What I'm Writing About
© Copyright 2011-2016
All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Bobbi Jean Ewing.
reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3
No, I’m not talking about a new year’s diet to shed any extra pounds I might have accumulated in 2012. No, what I’m talking about is shedding another kind of weight I carry in my body.
I spent my new year’s holiday at a week long yoga retreat in the jungle slopes of Mexico above the Pacific Ocean.
At the end of our morning yoga practice on New Year’s Eve day, our teacher invited us to devote part of the day reflecting on what we wanted to let go of from 2012. She encouraged us to do some journaling, which I did. In the space of the jungle canopy I didn’t come up with anything concrete.
At our afternoon practice, our teacher announced we’d have a New Year’s Eve bonfire on the beach. She told us to bring what we’d written, a statement or list of what we wanted to let go of. We would offer this to the fire as an expression, an intention, of letting go. I didn’t have anything written for the fire. *sigh* I hadn’t come up with anything concrete.
As I showered before dinner, I searched my mind. What could I offer to the fire to represent something I wanted to let go of? It struck me. Heaviness. I knew that I wanted to let go of the heaviness in my body. I wanted to let go of the emotions, the pain and the wounds that are held deep in body and hinder my ability to feel freedom. How would I express my heaviness? A rock. I decided I would put a rock into the fire.
As we gathered, my idea of putting a rock into the fire started to feel inadequate. After all the fire wasn’t going to burn my rock. The rock might get hot, but it would not combust and turn to ash. I decided to expand my symbolic offering. I turned to the slope above the beach and dug around in the undergrowth. I grabbed a leaf, a fallen branch, and some kind of nut or seed. As I grabbed these items, I knew what each would symbolize. I could see in my mind’s eye the story my offering would tell.
Listless (literally, without a list), it was my turn to put my items into the fire, to let the fire consume what I wanted to let go of from 2012. Kneeling before the fire, I made my offering, reciting silently.
To the fire I offer this leaf. This leaf represents shedding. To the fire I offer this rock. This rock represents the heaviness, the weight, the emotional wounds I carry in my body. May I shed this weight, may I be free from the hurt and pain of these wounds. To the fire I offer this branch, the roots of the sky. This branch, like the neural pathways of my mind, represents old ways of doing things, old ways of thinking. I offer this branch to symbolize that I am letting go of old ways of doing and thinking that no longer serve me. To the fire I offer this seed. This seed represents the possibility for new growth to emerge in 2013. May the fire burst this seed open and give it life. May this seed grow and blossom and thrive.
So that was it, my beautiful and symbolic offering, one that felt very authentic to me.
Now that I’m back in Seattle I’m beginning to get a sense of what the rock is made of, its matter, its substance. I think it hit me when a woman I work with told me she liked my earrings and I said, “Thanks. They’re from a friend who is no longer a friend.” There it was again, – the hurt that continues to come up in my dreams, continues to come up in conversations with my friends. The rock’s matter is my hurt over this broken friendship, a hurt I’ve had a really hard time letting go of, a deep wound I’ve been carrying around, not just in 2012, but for over two years.
A few weeks before the one year anniversary of the ka-boom, my closest friend of 15 years, the first person I turned to in shock and anguish over the explosion of my relationship, effectively ended our friendship. One day without any kind of fore-warning, she sent me an email and told me she was exhausted from the support she had extended to me. She told me she needed a breather, time to recalibrate. She told me that out of respect for her, not to contact her. I did contact her, just once. I said over voice mail, “for the sake of our friendship, I think we need to talk.” I expressed that I valued our friendship. We never talked. I have not heard from her since that last email nearly two and a half years ago.
The anger and the hurt have lessened, but I still carry the weight of this unresolved wound. Like I said, it still comes up in dreams, in conversations. I continue to wrestle with the lack of closure. There was never any conversation, no opportunity to express my hurt, my outrage at being abandoned when I was still fragile, when I still needed support from my friends.
The severing of ties was one sided. It felt as if the door had been shut in my face. I was left with the disturbing feeling that I’d been broken up with. My “friend’s” action to retreat, to remove herself from and effectively end our friendship felt and still feels very deliberate and intentional. I think that is what has hurt the most – her actions have felt so deliberate. My sense that my “friend” knowingly brought so much lasting hurt into my life by choosing to end our friendship has bothered me deeply for so very long.
No amount of comfort or consoling words has taken away the pain. No amount of reflection, perspective, or insight has taken the soreness out of the wound. After all this time, I have been unable to find a sense of wholeness, to fully mend the tear in my heart. The anger and the hurt have dulled, but I continue to search inside for the closure I need to finally shed the weight of this wound. I have learned this along the way: deep wounds weigh the most.
