My ex-husband, Rob van Gils, passed away November 16, 2017. His cremation was Thursday November 23.
My visit to the Netherlands for his cremation service was much harder than I anticipated. Rob and I had succeeded in having –what our mediator described as– “the most peaceful, loving, and harmonious divorce.” We had also figured out how to have a caring friendship beyond divorce. While we had moved on, four of his best friends still harbored pain and anger about my decision to leave him nine years ago for my second husband.
The cremation service becomes not only a moment of intense grief and mourning over the loss of my first love, it becomes a startling confrontation with unresolved issues of loss and perceived betrayal in our former circle of friends.
One friend turns away as I approach him. Another can barely say ‘thank you’ when I share my condolences. A third lets me wait for two minutes, before he interrupts his conversation, then looks at me with a face that seems to convey his wish I had died instead of Rob, and says with emphasis, “You better leave. I don’t want you here.”
I leave the service quickly, too overwhelmed with confusion, pain and grief.
That night I read Pema Chödrön’s “When Things Fall Apart”:
“Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors –people who have a certain hunger to know what is true– feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
As enemy images of Rob’s friends race through my head, fretting how they should have behaved, how badly I am treated, how not deserving of their wrath I am, I notice I soften. I am open to using this experience as a wake-up call to lean into where I’m stuck. To let it all be, the pain and sorrow, the hatred and shame. I am willing to allow myself to be penetrated by my feelings –to be changed by them. Slowly I relax into my human condition, and experience the vulnerability of being alive.
That evening, I do not reach enlightenment. I do stop myself from becoming frozen in my judging of how life “should” be. Instead, I accept what is: the pain and the hurt triggered by people needing understanding and compassion.
I take another step on the path of the spiritual warrior, facing adversity with dignity and compassion.
How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.
I wrote this blog four days before my beloved ex-husband Rob van Gils died, Thursday November 16, 2017. I’m writing this in his honor and as a reminder of the love we shared:
When I think of my ex-husband dying, I experience intense feelings of fear, grief, and terror. It’s like I’m drawn into a black hole in the vastness of space, a hole around my solar plexis, till I’m stretched out to nothingness and finally annihilated. When I sleep I have nightmares with invasions of Klingon-like monsters, Uruk-hais, and Sauron. And again, an overwhelming, devouring, completely black nothingness of darkness: a void without life and love.
I struggle to be mindful with my feelings. Mindfulness teachers tell me to accept and embrace them, to allow myself to be fully penetrated by them, and surrender into the tenderness of life. I fail in the practice. I struggle. I resist. I barely succeed to stay afloat in an ocean of grief, loss, and terror.
In my search for support, I talk and cry. I take a break from work and spend more time with myself, and I read. I reach for Pema Chödrön who talks about our suffering in “When Things Fall Apart”:
“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize. The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In fact, that way of looking at things is what keeps us miserable. Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly. The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last – that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security. From this point of view, the only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep. Right now – in the very instant of groundlessness- is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness.”
I find something meaningful about letting be. To sit with the terror of losing my best friend, grieving an unhappy ending, overwhelmed by grief.
Am I able to see that this is what life is about? The joy of a sunrise, laughing out loud with my sister, feeling annoyed with a car cutting me off?
And losing my best friend.
I live in an ebb and flow of feelings, thoughts. Nothing to hold on to. Grief, terror, love. Letting it in and letting it out. Being with the groundlessness of our human existence.
How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.
My sister tells me that she feel impressed and inspired, because I am never bored. I happily confirm the assessment. “You’re right, Saskia, I am never bored. Especially not since I started meditating. I have always something to do, even when I am waiting, because I can always focus on my breath and observe my thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
I feel proud, relieved, and excited that I have found something that brings me joy in every moment.
As the days pass, I start to pay attention. To the truth of my experience. How utterly bored I feel on my meditation cushion, many, many times. Just focusing on my breath, and nothing else going on. Not enough distraction, not enough entertainment, too much antsyness. I follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions:
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
Okay, okay, I get it. Focus on your in-breath as you breathe in, and on your out-breath as you breathe out. But 20 minutes in a row???! I get the idea in two minutes, can I do something else the rest of the time?
