This week is my mother’s yahrzeit, the first anniversary of her death.
I’m crying a lot, at unexpected times: swimming up from a night dream in tears; seeing our Japanese maples fire up in all their fall glory; hearing my mom’s dusky voice while I’m driving on the freeway.
I thought I was done with the grief of her. I was wrong.
At first, when the tide of pain started rising a month ago, I tried to “out-pleasure” it. Hey, I thought, I’m a pleasurista; surely I can outrun the grief with Ghirardelli chocolate, tender lovemaking, a trip to the Fiber Gallery to stroke some gorgeous silk and mohair yarn.
It didn’t work. Those pleasures ceased to be pleasures, and slid into numbing distractions (for the difference, see my Pleasurefesto)
What’s worse, I lost my connection with my own heart and soul. I lost what is most precious to me with pleasure, that sense of being deeply inside my own experience, of fully inhabiting my life. I exiled myself from myself.
I was going to try harder with the whole pleasure thing, but fortunately I remembered my favorite definition of insanity, trying harder at what isn’t working and expecting different results. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying harder, and at 53, sisters, time is too precious to ramble open-eyed down that dead end road.
I was left with my own deep grief, and my own ever-present curiosity. What if I quit setting pleasure against pain, as our culture does? What might my grief teach me, and where might it lead me?
So, at 3 a.m. a couple of weeks ago, I let go into my mother-grief, and leaned back into my own broken heart.
It didn’t lessen the grief, though there was a tiny part of me that hoped it surely would. I still dreamed about drowning in great grey ocean waves, still had hours of sitting with my cats and crying, still had moments of bargaining with life to get my mom back.
I reinhabited my own body and soul.
I stopped being an exile, a frenetic exile, from my own life.
When I let myself sink into my grief, I rediscovered a trust in myself and my own basic experience. I rooted again in my own depths. I softened and opened into pain, the way I’ve learned to soften and open into pleasure.
I rediscovered eros, the deep and passionate connection with life, with body and soul, right there in the heart of my heartbreak. The erotic isn’t what happens just in the bedroom, just as the sacred isn’t what happens only in church. The erotic is our deep and passionate connection with life, with others, with our own essential experiences.
I learned that eros can encompass both pleasure and pain. I learned that there is a deep eros to life itself, to direct experience, even if that experience is lying in bed at 3 am, in tears, wanting my mom to come back.
I learned that the suffering of exile from myself and my own experience is far worse than the pain of heartbreak.
I learned that if I can truly let go into eros, the connection with my own body and soul, that when grief passes, as it always does (just like pleasure), my capacity for pleasure has also widened and deepened.
I can quit making divisions between “good” and “bad” experiences, and just let them be. I can stop exiling myself. I can quit the struggle to manipulate my experience to make it feel good, and sink into some deeper and more durable connection with life, and love.
Last week I spent an hour on the couch crying until my stomach hurt. I gave myself over to it, not having a clue where it would take me. When the wave receded, I just sat. My body thrummed with a quiet sort of ecstatic aliveness. I listened to a UPS truck rumble down the street. Kabobble (the 28-toed kitten) nuzzled me, and I buried my nose in her warm and sweet smelling fur.
And then, sisters, I had one of the finest chocolate episodes of my life.
A square of Lindt 70% dark chocolate was on the coffee table, and I ate it slowly, letting each small bite melt on my tongue. I was inside that experience, just as I had been inside the experience of sobbing for my mom. All I can say is, ahhh...
With my own mortality now on the horizon (rather than an entirely theoretical event as in my thirties), I want to be fully alive as long as I am alive. I no longer have the luxury of spending years in exile to myself, thinking I’ve got all the time in the world to find my way back Home.
Whatever time I’ve got left in this sweet and crazy adventure, I want to be in it and not someplace else. I want to roll around in every possible joy, pleasure, and happiness that comes my way. If that means opening fully to pain as well as pleasure, so be it. I’m done with the drama and suffering of exile.
I know there are more tears ahead, not just over the loss of my mom, but with the mounting losses that simply come with growing older. I certainly won’t go courting pain and sorrow, but when they come knocking, I want to open the door.
I want eros, not exile. I want Home.
Particularly if it makes chocolate taste that good...