And so out of this New Year’s Eve offering, not just to the fire, but to the Universe, comes an intention for 2013: to find closure, to shed weight.
Several weeks ago one of my yoga teachers announced the she was offering a 7 week “holiday bliss” yoga nidra series, with each week, or practice, focusing on one of the seven chakras. Forever full of ideas and one who loves to plant seeds, I asked my teacher if she was also planning to pick a holiday word for each practice.
A woman in the class poo-pooed my idea. I don’t remember her exact words, but whatever she said was very bah humbug, along the lines of “why celebrate the season?” Perhaps she was feeling put off by the commercialism of the season and how manufactured the holidays can feel. Perhaps she was trying to articulate that not everyone celebrates the holidays. Or perhaps she was speaking from a place of pain. For many, the holidays can be a difficult time of year. Wounds around loss are triggered. Whatever this woman was feeling on the inside, I get where she’s coming from. I’ve been there.
A few months after my relationship ended, the holiday season arrived. I wasn’t ready to celebrate. It was much too painful. I avoided all things holiday. No tree, no presents, no cards, no cookies, no holiday music, no parties or celebrations. I don’t remember why, but I found myself in the decorations aisle at a store a few weeks before Christmas and the pain was heart wrenching. Cards, trees, ornaments, presents…all of this was a painful reminder of all the Christmases I had celebrated with “my person,” of how fun and special Christmas had been, and how that tradition had been “taken away” from me. Looking back, I see that my words and feeling that something was “taken away” very clearly illustrates how victimized I felt. But it’s ok that I felt that way. I was in a lot of pain. I was grieving. I lost something and someone that was a huge part of my life and I needed to experience the fullness of that loss before I could start to heal and move forward into my new life.
A little over three years later (this is Christmas number four post ka-boom) and I still haven’t hauled out the ornaments and put up a tree. (Putting a tree in a tree stand by oneself is a pretty difficult undertaking and I take such care in hanging ornaments that decorating the tree becomes quite a project). I still haven’t sent out cards and I still haven’t done any gift giving, other than a few little things where I felt “obligated” to give gifts. This year I *might* make some cookies. That first Christmas post ka-boom I decided I wouldn’t celebrate Christmas again until I had a reason to celebrate. And now I’ve sort of decided that I want to wait until I have someone special in my life with whom to share this season before I once again immerse myself in Christmas traditions and when I do, it might look different than my old life.
Honestly, it’s been good to have some time away from the holidays to get perspective and insight. I’m not sad that I’m not immersed in the flurry. For many, this season is a very stressful time of year and for me it’s nice to not have the extra stress of setting up and taking down a tree, shopping for gifts among the crowds, getting cards and packages sent off in the mail, all the parties, family gatherings, preparing holiday meals, and so on. So much gets packed in within a span of a few weeks that there isn’t much time to relax and reflect and absorb the season and prepare oneself for the New Year.
My second Christmas after my relationship ended I began a new holiday tradition, a tradition of gift giving to oneself, of practicing self care. I took myself to Costa Rica for a week long New Year’s yoga retreat. Last year I returned, arriving on Christmas day. I planned it that way. I wanted to begin experiencing my Christmas present to myself on Christmas day. I was greeted and welcomed with many a “Feliz Navidad.” The simplicity of the expression and greeting was very meaningful, a true gift. Oh, and the “Christmas” tree I discovered on the beach that was made of drift wood was pretty special too.
What a JOY to be re-united with yogis with whom I shared New Year’s the previous year. In the beach community of Nosara, Costa Rica I found a new place to go “Home for the Holidays” and in the yoga community, I discovered a new family. This year I’m headed to Mexico for the New Year to CELEBRATE with a new yoga family and experience the wonder of a new “home.”
In my time off from Christmas, I’ve re-invented the holidays for myself. For me, this time of year has become an opportunity to give a very meaningful gift to myself – to be in community with like minded souls and develop new friendships, to clear my mind and rejuvenate, and to discover and set intentions for the upcoming year. The holidays have become less about the hubbub and flurry of Christmas and more about the transition into the New Year, saying good-bye to the previous year and opening myself up to the New Year and all that awaits, allowing the momentum of the retreat experience to carry into the New Year.
To date my holiday retreats have been near the equator along the warm beaches of the Pacific Ocean and I’ve discovered that the sand is a great canvas for discovering what’s in my heart and the qualities and states of being I want to cultivate and manifest in my life.