Let’s try Pema Chodron’s advice. Sit up straight, tongue resting lightly on my palate, mouth lightly open.
Breathing in, I adjust posture.
Breathing out, I let go.
Way better. My neck needs adjustment. I need to straighten my back. Relax my belly. I have something to do, some distraction. Then there is a ring-tailed cat outside. Cool! I have to pay attention to her. You see them seldom, because they are so shy. Now I have an interesting thought. Let’s elaborate on it, it’s a perfect outline for a post.
I am never bored??!… I am bored all the time. Especially with what’s most crucial to my life: my breath.
Jack Kornfield has this story:
There once was a Zen Buddhist student monk. His teacher shared one practice with him: focus on your breath. The student practiced for years, and years, and years. Then finally he tells his teacher: “Master, I have practiced focusing on my breath for all these years. I’m getting bored. Can we add another practice?” The teacher grasps his head, pushes it down the water basin and holds it there till the student grasps for air. Then he lets him go and asks: “Are you still bored with your breath?”
That student is me. Learning to find delight in each and every breath.
You want help to enjoy every breath? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.
I wake up and I feel heavy with fear. Literally heavy. It seems almost impossible to move this heavy weight out of bed.
I remember Pema Chodrön‘s invitation to lean into heavy feelings, to lean into the sharp points, and feel the groundlessness of our existence.
This seems a perfect moment to accept the invitation and lean into my fear.
I breathe in, and bring my attention to this dread, this apprehension, this fear. I let it cycle through me, and scrupulously observe it’s different aspects.
It turns into terror, then blind panic, then an overwhelming blackness and feverish nightmare. It grasps me, chokes me, I can’t wake up from it. I sweat and tremble.
Which idiot ever thought this was a good practice? Which imbecile ever thought that leaning into your fear was a good idea? Pema Chödron probably never experienced such consuming feelings. Never experienced the certainty of going crazy and lose your mind. Like forever. Like really forever being stuck in that nightmare.
I feel my breath go faster. I feel my body tighten. I am noticing I am bringing my attention to my breath. To my body. To my feelings. I feel into my experience. It doesn’t get much more comfortable, ànd it stabilizes. I’m getting calmer, more solid.
I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know how it’s happening. But after five minutes I get up. I feel light, relax, open. I made it. Leaning into your feelings might be a good idea after all.
If you want my help to deepen your self-compassion, healing and integration, contact me for a complimentary, discovery session.
A friend of my teacher Kit Miller once asked her “Did you cry today?”, and upon Kit’s surprised “No.” “Well, you should. Crying once a day is good for you.‘
A sort of variance of “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
I agree with Kit’s friend. Every time I call Silent unity, I cry. Whether I call in with a sense of calm and peace, or a sense of anxiety and fear, I cry during every phone call.
It is refreshing, releasing, relieving. I call them, they pray for my abundance, prosperity, they tell me that all good comes from God, through Go. They reassure me that He will show us ways -both known and unknown- to make enough money to keep the house. And all this time I cry.
I love it. A safe haven to let go off my anxiety, my worries, my tiredness. No questions asked. They describe the picture of what I want so much, affirming I have everything I need and that God provides for us. And I can rest in that trust and redirect my energies to that which is positive and within my circle of influence.
The first thing I do, is ask God to take away my negative thoughts. This is new for me. Usually I empathize with my negative thoughts. I connect to the feelings that come up with these thoughts. I explore the universal, human needs underlying these feelings. I follow Pema Chodron‘s advice to lean into this experience. To use this experience to expand my compassionate understanding of what it’s like to be human.
Not these days. These days I ask God to take away my negative thinking, my looping, habitual, reiterative thoughts of scarcity, lack, not enough. And I happily have energy to do what needs to be done. Creating the conditions my husband and I need to be able to concentrate on generating income. Joy, love and harmony. My mom’s motto: Rust, reinheid en regelmaat. (rest, cleanness, and regularity).
So far, I am successful. My husband is chunking along on a deal that will generate our abundance and prosperity. I am expanding my web presence, so I’m easier find to by potential clients. We’re eating well, sleeping peacefully, exercising enough. We’re in it for the long run. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. We’re prepared.
Crying certainly cleans up the inner space to be ready and run.