Several years ago, during this very same season of giving thanks, I went through a very difficult passage.
It was not long after my daughter Arayla (nine years old at the time), had endured a vicious health ordeal that landed her in the pediatric I.C.U. for one long, terrifying week.
There’s pretty much nothing like watching your child fight for their life.
Since her powerful recovery I had been troubled to notice that I was feeling more distraught—in fear, anger, and heartache—than purely relieved and grateful.
Here she was, miraculously improving before my very eyes, skipping vibrantly through the house, scattering her bright-eyed laughter, her clever bossiness, her gracious old-soul wisdom and elegance. Here she was, ALIVE. And so why was my heart feeling so broken?
I knew I had so very much to be grateful for. But in reality I was feeling perpetually triggered and defensive and guarded against life.
Life has shown me again and again that gratitude is one of the most powerful tools we have; a major key to freedom. If only I can connect with sincere gratitude for what’s here, for all the many ways I am blessed, for this simple honor of aliveness, then I can find peace.
Yet in this case my gratitude had become eclipsed by fear. For the life of me, I couldn’t shake the dark weight and depression her illness had inspired. In private corners of my day I would resort to self-scolding: She lived! She’s here! You got to KEEP her! What are you so sad about?
It became obvious to me that at some core level I was deeply angry with God. The trauma of my daughter’s illness had left me feeling disheartened and disillusioned about the unpredictable nature of life and love.
I found myself wrestling with the suffering that accompanies our vulnerable attachment to others.
How were we supposed to even enjoy love inside a field of imminent, uncontrollable loss? How were we supposed to feel even remotely safe in this equation? Were we supposed to just live with the fact that it is all hopelessly beyond our control?
Finally it became clear that I had a substantial bone to pick with God. It began with my hurting mama heart, and this immense vulnerability of attachment. But as I inquired deeper, I recognized that this bone I needed to pick with God was much bigger than my own little life.
It was about the greater suffering on the planet; the distressing darkness of the masses.
It was about the blind fear and short-sighted greed of corporate madness.
It was about the insanity that leads to children shooting other children.
It was about the countless, devastating effects of global warming—distressing our oceans, our forests, our communities; eliminating countless species, including possibly our own.
It was about the soil and the seeds and the bees.
It was about the entirely unnecessary prevalence of poverty.
It was about the tragedy of our collective misperception of separation—from the Great Mystery and from each other—fueling addiction, war and dis-ease across the globe.
I found myself feeling angry, really furious with God about all of this.
As I fumed in rage and grief, I recognized that I felt sincerely challenged to love a God, a Life, a Mystery that could be this horrifically messy—including so much disaster and misery for so many.
With this recognition I could feel myself touching into the deepest source of my angst; my most turbulent inner conundrum: How to love this life with all it includes? How to be sincerely grateful for life as it is?
I found myself courageously praying towards real resolution: how to discover authentic peace? How to stop the fight against God? How to just love life anyway—to somehow find true gratitude for this life in its ruthless inclusion of continuous loss, constant uncertainty, and zero control?
I sat at my altar and wept and burned in the fire of no control. I knew I had to find a way to open my heart to life on life’s terms. I knew my freedom and joy and the health of my relationships depended on it.
And so I burned and burned, and wept, and allowed all my grievances against life to be felt and named and known. I allowed my broken heart to simply be included in my love.
And in my willingness to open wider to everything that appeared to be in the way of true gratitude, I found my way humbly home to my own broken-open heart of authentic thanks and forgiveness.
I recognized that if our love for life remains conditional, based upon us getting our own way or life looking the way we want it to, we remain defended against the slap of life’s ruthless uncertainty. We remain fearful of life’s radical inclusivity.
The degree to which our hearts are guarded and armored against life’s horrors is the exact degree to which we are also closed to its brilliant love, beauty, and joy. There’s just no escaping that truth!
Today, if I were to name a spiritual practice, it is only found in this ongoing, moment-by-moment practice of opening wider to all this life includes.
It is the inherent way this silences my mind and liberates my heart. It is the simple way this grounds me in the precious truth of presence. It is the profound way my willingness to be with what is inspires my reverence for life itself.
In this present season of Giving Thanks, so many of us really do have so much to be grateful for.
This sacred breath, this moment of heart, these dear ones we adore, these birds outside in the trees, this precious water pouring from the skies, this food on our plates, this warmth in our home, this blessed chance to say thank you, once again.
But perhaps for some of us, in order to discover a deeper sincerity of thanks, we must first tell the truth about what’s in the way of that. About what’s burning raw in our hearts; what’s angry or disheartened; what’s aching within us, for good reason.
Perhaps you have your own bone to pick with God? Perhaps it’s time to tend the altar of your own trampled heart and broken faith. To clear the air of every grievance.
Maybe this is the moment to find your way home, my friend—once again—to a deeper honesty; and then to forgiveness; to loving life on life’s terms; to gratitude for it all just as it is.