Looking back I see that for the last two years I captured words and images in the sand that are often associated with the holiday season. Yet these words are not exclusive to Christmas or New Year’s. These are powerful, affirming words that can be intentions we set and manifest in our lives every day of the year. And if we make a practice of cultivating these qualities and states of being in our lives, we will transform our hearts and our lives and inspire the lives of those around us. And isn’t that the most beautiful, empowering, and inspiring gift we can give ourselves and to others? to transform our hearts, allowing our being to be filled with pure, limitless LOVE that we can give to ourselves and to others? I BELIEVE it is and so this holiday season I am gifting myself once again with a gift that will keep on giving.
HOPE photo provided courtesy of my friend and member of my Costa Rica yoga family, Heather.
Today we stopped saving daylight. We have set our clocks back. We have officially entered the dark season. We have surrendered, but have we embraced the dark?
The day we stop saving light and turn back our clocks is my least favorite day of the entire year. My body and heart rebel against it. I surrender because I have to, because the calendar, and well, the tilt and rotation of the earth compels me, requires me, to do so. I am a lover of sun, of sunlight. The sun wakes me up on the inside, it fills me with energy, it lifts my spirit. When the sun comes out, my heart brightens, I brighten. Each emergence of the sun is a hallelujah moment for me. The bigger the emergence, like after days and days of cloudy, stormy weather, the bigger my hallelujah moment.
We are now in the dark season. We have been creeping into this dark season for a while. The sun has been leaving us earlier and earlier every day and for those of us in the Pacific Northwest (and no doubt many other places), this time of year is even darker because the thick grey clouds of fall roll in and obscure our sun and our light.
The lack of sunlight in our lives is an external experience with a very real internal impact. When the earth rotates and tilts away from the sun, as we are now experiencing in the northern hemisphere, the light and warmth of the sun moves away from our external landscape. When the sun moves farther away from us, our internal landscape is also depleted of this energizing light. With the absence of the sun in our daily lives, many of us feel less light, less of that bright shining feeling, and more darkness on the inside.
During the shift from summer into fall, I began to feel darkness creep into my internal landscape. My heart and my body felt heavier. I felt a rise of sadness and hopelessness. I felt frustrated with the trajectory of my life and the lack of development and movement forward in a place where I am so ready for new growth to emerge. I wrestled with an “I give up” feeling. A scary thought began to form in my mind along the lines of, “what’s the point?,” as in, “what is the point to living?” Fortunately my awareness of my mental processes and emotional experiences is quite keen and I was able to put the brakes on the formation of this thought.
The rising thought, “what’s the point?,” was a “whoa” moment, a wake up moment. I was quite aware that this thought can lead to some very scary places and I have no interest in visiting these frightening places. I made an intentional choice to pause and redirect my thoughts and feelings. I was motivated to do this first, because I recognized the scary nature of my thought and second, because I do not want to allow my brain and my emotions to wire themselves into chronic depressive thought patterns. It took a bit of effort to redirect. I had to search within myself for a spark to keep the hope alive, to not give up, but instead continue to believe that what I am wanting most in my life will unfold and grow.
Reflecting back on my inner search for a spark of hope, the image of light, of fire, grew inside of me. The search I did within my inner landscape was much like looking for and gathering wood from the forest floor to make a campfire. When faced with the “I give up” feeling, I needed renewed hope to keep my fire burning. I found it by digging around within myself, turning over some leaves and discovering a piece of nice, dry wood. I threw it on the waning fire and a big flame shot up. Whew. Crisis averted. I kept the wolves, those scary thoughts and depressing feelings, at bay. This time I was able to find fuel fairly quickly and “save” my fire. Keeping one’s light bright and one’s fire burning is not always this easy. This time I found my way out of the dark rather quickly. This time…
My metaphorical search for fuel to keep my inner fire burning and radiating led me to contemplate light. I pondered: What is the fuel that keeps our light shining, our fire burning? My fuel is drawn from hope, faith, optimism, devotion, insight, and my belief in love. I re(source) my fuel, which is vital to sustaining my light, from nature, learning and discovery, my yoga practice and spiritual journey, inspiration, new experiences and adventures, connection with others, and giving of myself in ways that uplift and support those around me. And I recognize that my strongest and deepest fuel source is an innate desire and will to not only survive, but to thrive.
I imagine each person fuels and (re)sources their light via different pathways. However, I am going to guess that elements of our inner fuel and (re)sources are universal. I suspect folks universally draw fuel from hope, love, faith, and devotion. I also suspect most folks re(source) from nature, love, and spirituality, each of which are so vital to sustaining one’s inner light. And not just unique to me, but to all of us, is an instinct to survive. I believe this instinct, which resides within each of us, will always help us to discover the light in the dark.
