“Be brave enough to break your own heart.” – Sugar (aka Cheryl Strayed)

I can always tell when it is time to write – when an idea circulates around into enough conversations that signal a challenge to capture the essence of it in a few short words.  The idea of the last year has been love – generous spirited, open-hearted love.  It starts like this:

Why do we hold ourselves back - become stingy with complements, tense with what isn’t working, focus on failures, withhold gratitude, make ourselves smaller, ugly?  Our conversations at a retreat last year had the breakthrough of recognizing our fear of death and dying is really just our fear of love, our fear of being broken open. If we love, we anticipate already the loss of love, and cannot bear it.  What would be possible, we asked ourselves, if we loved openly, generously, freely, knowing we would be broken open, and trust that even in shattering, more expansive space can be created. How do we move to expansiveness rather than scarring and sealing more tightly shut after a break? Restoration and growth is there for us, if we love ourselves, believing that wholeness is not only possible, but necessary. 

The second observation has been with me for some time, working with clinicians who find it impossible to bear witness, again and again, to the pain and suffering of the people they are serving.  I often shared a life lesson from the pastor who works with the homeless in the Pike Place Market – he would sit with suffering, breathe it in with calm and compassion, feeling it, and then allow it to pass through him, releasing with lightness and strength.  It is this image that I call upon this summer as events near and far have catapulted us all into new demands for witnessing.   Our responsibility becomes to stay with, to not look away, but to do so not with pity, or guilt, but with loving kindness, breathing in.  The Buddhists teach of non-attachment, and there is such wisdom in these teachings.  And, we miss the lesson if we assume that not being attached to things or people means that we do not love them, that we allow ourselves those genuine connections – it is just that then, we are asked to release them when the time comes, and our heart does indeed break (see observation 1!). 

"Suffering is not a question which demands an answer, it is not a problem which demands a solution, it is a mystery which demands a presence." Anonymous

And the third teaching on big love this year is an idea my sister and I have worked on called ironically micro-love.  That is, how small touches, gestures, looks, words can open or deepen a connection, can buoy us up, can make it possible for us to be bigger – our big, beautiful selves.  Here is another place where generosity, and courage, is everything.  We hold complements back, hold words of love back – we don’t want to be rejected, misunderstood, invasive.  And yet, we hold within us such capacity for gifting to others on a daily basis.  Be bold. Be vulnerable. Risk something of yourself. Reach out to 2-3 people each day with a gesture of kindness – strangers and those close to you.  Sometimes it those close to us we take the most for granted and need our love touch-ins the most.  Micro-love can feed and fuel your relationships, even as it feeds and fuels your self.

Weaving together all three of these threads, those we love are everything.  Let them know.   Tap into that open-hearted space.  Release judgment.  Release expectation. Love is all there is. 

“We’re all going to die, Johnny. Hit the iron bell like its dinnertime.” – Sugar (aka Cheryl Strayed)

Conversational credit: Kemp Battle, Matt Drews, Bob Arnold, Brooke Edwards, and the good people of the Methow Valley, among many others, strangers and loved ones, who buoy me up daily. 

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