Lately I’ve been feeling a deep tenderness about us humans in this world, grappling with our many losses; contemplating how we come to live in wholeness with the undeniably broken pieces of our lives?
From a perspective of spiritual Truth, we can come to directly realize an unspeakable, unbreakable wholeness of Being, that every true spiritual tradition guides us to; this which Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls “The Un-ruined Heart.” The unmoving presence of what doesn’t come and go, this which is always here, essentially untouched by every loss we have known, as pure living consciousness, beloved source of all life, holy silence at the heart of Life’s vast mystery.
But even for those of us immersed in this profound, essential truth, it seems with human embodiment naturally comes a deep intimacy with loss, and a great necessity for grieving.
What I have witnessed again and again in living my own life, profoundly connected with others lives, and inside the honor of holding space for the many people who come see me for healing, is that actually diving into our brokenness, into the immense grief of our ongoing losses, is an essential gateway to engaging with our own “Un-ruined Heart.”
What I also notice is that grieving seems to be an utterly necessary, natural and inherent aspect of our aliveness. And when our lives experience a true loss, as most all lives do, there are many layers and levels and phases to grieving that loss.
Last week I was given a chance to move through another layer of personal grief about my failed marriage, about what broke in my family and my dreams for the life I had envisioned. And in this grieving process I received some valuable insights I’m inspired to share with you.
It’s been 4 1/2 years since my children’s father and I consciously separated, 4 years of being legally divorced, of co-parenting our children from two separate homes. And in these years I have moved through so much: anger and sadness, ravishing disappointment about what happened to my dreams of life and family; alongside deepening forgiveness, faith, love, and embodied compassion for us all.
At times I’ve been consumed with the nauseating details of co-parenting strife. Other times I’ve sat up deep into the night, my hands pressed to my brow in fervent prayer and heartful contemplation: how to somehow make right of this divorce, this failure, this brokenness? How to receive this unforeseen life-unfolding, this which I didn’t want, as well as my ex-husband himself, as a profound teacher of humbling grace; of love, generosity, and forgiveness?
Being someone who is dedicated to making medicine of life's challenges, I have been tirelessly devoted to finding the gems of this death, this loss, this change. How to authentically bow with gratitude in the midst of feeling so stretched by the ongoing exhaustion of single, working parenthood?
Several nights ago my children’s father graciously came to my rescue on one of his “off weekend” nights, because I really needed some personal space. He stayed with the children at my place while I went out, and by the time I got home it was so late he decided to just sleep on the couch. Poignantly, in the early morning hours, upstairs in my bed, I had a vivid dream about faith; about a loss of faith in regards to repairing what has broken.
When I finally awakened, I woke peacefully to the sound of my children playing joyously; alongside the subtly-felt presence of another adult in my home, their other parent in fact, quietly holding morning space. The children had not woken me, (a rarity) and so I had received the gift of waking in my own body’s timing.
In that moment, slowly awakening in my bed, my mysterious dream about irreparable faith still reverberating through my being, I remembered how when we were still married, when the babies were little, and I was up so frequently at night, consumed with night nursing and such, how often their Papa would sweetly get up with them in the early morning hours and let me sleep in, just like this morning.
And now, 4 years after our divorce, lying in my bed, acutely aware of his presence downstairs, both of us silently, separately, listening to the sweet sound of our beloved children, now 9 and 5 years old, playing, I had a huge shuddering pain of realization suddenly wash through my being: “Our family broke. My family broke. It broke!” I burst into tears and wept deep tears of devastation to completely realize this. As though it had taken 4 years to really let this in, to really get what had died, what is gone, what is broken forever, utterly beyond repair.
I could see in a deeper way what my friend means when she says that life only lets her taste the grief over her dead child in small, nearly-overwhelming increments. How if she felt it all at once it would surely kill her. And so: piece by piece, day by day, she receives his death, and experiences her own grief, moment by moment, only to the degree she is able.
