Sitting in the Fire

August 12, 2009

Wisdom teachings from all traditions suggest that the practice of mindfully showing up for the experience of each moment is the most fruitful way to live.

That’s easy to say when you’re talking about being fully present for a kiss or a sunrise, for weeding the garden or singing a child to sleep.  It makes sense when you’re talking about withstanding a storm of envy or a bout of anxiety.  It’s crucial when you’re talking about grappling with self-doubt or righteous indignation.

But what about catastrophic loss?  How do we stay present when someone we love has left us, and the world as we knew it has gone up in flames?

Rumi says that “there is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they cannot hope.”  In fact, he goes on to say, “the hopers would feel slighted if they knew.”

What I have found, both in my own experience of grief, and with the mourners I have had the privilege of sitting with, is that in the midst of devastation simple, courageous, counter-intuitive mindfulness practice gives us the miraculous ability to survive, and even thrive.

Like Abraham who emerged unscathed from the furnace when the villagers tried to execute him for smashing the idols in his father’s workshop, we sit in the fire and are galvanized.

Like Rumi’s bird who “by falling is given wings,” we hurtle through space with no solid ground to stand on and discover that the laws of gravity do not operate here, and we are held safely in our free-fall.

Plunged under by the waves of grief, we hold our breath until we can hold it no longer and then, just as we surrender to drowning, we notice that we have grown special gills and can breathe underwater.

The magical key to each of these moments of unbearable anguish is the willingness not to turn away from the experience, but to lean into it.  By offering our “yes” when everything in us is screaming “no!” the grace comes pouring through the shattered vessel of our hearts, and we can endure, and flourish.

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3 Responses to “Sitting in the Fire”

  1. Cathy said

    Starr Our paths have crossed at the most essential moments and you have blessed me and helped heal me without even knowing it. On Monday, it will be two years since the passing of my beloved. Last year this time I heard your readings and it seems that whenever I need to hear them again, you appear. Thank you for sharing your gift of words and your wisdom. Your selection for your blog, This Beautiful Wound, would have been inconceivable had I not experienced this myself. Throughout the pain there has always been a shining gift and a beautiful introduction into another realm. I have truly been blessed with a glimpse into a world where we are one with our loved ones and we know, without a doubt, that they are with us every single moment. This gift is what has helped me not only survive but thrive. Thanks, Cathy
    PS I am in Taos for a month or so and would love to meet for coffee if you ever have time. We met briefly last year as I was making my transistion back to the US from Italy.

  2. Jackie said

    Starr, I lost my husband nearly nine months ago, and I have learned what you said is true: that if i lean into the experience of our deepest pain and grief rather than away from it, through the flood of tears I begin to heal. Each time the wave of grief hits me I am finding that the duration of the pain is becoming less. This gives me encouragement and hope that I truly will survive and even flourish, although the thought of “flourishing” right now is difficult to grasp. Thank you for providing this forum in which to share the greatest wound my heart has ever know. I look forward to the day that I can relate more fully to The Beautiful Wound. It is with the knowledge that God has a plan for my life that I move into the future without so much fear.
    Blessings, Jackie

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