After my initial “escape,” I decided to stay with the darkness for a while. Adopting a mindset that Pema Chödrön speaks of so often, I became curious about the darkness that was permeating my inner landscape. Instead of running away from the dark by trying to find light as quickly as possible, what would happen if I stayed and embraced the darkness? Staying led me to contemplate my inner light. Staying allowed me to become more intimate with how I fuel and (re)source my inner light. I came away with this insight: when we stay with the darkness and remain open to our experience, we will discover the light.
I was and remain inspired to stay present with the darkness by this quote, which came through a friend of a friend. “When it gets really dark, you can see the stars.”
On Friday, I attended a memorial service to honor the life and passing of a former co-worker’s husband. Many people gathered. Many people offered their condolences, sympathies, and words of support and comfort to this woman who lost her husband and life partner to sudden death.
The minister of the church gave a touching and empathetic homily. The minister expressed directly to the grief stricken wife heartfelt sympathy, articulating that because of this sudden loss my former co-worker’s foundation has been shaken, her world has been turned upside down, her life has changed dramatically, in an instant.
As the day moved forward, I reflected back on the service, the gathering, the offerings of comfort and support. Along with others, I stood in a long line to “pay respect” to the widow, my former co-worker, to offer her my sympathies. Much like we gather in lines to congratulate newly married couples, we gather in lines to comfort the bereaved. Our culture openly and outwardly acknowledges death and offers support to those left behind.
In my own life I experienced a loss just as devastating as death, in some ways more devastating than death. When my relationship ended I remember saying, “it’s like a death but worse, because the person who hurt me keeps on living and breathing and walking on this earth.” The loss of a relationship is a death. It is the death of an intimate partnership. What makes this loss potentially more devastating than death is when the person you loved, the person who was your trusted partner and friend and confidant, has not just ended the relationship, but has done so in a way that crushes you.
In most deaths, the person who dies does not do something that hurts you and shatters your heart, they do not leave you to make sense of the sudden and shocking ending. Typically when a person dies, their death is innocent. They have lived a long life and their time has come. They have been terminally ill and died. They were in a sudden accident. They were a victim of war or some other tragedy. The reasons for and causes of death are many, but in almost all deaths, there is not a deliberate and intentional choice to leave behind loved ones and end the relationship, an act that inflicts so much hurt.
When a relationship dies the bond that once existed is broken, the fabric that held the relationship together begins to unravel, or as in my case, is torn apart in one abrupt and gigantic motion. The emotional support that was once there is yanked away. Oftentimes the person who ends the relationship removes themselves from your life. I distinctly remember feeling like I was being thrown out like garbage, that this person who one week, two weeks before had been my partner and closest friend, suddenly had no use for me. It felt like I was chucked to the curb like an unwanted chair or piece of refuse. The severing of the “ties that bind us” is incredibly painful and hard. I recall reading somewhere that the pain one feels when a relationship ends is akin to having a limb severed.
Sadly, it seems many people do not see the end of a relationship as a death or understand the magnitude of this loss. While many in our culture outwardly offer support to those who have lost someone in death, I found that many people are incredibly uncomfortable offering support or sympathy or even acknowledgment when your relationship has ended, when the person who was once in your life has left a huge vacant spot, when you have experienced a profound, heart shattering loss.
The death of a relationship makes many people uncomfortable. It may be unfamiliar territory. Maybe they have never experienced a loss like this before or had a shattered heart. They may not know what to say to comfort you, other than empty platitudes like “time heals all wounds.” Your loss, the devastation they see on your face and in your body might stir their own fears or anxieties about being left or abandoned. Maybe your pain hits too close to home, is too similar to their own story; maybe they aren’t ready to be with and feel the pain of the wounds they carry. Maybe they are “respecting your privacy” or is that just a cop out for “this makes me so uncomfortable I am staying as far away from your pain as possible.”?
What makes it so incredibly hard to go through the death of a relationship is when you do not have full support or acknowledgment from your outer circles, as was my experience. There is no line of folks there to offer hugs and provide words of comfort and encouragement. There is no homily where your minister expresses to you and all who are present that your foundation has been shaken, that your world has been turned upside down, even though it has!!! And what makes it even harder, is the shame and humiliation you carry, that *I* carried. It hurts like crazy, the grief is real and profound. The magnitude of this loss and the emotional devastation is beyond measure.
