myself...I accepted paradox, things that weren't allowed to be, always telling myself- where is the hidden lesson? Getting a lesson of life isn't easy, because in my experience it doesn't happen at the rational level, you have to ask again and again and if your mind is clustered by why's and how's of the ego, you're not free to accept the mystery of Maya, the illusion of life, which still has its own rules you have to follow in order to live.
    Good luck to you and don't fear- I'm sure that your destiny will take you somewhere, even if for now everything seems dark, your soul will find the way into the light!

  2. I am sorry that you are having this difficult time. My favorite words are: This too shall pass.

  3. Oriah,
    I sympathize with your anguish and the longing to be both present and beyond the pain. I took from your words a despair for the unknowable destination of intentions and discovery. I often have felt jealous of those who follow a set creed or response to conflict. They have labels in there mind at the ready to stick to any situation or person and an immediate path to follow to a preconcieved result.
    I am not a better person then they are, I just handle conflict differently. They may in their haste to move beyond pain err, but in my own process of honoring the reasons for pain and seeking the singular answer to each conflict I can become entangled in the web of emotions and linger unnecessarily in my anguish.
    I find the most difficult aspect of interspection and seeking the unique truth to each challenge and crisis is the conflicts I add to the challenge within myself.
    I am currently striving to repair my marriage and family and too often find myself distant from the moment waging a debate within my mind.
    I have only recently found your blog and it has been a gift. i welcome your gentle words and perceptions as a filter to the harshness of life. Thank you and I wish you continued Grace.


  4. awwwwww honey- I just want to hold you and give you a big hug. I know there are not shortcuts to pain and denying it doesn't make it go away. I believe that it's part of what makes us human. If we love and live deeply, we also hurt deeply. Still, we can be there for each other to comfort one another and send love and strength. As someone very wise said to me once- this is really hard- but have faith that you can do hard. But I ache for you- I sure have been there myself. I echo Jean- this too shall pass. I promise you will laugh and love again- but don't bypass the hard stuff. But I know you know that already.

  5. Jean from SomersetApril 14, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    I sent a message somehow ( not very techie..) but was limited to 300 characters and then came here and saw much longer posts. So - I wanted to say that I originally wrote to you after reading your very first book and being very touched by its honesty and the fact I too had/have ME/CFS. What an awful time you are going through, and my experience, also, is that a lot of the usual things that are fine when life is fine just don't hold up when everything falls apart. Hang on to whatever gets you through even if it's very simple and everyday.
    Warm thoughts and much love.

  6. Wishing you moments of peace that will expand with time.

  7. Like so many others, i've gone thru the same, it felt as though half of me was being ripped away. The only way I survived was Christ with me and camping in the Psalms. Praying for you.

  8. My heart aches for you Oriah. Seeing that you have the support and help that you need, I can only offer a companion in allowing fully an open heart, even when it feels like it's breaking. Staying with it consciously means that there won't be compounded work to do later on. My heart stays open for you, with you today, Laurel

  9. You are in my thoughts. I honor the balanced path you consciously create, and thank you for sharing it.

  10. These words have touched me deeply, Oriah, as has so much of what you've written. I have been there, that realization that this person I spent half my life with, the one I thought I would finish my life with, would no longer be with me. It came to me both slowly and painfully, and also suddenly, a pivotal moment in which I felt the solid ground beneath me shift and shake me to my core.
    So many words from loved-ones were hollow to me. I could only be "present" for so long before the agony was too much. Keep exercising, keep doing whatever you need to do to ground yourself. Talk to friends when you need to, ask them to provide a vacation from processing when you need it as well.
    "This too shall pass", while true, can feel trite in the midst of agony. My marriage fell apart 4 years ago; it's been 4 difficult, confusing, painful, and yet joyous years as I've discovered who I am without my husband, built a new community around myself, and, recently, fell deeply in love. Life does get better, richer, fuller, but that knowledge does little to minimize the pain of the present.
    My thoughts, love, and prayers are with you, Oriah.

