Trigger warning: This post makes reference to details surrounding a suicide. Please exercise good self-care, and do not read further if you think it may upset you.
I’ve written many times before about my compulsion to become a better, more compassionate person. I’m more skilled at this than I used to be, but there are still many days where I lack the energy to remain mindful, and my old patterns of behavior resurface.
There are countless more days, too, where I’m able to behave according to this new paradigm, but still feel frustrated, pissed-off, annoyed, or whatever the emotion may be as a result of another’s words or actions. In these cases, acting compassionately when I want to tell someone to stop bothering me with their trivial bullshit, feels inauthentic. Part of me believes in ‘Fake It Til I Make It’ – that this is just the process of learning and applying something new, so it will be uncomfortable for a while. Another part feels entitled, like I should be able to speak my mind about the way I’m experiencing things at that moment; that if something pokes me, I’m within my rights to poke back.
Yesterday morning I drove my dad, step-mom and step-brother to the airport. Along the way, my step-brother mentions that a cousin’s mom took her own life. He then goes on to explain the details of what happened, and that her death was not immediate. As fate would have it, the method this woman chose was the same method used by my son.
And my step-brother kept chatting on – seated right beside me in the car, and with full knowledge of the loss my husband and I suffered – as if there should be no reason to do otherwise.
I finally said, “Could you please talk about this another time?” at which point, he recognized his error and stopped. What I wanted to say was, “shut up, you insensitive asshole!” The only thing that helped me to utter the former instead of the latter was a sense that I had no right to inflict my pain on him. After all, that’s why I’m so messed up, right? My mom was abused as a child, so she couldn’t love and nurture me the way I needed. As a mother myself, I lacked that nurturing quality, and that is one of the reasons I still feel guilt and responsibility for my son’s death. As much as I may wish my mom had sorted her shit out so that I hadn’t suffered as I did, I cannot simply turn the tables around on my step-brother to vent my spleen.
Giving in to anger accomplishes nothing. Yes, my step-brother was insensitive, because he was doing what WE ALL DO… Limiting his awareness to himself. His failure was one of ignorance, not a deliberate act of malice, and I think that’s something easily forgotten in the business of daily life. We’re all so hurried to do ‘what we gotta do’ that we seldom, if ever, consider the consequences of our words or actions to those around us.
To be aware of others requires attention, mindfulness, effort. It requires a mode of thinking and operating in the world that is incongruous with the way we currently live.
To be mindful of our own suffering; to be aware of its actual source, is also challenging. As adults, we’ve learned all manner of denial. We build up walls and shells over the spots that hurt when in fact those spots need air if they are to heal. What my step-brother’s words revealed is that I still carry the weight of guilt. I need to open that wound up, to let go of the defensive scab I’ve built over the trauma.
I also need to let go of the unkind words and actions of other people, to recognize those things as manifestations of their internal conflict, which is not all that different from my own.
I need to resist the temptation to act as judge and jury, convicting people of their ‘crimes of ignorance,’ for I am equally guilty.
I need to accept and understand my injuries and any slights I perceive to be artifacts of a kind of blindness – the blindness of others as well as my own.
When I can do these things like they are second nature, my own conflict will pass. The cognitive dissonance of reacting to pain with compassion and understanding will fade away.
I know it is my nature to ask, ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’, and that when I feel stressed, I hesitate to act because I “need” more information to feel secure in my decisions. I can imagine that this adds to the challenge of letting go.
Does it matter, really, why events have unfolded in my life the way they have? Does it matter why I reacted to them the way I did? Is my pain or confusion really all that different from anyone else’s, or are we all here, feeling our way through darkness together, bumping into furniture, tripping over toys and sometimes each other, and mistaking an outlet for a switch?
When it comes right down to it, we are all in this together. We all suffer. We don’t know what we don’t know. Some of us have discovered the way to be at peace with this, and some of us still struggle. I glimpsed that peace; I know it’s there.
Standing on a beach in Costa Rica, I felt it. Creation suddenly embraced me and told me it loved me. The sun loved me, the ocean loved me, the sand, the trees, the wind. And I loved it, too. My burdens of guilt, doubt, fear, and low self-worth vanished. I was filled with a sense of being intimately connected with all life. I was a part of everything else, and everything else was a part of me. It was the most serene, blissful moment of my whole life.
I know that it is possible to look upon something we consider ugly and recognize its value. To see that it, like beauty, is exquisite and necessary. Everything we know in life, we know by its opposite. Joy is all the sweeter when it arises out of pain. Perhaps when we can start to approach life and our connectedness with other people this way, we are the ones that change.