And then I was thinking about Martin Prechtel and his brilliantly eloquent speaking on grief. How he speaks about our Western culture, in which we are so deprived of village life, of true community, and how we neither allow ourselves the space nor even know how to properly grieve our dead; our many life losses. And how when we don’t properly grieve our dead, don’t honor them fully with our broken-hearted tears, we then have to carry the haunting weight of their hungry ghosts; and how that unmet grief within us actually causes us depression, despair, addiction and disease.
I was suddenly looking at my marriage this way; seeing how without properly grieving the loss of it, the ghost of our broken marriage was still hungry, sucking on us, draining us, asking for our attention in negative ways.
So I turned to it, fully, this throbbing ache in my chest, and again I said, compassionately, full of sorrow: “I see, I see: it broke. Our family broke.” And again the grief, so pure and full and free, washing through my broken heart, and I could feel the hungry ghost drinking, drinking, so nourished by my tears. Getting fed, fat on my grief; feeling seen, honored, loved.
We grieve what we loved. The depth of our grief comes from the depth of our love for what we lost. I had a family, a marriage. Two parents under one roof. A dream of a future of my children having an unbroken family. There is such an essential honoring in grief; such an exquisitely raw and painful honesty about it.
How much life inherently includes loss, change, death? Constantly we are being asked to let go of what we are attached to. People, relationships, security, circumstances, the very youth of our own bodies. What healing is discovered when we can consciously embrace the necessity of grieving as an aspect of our aliveness as essential as breathing, as laughing, as touch, as love?
As an adult child of divorced parents in which there also has been no essential communal grieving in my family about what’s been lost, forever annihilated in the form of family we knew and cherished, I can feel the loose tethers in the field; I can feel the hungry ghost there, as well, gnawing at us, clawing at our hearts, begging for a proper honoring of what broke, a proper burial for what’s dead now.
And what of the families who are still “unbroken”, still married, still untouched by death, yet living asleep, or with lies and unmet longing in the field? Broken as well~ maybe not broken as in severed, but broken as in not-fully-lived; the depth of our hearts, our love, our spirits yet to be fully seen, realized, tasted, honored, allowed to thrive? Or the countless ones who wait in longing for a life that has yet to manifest, a partner yet to be met, a child yet to be conceived? The ones who reach the age of 65 or 70 and don't know what they've spent their lifetime doing; only that they are utterly unfulfilled?
I remember in the beginning wake of my divorce I nurtured a hope, a new dream about somehow finding a new kind of wholeness in form, a new partner perhaps, a new form of family. And how over these last years I’ve been disillusioned again and again and again. Until finally I realized some time ago I just needed to surrender any dream of a new form of family or partnership, so as to fully open to receive my beloved, imperfect, utterly beautiful, currently un-partnered life, as it is.
Leonard Cohen’s famously sung words come to me again now: “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Forget my perfect offering. Our perfect family. Your perfect life. It is cracked, it is shattered, it is ruined beyond repair. Can we grieve it, and somehow allow that grief to serve?
Maybe it’s really not about “healing” any of this brokenness back into some semblance of wholeness. Maybe it’s neither a careful re-gathering of the broken pieces, nor a finding of new, shinier, stronger pieces to fit into the broken puzzle? So we can somehow piece it back together again in a new way we can bear to live with? Some new way we will pray won’t also, in time, come to shatter?
Maybe the closest we come to knowing wholeness, human wholeness, is discovered within this very tender and disillusioned Heart of ours, which witnesses the dreams of a lifetime, and then the breaking of those dreams, and then the grieving of the breaking.
There is an immense sacredness in this cycle, a sobriety inside our true maturation, as we come to realize this way our human lives are so precariously, fleetingly held, always and forever by the hands of loss and death and change.
And as we grieve what has broken, we can’t help but notice it doesn’t repair the break, it just doesn’t! It simply feeds and frees and honors the spirit of what was lost. It simply lets our eyes shine from a deeper place in the mystery, invites our hands to bow from a truer place of humility; beckons our utterly broken human heart to rest just a little more fully into its own un-ruined essence.
Grieving fully what broke allows our brokenness to serve as yet another crack through which the light of our love can move, freely into life. It provides a way in which our beloved “Un-ruined Heart” can finally fully live: freely, truly, amidst the sacred ruins. <3