  11. I don't have to know the particulars of the source of your pain to recognize the angst in your message, Oriah. In my own life, I think I found that when I was at the point of greatest uncertainty -- when I literally had no clue of how to navigate -- my mind was totally free of prejudice and I was then willing to examine new ways of resolving my issues. You're already doing things that I found most useful -- mindful breathing, walking, etc -- that, and putting my feet in the other's moccasins.

    We are here for you, wherever this moment leads you.


  12. Oriah,

    I believe you are becoming even more human. The universe has offered you the gift of encapsulating and experiencing feelings that perhaps you might already be aware of but now through a deeper level. I believe you are ready and therefore handed something that you ARE able to deal with. You will be an even greater healer through this experience. It's a gift!

  13. I don't think it passes. I think that joy will come, eventually, and the pain will remain as a softness in your heart. My heart has been broken so many times, and I have only in the last few years, learned to stay with the pain, and not jump away or project it out. Not to cover it with false happiness or with frenzied activity. It is only in allowing the pain that it can alchemize into love and compassion. And sometimes it takes a long time. And there are no shortcuts.

    My spiritual director says that compassion always, always has a component of pain. This does not help me rationalize or otherwise deal with the amount of pain I feel when I have to bear a grief. But without pain, compassion is not possible.

    So, Oriah, I feel deeply for your grief and pain and loss. They are my griefs and pains and losses, and they join with the pain we all feel. I do not say this to make you or anyone feel better. I agree that exercise helps one get through each day and moment. For me, praying and reading poetry helps. So does sitting with friends or leaning against a tree. I do not expect to know the wisdom of my grief while I am grieving.

    The words of a little song come to mind,

    "I cannot wipe away your tears, my dear. I can only teach you how to make them holy."

  14. As I long time reader and soaker-inner of your words (as they always seem to come to me at just the right moment), I could only hope to offer you a piece of the same illumination and comfort you've given to me countless times.

    I have been where you are. Too many times. Only once have I made it through with a romance still intact.

    My grandparents (married 56 years next month) gave me their secret. "It's not 50/50. It's 80/20...and sometimes 100/ must be ready to give more than you take, and even take nothing at all."

    That one phrase changed our relationship. It's is the definition of unconditional love. What could I give with the expectation of nothing in return? Could I get him a drink of ice water when he's working outside in the heat, or offer to rub his shoulders? Even scarier, could I relinquish my well protected heart and give him my complete trust?

    A funny thing happens when you love unconditionally and give without expectation. You simply cannot fill another's cup with love without it spilling over onto you.

    Even if this is the end (and my heart aches for you if it is) can you still love without conditions and give without expectation? Perhaps leaving on that note, with love still held in your heart, would take the edge off the pain. And perhaps not.

    Whatever happens, know you *are* loved.

  15. Oriah,
    Thank you for sharing, because these moments teach us.
    We'd like to avoid pain, but you are embracing it. Walking through it. You are right to breathe deeply, exercise, eat healthy food, seek outside counsel, release the past and stay in the present. All that you know in your heart and teach through your words is what you carry with you and lean on when you feel not strong enough to stand, when the pain is confusing or overwhelming. Your heart knows how to mend and your body knows how to heal.
    Much peace...

  16. Thank you for sharing. I don't worry about you - you know everything you have to know, and you are not alone. So you will make it wherever the path is leading you.

  17. May you have all the outer and inner resources that you need.
    May there be much kindness.

  18. From another on this path, I send you loving thoughts. I am right where you are, doing what you are doing. Enduring. Getting by. Getting through. I cannot see the trail ahead and I don't trust that it goes anywhere I want to end up. But I have no choice but to go. Here is my wisdom - this sucks. Some days it just sucks less than others.

  19. Thanks everyone for your insights and support. Spirlagate that's my new spiritual quote for the day:
    "This sucks. Some days it just sucks less than others." :-)

  20. Mary Oliver's poem "The Journey" kept me going when I could not see the road ahead. It is a wonderful poem when life is changing, even if you were not the one who decided a change was needed.