I’m letting go now, my friend. I give in.
I welcome you to give in, alongside me.
I cannot hold on a moment longer to anything needing to be a certain way.
I cannot perfect these costumes life has asked me to wear, nor can I master these roles I’m asked to play.
Any posture is too much to hold and every mask has to come off.
I cannot continue to indulge these unresolved dichotomies within me: good and bad, beautiful and ugly, success and failure, holy and profane, loveable and unloveable.
May they all burn to ash in the fire of my own radical embrace.
I’m giving up now on being anything other than myself.
And if I’m going to be loved and hated for being myself, so be it.
And if I’m going to be mocked and scorned, worshipped and adored, praised and judged, it’s really none of my business.
Truth is my only business.
I cannot entertain another recycled thought of wishing this instant would somehow be other than it is; of arrogantly thinking life must have gotten it wrong somehow to be so agonizing for so many.
What delicious reprieve when we finally stop trying to control the uncontrollable and really let it all just be as it is.
I don’t mean to suggest we should stop praying for the world to come to peace, or halt our efforts as agents of necessary change. (Please don’t!)
I’m in no way implying that apathy could bear fruit, or that complacency might catalyze our essential liberation as individuals or as a species.
All I’m saying is that our habitual struggle against life as it is, is one of the basic, insidious ways we contribute to suffering— inside our own lives, and life as a whole.
Let it be a fucking catastrophe! Let it be a wonder!
Let it be the excruciating journey that brings us to our knees time and time again, begging for mercy—
That wakes us at 3:00 a.m. with pounding hearts of anxiety and prayer, aching for our children, for our world—
That stops us in our tracks and makes us gasp out loud to witness such ineffable, stunning BEAUTY—
That makes us laugh so hard in moments we are at once crying and trying not to pee in our pants!
This life that humbles us over and over and over again, teaching us about gratitude, about resilience and evolution; teaching us about remorse, and faith and forgiveness; teaching us about the infinite faces of grace.
I’m giving up on it ever getting better than this.
I’m breaking up with the illusion that “awakening” or “fulfillment” or “success” or some long-awaited cause for “ecstatic contentment” is coming in some future moment.
I’m giving up on life, love, work, parenthood, sex, family, partnership, or adulthood ever meeting any of the idealized fantasizes I’ve projected onto them.
Dare we know that peace comes as we stop searching for it; stop waiting for it to look different than this, right here, right NOW?
Dare we claim this moment as the one when we completely lean in and finally say YES to it all, just as it is?
What a relief to let this life BE the intensely mixed bag it IS—the gutting anguish and the grandeur all mixed up in one barely palatable bite; a bite that we continue opening wider to receive because we are alive for but an INSTANT, so we might as well show up for it!
We might as well live with our naked hearts exposed, in fearless and generous surrender, for all the world to taste of.
We might as well give everything to Love.
The other morning I woke up to one of those crazy time-crunch scenarios. You know—where it feels basically impossible to do everything we’re supposed to do inside the tiny window of time we’re given to do it?
I had the chimney sweep people scheduled to arrive at 8 AM, needed to get the kids fed and Ezra off to school by 8:15, and then a Zoom call with a brand new client at 8:30.
Immediately following my Zoom call, I was meant to pack up the car and drive six hours south to the Bay Area for an important weekend event.
Add in a large dose of pre-menstrual hormones, and the fact of this new client being a world-famous thought-leader, and perhaps you can imagine the delicate state of my nerves.
Knowing the schedule was a set-up for stress, I began the morning with silence at my altar, burned some holy cedar, offered up a simple prayer, and got in the shower. One moment at a time, Jesua. Just one moment at a time.
I sweetly woke up my boy Ezra, put on the kettle for tea, and headed to the laundry room for some clean clothes.
That’s when I noticed the huge wet pile of dog diarrhea all over the laundry room floor. Oh. God. No.
I felt my heart begin to pound, and quickly ran to get some Nature’s Miracle and rags from under the kitchen sink to clean it up.
Cortisol levels rising, starting to lose my composure, I began scanning all the floors of our home. Much to my horror, I realized that there was indeed diarrhea EVERYWHERE.
Big, gloppy, drippy piles sat gleaming all over the living room rug, and all up and down the hallways. Our dog Freya had apparently gotten super sick in the middle of the night, and she’d had diarrhea in pretty much every room of the house.
I yelled out frantically for the kids to come help, and they scurried out of their rooms, still rubbing their eyes awake, to see what the problem was. For a couple moments they just stood there, taking in this situation with wide-eyed dismay on their faces.
I started spiraling into a rant of triggered reactivity. I begged them to help. Ezra ran to get some rags wet with hot water. Arayla put Freya into her crate and started looked around the house for more piles. A few moments later she yelled out in a panic from my office that not only was there a pile soaking into my beautiful office rug, but that she had stepped in it! She started wailing.
