Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about
Words, words, words.
As I look back on the past year and remember, I grapple with the ineffability of it all. I reach... and the words slip through my fingers. What can I say?
“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.” And yet I feel a need to write. I speak even though I’ll fail to put it into words. I write because my heart overflows and I search for expression. I write to honor myself: I’ve lived a lot this past year.
I remember collapsing to the floor of my empty living room before last New Years Eve–returning alone to a house that was no longer a home. The only furniture I still had was a desk, a few chairs, and a couch which became my bed. At night there were no sighs from the puppy in the kennel or rustling of kitties on the bed. The only noise was deafening silence broken by sobs that echoed off the bare walls.
I remember how words turned into senseless strings of letters as I stared blankly at a court document instead of a valentine. The letters "v" and "s" felt strange in place of a heart between our names. I found my signature at the bottom, as cold and meaningless as the rest of the decree of divorce.
I remember the broken man grieving as he lay in the shower. I remember how he held his hand to his heart; he had heard it was the closest you could feel to a hug. I wish I had words I could say to him, but all I can do is be silent as I hold my hand to my heart.
I remember nights snuggled in blankets on the floor in front of the fireplace, reading books. I hoped their words would tell me how to feel whole again. They helped, but the answers aren't words, and neither are the questions. I already knew that, but it didn't stop me from trying to find the words anyway.
I remember when I got a mattress and slept in my bedroom again for the first time. It would be a few months before I would have a bed frame and I remember how good it felt to finally sleep with my mattress off the floor again. I remember putting together kitchen chairs with my parents and imagined eating at a kitchen table instead of the counter. With each new item of furniture my house become a little less empty. With each piece of art on the wall it began to feel like a home again. My home.
I remember so many details of family and friends who visited and stayed with me. They made sure I was eating and that the few dishes I owned were clean. They called me, texted me, invited me out. They made me feel loved. The list of those who supported me goes on and on and would fill pages. I am deeply overwhelmed to think of all of you, my heart is full. Know that I love each of you. Thank you. These are just words of course, but words are what I have to give today.
I remember being afraid of photos. The photo app seemed to have a knack for insensitivity and poor taste in suggesting photos or generating albums. I deactivated instagram because I was so exhausted and overwhelmed. And the family photos on my family's walls?
I remember being afraid of speaking with more distant friends and acquaintances. I never knew who knew about the divorce. I never did figure out how to dispel the awkwardness that could be generated by an inevitable, innocent question.
I remember being afraid to go outside in case neighbors were out. I worried about what words I would say when asked where my puppy was or how my wife was doing. I was afraid of their discomfort, or worse: their pity.
I remember being afraid people would wonder why she left. Did I do something wrong? Was something wrong with me? I was afraid of people asking, but more importantly I was afraid of the questions because I was looking for their answers myself.
I say I remember all these fears, but they are not all in the past–many still live inside me. But I have spent time with them and I know them better now and they know me. I discovered some of them had been there for a long time: isolated, ignored, unheard.
"His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom."
– J.R.R. Tolkien
I remember learning to be present, to lean in to my experience instead of pushing it away. As I processed the pain instead of running, I found a deep well of wisdom and compassion inside of me.
I remember beginning to smile at myself in the mirror, for no reason.
I remember finding myself dancing as I did the dishes, singing along like a fool.
I remember endless summer evening walks listening to the crickets. Or hikes where everything felt powerfully connected and meaningful in a way I had forgotten.
I remember the deep healing as I began to rediscover and listen to my body and respect its profound intelligence, remembering that my body is not something other from me.
I remember wishing I could force myself to heal faster and learning to accept that I didn't need to.
I remember beginning to see my old, shadowy feelings of unworthiness with new eyes. I began to approach them with curiosity and compassion instead of with disgust or shame. I learned to sheath the righteous sword of truth and listen instead; my shadows don't need conquering.
I've begun to understand—in an embodied, non-intellectual way—that I am enough as I am now. I don't need to grow or to achieve anything of remark to be worthy of love. I used to believe if I was always kind, thoughtful—if I said and did the right things—if I had a good career, and a stable lifestyle, then I would be worthy of love. Now I’m beginning to understand I am worthy of love as I am, with no conditions or asterisks.
I remember rediscovering sacredness and wonder, unearthing a stronger spiritual connection to myself, others, and the world.
As I healed my grief didn’t shrink, but I grew bigger. This growth created more space in my life, and I kept finding that within that space something was missing.
Deep inside me was a mystery box, a box that I had only took out occasionally to look at and wonder about over the previous 16 years. It felt like it was time to move past my fears and open that box.
At 35, I wrote my biological father a letter. We had never spoken or been in contact before. We met one afternoon in October. As I drove home afterwards, there were no words—only a powerful silence and peace.
A few weeks later I got to meet three sisters and a brother. I remember I got to the restaurant early and sat in the car for 20 minutes. I was so excited, and so terrified. After some deep breathing, I got out of the car, walked in, and saw them all for the first time... I can't explain it in words, but I just knew. I just knew. I don't even know how to say what I knew. That they were a part of me already—and always had been? An unconditional love that transcends words? Unlike my other siblings, I didn't hold any of them when they came home from the hospital as babies, but when I held each of them as adults that day I knew I was their brother. I don't know what the future holds and how our relationships will evolve, but I hope they know I will always be there now.
This year I've learned to see my anxieties as excitement without the breath. As I have learned to slow down and breathe, I have found my life progressively filled with more beauty and wonder.
I used to spend a lot of time thinking about life. What is it? Why am I alive? What is my purpose? How do I find my purpose? What is this happiness stuff and where do I need to go or what do I need to become to get it?
I feel that I'm finally discovering what countless sages and poets have seemingly known all along: that the purpose of life is simply to live. It's to be here, now. It’s tears of joy, and tears of grief. It's hugs from loved ones. It's nights alone. It's to stop to touch and smell a tree or to sit by a brook. It’s to try to make dinner and fail and so you laugh and hangrily order takeout. I don't need to go anywhere or become someone else to find happiness.
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
— Albert Camus
The funny thing is that I always knew the answers—I think we all do. The struggle seems to be not learning, but remembering. Perhaps the answers are too simple. Life is hard and we long for complex explanations: there must be more to it.
We feel we must be more. We must have more. Life must be more. These beliefs of scarcity and not being enough are at the wounded heart of our western world. These values are planted and grow within us before we are old enough to understand or question. We forget those values are there driving us, just like we forget we are always seeing our own nose.
What has my journey been this year? In many ways to remember; to begin to unlearn. To begin to unlearn the story than man is fallen and I must strive to be worthy—to be enough. To unlearn that my value comes from my utility and the sweat of my brow. To unlearn that my body should be viewed with mistrust. To unlearn that I am somehow special, peculiar, chosen, or set apart for something more. To unlearn the power of the words that created my world. To rediscover that sense of curiosity, play, and wonder that has no need of words.
In other words: to become again as a child.
I don’t know how long it will take to become again as a child. But a child probably wouldn’t wonder such things, and instead would just be a child. What a strange paradox to ponder.
But then I remember I don’t need to hurry or go anywhere because I am enough as I am now. Which is a relief because I can’t be anyone or anywhere else.
So, I guess I don’t really need to become as a child again. But if you would like to walk with me to that field out beyond words, I will lie by you in the grass. We can listen to the crickets sing and look up at the stars in wonder.
My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them you’ll fail.
My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.
— Tao Te Ching, 70