  21. I have typed and retyped what I think I should write, balancing with what hasn't been said so eloquently and compassionately above, and all I have the simplicity of Bob Marley's words, "It be alright."

    Don't laugh...or I guess if it makes you laugh that's good...but the guitar here is amazing and the lyrics are beautiful and I would have just cut pasted the lyrics but i think they hold their own when sung with the guitar....

    said woman take it slow, it will work itself out just fine, all we need is a little patience, said sugar, take it slow, all we need is a little patience...and we can make it...

    yoga, exercise, meditation, etc. are not a pass at a you very well know...sometimes better not to "hang in there" but just glide a superhero...tapping into the Sacred Source that helps us make the choice: I can do this...

    love you and thank you for sharing how incredibly brave you are...


  22. I'm so sorry to hear that you and your husband are having serious difficulties. The story of how you got together seemed so must make it especially hard to face a possible break up. My heart goes out to you.

  23. Oriah -

    My heart aches for you. Your words have been a light for me in the darkest of times, and I'm so sorry hear of this unravelling.

    I lost both of my wonderful parents to cancer within six months of each other. During that time, I practiced active loving kindness - for myself, my parents and my young children, who were overwhelmed by the loss of two people so dear to them. My prayer, my mantra, my meditation for that time was "open heart, release all fear". It's much easier to clench tight and close ourselves off to the world. But then we can't receive the light, love and beauty that sneaks up on us unbidden. I think the reward is worth the risk, but it certainly isn't easy.

    Thanks for all you do - including sharing this very private, vulnerable experience.

    Wishing you peace and healing.

  24. Hi Oriah - anything will sound trite at this time - so how about 'Smile, things could get worse - so I smiled and they got worse'.
    Seriously though, you've shared your anguish with us - have you shared your anguish with Jeff, and he with you without fighting? If this is possible. It may be that there are holes in your relationship neither of you have seen.
    and you can yet strike a new balance (Whatever the percentage at any given time)Be strong things will get better.

  25. Last week, I plastered on a Stepford Wife smile and faked it for a day. I took a break from my "feelings" and my pain and felt better for it. There is joy, love and light in each day. My feelings can overwhelm and distort so many things, I have to sort through what I feel to find the truth. The truth is always love with a capital L. I am not always capable of discerning that love nor producing even a small measure of what has been given to me. Regardless, there is nothing wrong with putting it all in a bubble and just sending it off for a time to remember the beauty that is you, that surrounds you, is before you, within you and with you.

    Hugs and more hugs and buckets and oodles of good vibes beaming your way!!

  26. Thank you - I am in a similar place, 1 1/2 years into a separation that is moving to divorce, facing other life challenges & in a void unlike any other ever experienced. I am bearing the unbearable - I don't know how (other than God & loved ones) & beneath the prayers I speak, I know I long for this pain to be removed. A true Dark Night has been unearthed...wishing you strength and that you be surrounded by Love...

  27. I think everyone has born witness to their "dark night of the soul." That's something we share as human beings. We have had our own marriage dissolve or watched another dissolve before us. It is never pleasent. Still the sun comes up each day on a world that is never the same. I hope you can keep it together but if you can't, of all the people I know you know best what to do.

  28. Wow, Oriah. Your words sear my soul and add depth and perspective to the pain in my own heart as I walk an eerily parallel path. Grieving the loss of relationship is a bitch. Grieving the loss of the dream is like walking through hell. And yes, I try and tell myself all those good things, too... be in the moment, everything happens for a reason, there's a lesson in everything, blah, blah, blah. Sometimes, the only thing that helps is to just give in to what this Self is feeling: the good, the bad, and lots of the ugly. Asking myself, the Universe, "Why?" "What could/should I/we have done differently?" And most often, "How do I get past this into a place that doesn't hurt so damned much?" Hard questions, no easy answers. It helps, reading: "This sucks. Some days it just sucks less than others." Thank you for that, for your courage, and for your truth. I carry your pain in my heart, tucked in with mine, and am selfishly comforted in knowing I am not alone in what I'm feeling.