Did I take some deep breaths at that point, find the grace of pure presence, summon my maturity, have a little chuckle, and remember to perceive this disgusting mess and time-crunch with a dose of essential perspective?
Oh, I wish. But no, no I did not. 🙁
Instead, I completely lost it. I descended into total overwhelm and started to yell and weep, while cleaning off Arayla’s poop-covered foot, and then wildly scrubbing the diarrhea out of the rugs.
Suddenly I noticed the clock. 8:10. The chimney sweep people still weren’t here. Ezra wasn’t dressed yet for school and he hadn’t eaten. My important call was in 20 minutes.
In that moment I realized that I had exactly 20 minutes to transform from my worst, most reactive, frantically weeping, diarrhea-scrubbing self, into my most wisely centered, divinely reflective and gracefully useful self.
It was 8:17 when Ezra and I jumped into the car to drive to school, and while he ate toast off his lap, I tried to settle my weepy breath. I could feel my boy working to find his composure as well, shaking off our morning drama as he prepared to enter his school day.
My face was still wet and swollen with tears, and I could feel shame and remorse creeping in, over how much messier I had made our already messy morning with my terrible reactivity. I had really lost it.
Thoroughly humbled, I said to my son, “Wow, my love. I am so sorry. I really lost it this morning. I’m so sorry I handled that so badly.”
Ezra took a deep breath, and turned to me with softness in his eyes. He said simply, “It’s Ok Mama. Everybody loses it sometimes. You don’t have to be perfect.”
Astonished and immediately soothed by his words, I was silent. I could feel the invitation to find what I had lost: to return to love.
Then I replied, “Thank you so much for your compassion and your forgiveness, Ezra. It really means so much to me.”
He said simply, “Of course, Mom.” We had arrived at the drop off spot, and he tumbled out of the car, grabbing his backpack and lunchbox, shouting out, “I love you!” as he went.
It was 8:22 now, and I was driving back home: breathing, emptying, gathering myself back together again, praying.
I let my son’s transmission of compassion penetrate my nervous system and heart. I let my own love find its way into the darkest crevice of this moment. At 8:27 I pulled into my driveway.
My daughter was waiting and opened the door for me as I walked in. Arayla looked at me sweetly with immense understanding, and I gushed, “I’m so sorry for losing it so intensely, Love!”
Immediately she offered in return, “Oh Mama, I know. I’m so sorry for how hard that was!” Then she said, “I know you have a session right now. Is there anything I can do to support you?”
Oh my goodness. More incredible kindness now from this child. I almost started crying again just to feel her empathy and support. I kissed her cheek and said, “Oh wow, yes. Thank you so much. Could you please make me my tea?”
I ran to the bathroom, splashed cold water on my face, put on some moisturizer and eye-liner. I made deep eye-contact with myself in the mirror. I hurried to my desk. 8:29. I took a few more breaths, and prayed to get out of the way for Love’s work.
I opened up my computer, and clicked into my Zoom account. 8:30 AM.
My client arrived to the call, just as Arayla quietly placed a mug of hot tea beside me. I winked at her with immense gratitude.
With my heart tenderly open and freshly available, I said to my client, “Good morning,” and for the next hour proceeded to skillfully hold space for his deepening seeing, self-compassion and revelation. It was a beautiful, powerful session.
Hours later, as I drove along Hwy 5 on my way down to the Bay, the time-crunch diarrhea disaster now a shrug of the past, I contemplated our mundane morning of mayhem and mercy.
I wondered towards the deeper medicine; what was it for? What was the wisdom wanting to be gleaned from this story?
For one thing, the immediacy of compassion from the children was clearly a potent mirror, right? How beautiful they were. How resilient. How quick to offer forgiveness and support.
Then I humored myself for a moment, giggling out loud, as I imagined mischievous angels out in the wings, purposefully throwing me off course, just to see how quickly I could recalibrate.
I imagined one angel turning to the other, with a naughty smile, saying playfully, “What do you think she’ll do if we throw some dog diarrhea into the mix?” Mean, mean angels. 😉
In these challenging times, it does seem essential that we hone our skills of rapid resilience and repair. We lose it, and then we have to find it again, super quick.
Ideally we don’t always get so triggered and reactive that we make the mess even messier, like I did that morning. In our better moments we can just clean up that shit, wash our hands and get on with it.
But since we are human after all, and our lives can be stressful, and hormones are a factor, it seems that part of our spiritual warrior training is to learn how to go from the worst to the best with increasing efficiency and grace.
Lost and then found again, just like that. Bam.
How quickly can we see our mistake, apologize, take responsibility, find self-forgiveness, and then immediately return to embodying something more skillful and useful? It’s a good, steep challenge of a lifetime.
And all of it, always, can be used for deeper humbling. Thank you for the continuous humbling, Life. It really works.
Please forgive me. I forgive myself. I love myself. I love you.