Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment… only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say ‘it is I you have been looking for’ and then goes with you everywhere, like a shadow or a friend. –Naomi Shihab Nye
The future feels like it is dissolving around me lately: dreams dissipating, relationships abruptly ending, and young people overcome by their possibilities, or lack of them, are taking their own lives. This is what my days have been full of. One has only to pick up his or her local paper to bear witness to the loss and struggle that characterize the lives of so many. We are collectively awash in things lost and running as fast as we can to re-imagine a future, any future.
Loss and the stages of grief that accompany it are universal. Little by little, beneath the anger, denial and depression, our sorrow carves the unbelievable into our psyche, making the grooves in our brain expand to accommodate what our hearts cannot hold. This is the truth of deep sorrow; it changes us bodily if we allow it. Refusing is no good; although it is unfortunate no prizes are ever awarded for the mighty efforts made to resist our own pain. The resistance becomes its own storyline, which the Tibetans call “shenpa.” This is the places where loss hooks us, and rather than actually experience the depth of our sorrow and pain, we devolve.
Shenpa is pre-verbal. It is the electrical charge behind our emotions, our thoughts and our words. It often is the energy behind the storyline that we fall into continuously, often without our own witnessing. Whether we are hooked by our attachment to who we think we are, what we have or don’t, who we love or who doesn’t love us, as soon as “shenpa” takes over, we lose the chance to feel what is really going on. The more someone tries to get through, the more closed off we become.
Our storylines can replace our life experience for our entire lives if we aren’t careful. Losing the ability to feel works both ways, it isn’t only the painful emotions we miss, it is the joy and pleasure too that gets devoured by our habitual reactions that don’t serve to protect our hearts nearly as much as they numb them.
I have been practicing leaning into the losses lately. It is not pretty, trust me. I am not trying to paint a rosy glow of the unbearable and intense loneliness and abandonment that translates from loss and sorrow for me. Staying with it has been exhausting. But it also has been a window. Insecurity, fear, loss are the roots of our natural intelligence. They have the power to shine a light on what really matters if we have the courage to unhook ourselves from our stories. They can stand alone and wash over us, seemingly swallow us up whole, but then just like the tide, they retreat. Shaken up but still intact, our hearts strengthen from vigorous use. They will not break under the weight of our feelings; they will grow stronger and more compassionate.
We are all out there being tossed around by the waves of success and ruin. It is the most universal experience of humanity. Not only hope springs eternal, real kindness grows from what we lose. We become our own friend, like our shadow that is with us in the light and the dark.