  29. Dear Oriah,

    You, through your book “The Invitation” saved my earthly life on an occasion.

    How wonderful it is that you have climbed arduously to a position where your authenticity touches millions through your blog-post.

    Thank you, Oriah, for being real.

    And this is not meant as advice – it is included for humour: Winston Churchill said “If you are going through Hell, keep on going” :)

  30. Oriah: I am sad to learn of your recent challenges. I won't deign to offer you advice, nor presume I know what exactly what you are feeling. I simply want to thank you for continuing to bring all of who you are to your writing. You continue to inspire me by your willingness to be open, vulnerable and fully present.

  31. Peaceful thoughts to you Oriah. Once this period of pain starts to ease for you, I trust that a new world will open up for you with new depths and insights you will share with us through your beautiful writings. Rest well and continue being kind to yourself. Klarity Belle.

  32. "Momma whispered softly, 'Time will ease your pain, life's about changing nothing ever stays the same.' And she said,

    'How can I help you to say goodbye? It's ok to hurt and its ok to cry. Come let me hold you and I will try...How can I help you to say goodbye?'"

  33. Dear Oriah,
    I read your words and my heart resonates with you in your pain.
    I have been in a divine relationship for 4 years now....I invoked the universe for this man and as he was sent....then life happened and I lost my connection to my source and of course...the relationship mirrored to me all the internal conflicts that I was not recognizing with my conscious mind....we went to therapy for 1 1/2 years but this just made it worst because it was more about what he did or did wrong or could have done differently....I could not handle the conflict nor could took us back to our past and of was perfect that way....that is what all these circumstances where handed to us for....then finally, we decided to end THE RELATIONSHIP and I had the time to look and work on me....I then realized that all I had been telling him he was not doing for me was in fact a reflection of what I was not doing for myself enough....when I realized this ....I has started Quantum collapse therapy and we had agreed that I would leave....but....then a miracle happened....I realzied I wanted to stay....because I knew that all the moments of tension I had been rejecting and refusing to see as perfect where in fact gifts wrapped in funny and not pretty wrapping paper....but they were gifts just the same....and they were sent to me via my unconsious mind or reactive order to re enact the scene of a crime of the past that I had not fully connected with and healed....and all this was happening so that I would become aware of it in my conscious mind and so I could heal it by letting it go and remembering that the emotional intensity I was feeling in the NOW....was connected to the emotional intensity I repressed in the PAST....I don't know who it is that said that NOTHING ever happened in the NOW that didn't happen in the PAST....and this is a gift ...because when we connect to it....then we can let it go and become the compassional soul'S who have unconditional love and GRATTITUDE for all of life's gifts...whether they be the one's wrapped in the beautiful wrapping paper or the one's wrapped in dirty, shrivelend unappealing wrapping paper....and I am learing to let go of that emotional intensity by doing EFT- Emotional freedom therapy....WOW...what a tool and what a gift!
    I have no ideal if what I write is connected to what you live on your path....but since I beleive that we are one....that I have always been drawn to your work and your words....I share my words and my path and pray that this will be helpfull toyou....
    ....I send you love and light....

  34. You know what helps me stay present in the pain, but also let go... baths, many wonderfully warm and dimly lit baths. The water engulfing me feels like the arms that I need to hold me, comfort me and they say gently, "You are taken care of."

  35. Try the seventh showing, of Julian of Norwich.

  36. Hello Miss Oriah I can't imagine living with pain like what you just described.The only thing that might come close I think are those awful debilitating migraines I used to have as a
    teenager(age 13-18).No one could help me Not even the Doctors(they never found anything wrong).In the long run what and who healed me was God when I learned how to reach out and ask Him.I became specific. I am asking you Miss Oriah(by the way I love your name,what's it mean)to go to
    Natural vs. Synthetic Supplements Is there a difference?is on her front page right now.She has DVD's and Audio's. Her title is a Spiritual
    Healer.Please go see her and try her products.I'm almost certain you'll find your healing there for you and your loved one.I am not an affiliate for her.I just thought I'd share and thank you for the Beautiful Post:)