What do I do with this awareness, this insight? In my own life I have challenged myself to NOT be the person who remains silent because of discomfort or because my pain has been triggered OR says nothing because she doesn’t know what to say. I may not always be the most elegant (or succinct) in expressing myself, but when someone shares a hurt with me or when I learn that something devastating has happened in their lives, I reach out, I acknowledge their pain. I do this because I did not get nearly enough acknowledgement around the death of my relationship and because I know that acknowledgment is a tremendous gift, a gift that has the power to foster healing. I challenge you to do the same, to remain present and acknowledge the pain of those in your inner and outer circles.
In no way is it my intention to trivialize death or minimize the profound pain and sense of loss we experience when someone we love or who is important to us dies. Death, no matter the circumstances, is hard and I recognize that some deaths, because of the ending, are harder than others.
The first couple of days in the presence of my older sister, our first time interacting in over eight years, I did a lot of listening. I listened to a lot of surface chatter. No emotional content. Nothing about feelings. She talked often about things from our childhood, memories of my dad’s bizarre behavior. I continued to hear a lot of talk about my dad. On one of these occasions I asked her, “how did you feel when dad died?”
That question was all it took. The heavy and closed gate around my sister’s heart opened up. She said, “I thought when he finally died I wouldn’t be angry anymore. I thought the anger would go away, but it didn’t.” All these years my sister had been feeding the angry beast. In her anger she had become emotionally detached and closed off, disconnecting from the family. As I listened to my sister, I heard how much she’d been struggling with her anger, how much suffering she had brought into her life by feeding the angry beast.
When my dad died, my sister had very little to say. She did not attend my dad’s memorial service. I wasn’t surprised, but at the same time, it seemed very cold hearted and cast a light on her emotional detachment. As my sister talked and I listened on this recent visit, she told me that she didn’t want to attend his service and chose not to come. Why celebrate the life of a man who caused people so much pain and suffering, especially his family? To her, not attending the service was an act of rebellion, one last chance to stick it to him and say, “you were a horrible rotten father and I hate you.”
The sad thing is that in choosing not to attend my dad’s service, my sister brought even more suffering into her life. Attending the service might have been an opportunity to start healing wounds, to face the angry beast inside of her, and finally begin to put the beast to rest. As I described the service to her and told her that in fact we were quite honest about the way my dad was and did not shy away from talking about the pain and suffering he brought into our lives, I could hear sadness and remorse in her voice. She didn’t say it, but I could feel her regret that she didn’t come and that she missed out.
I get anger. I have been there. I have also felt anger and hatred toward my dad. Anger is how I survived my childhood. The irony is that my dad was an incredibly angry man. He acted out in anger and did and said so many hurtful and damaging things. His angry beast corrupted the purity of his heart. Anger can serve us, it can help us to survive great suffering, but it can also hurt us, especially when it turns into a beast inside of us and we feed it long after it served us. That kind of anger will eat us from the inside out. Listening to my sister, I heard how this had been happening within her. Her angry beast was getting out of control.
Fortunately for me, I put my angry beast to rest a long time ago. A spark of it lives on inside me and always will, but I don’t feed it and so it doesn’t stir and eat at me. Instead of disconnecting from my family like my sister did, I stayed connected and involved. I was there during a lot of very difficult family transitions, especially as my dad’s health and mental state declined. By staying involved, I learned a lot about what things had been like for my mom as a wife and a mother. I developed a lot of compassion toward my mom. We reflected back on my dad’s decline and really began to understand how his mental illness made him a monster. Seeing my dad’s decline also helped me to forgive him, to understand that even though he seemed rotten to the core, that it was the disease and the rage of the angry beast inside of him. Somewhere within my dad, under the layers of anger and illness, existed his true self, a self of goodness and love.
Showing up as a member of the family afforded me many opportunities for healing. My heart hurt to see my dad, who had once been so physically strong become so weak, losing strength in his body, losing control of himself and his mind. Underneath all my anger, I felt a genuine love for my dad. Rotten as he was, this was my dad who provided for me and took me camping and fishing and taught me how to ride my bike and made me and my siblings weed the giant family garden and pick and snap green beans. This was my father who I wanted so desperately to be proud of me, to hear him say something positive about my achievements and successes, to receive some kind of praise. Though my dad wasn’t able to say it to me, he was proud, bursting at the seams proud. A young man my dad had worked with came up to me at my dad’s service and said, “so you’re Bobbi Jean. Your dad couldn’t stop talking about you and all that you were doing in your life.” What an amazingly healing gift I was given, the gift of my dad’s love and pride.
I am sad that my sister missed out the healing opportunities that had been available to her if she had come to my dad’s service, but her heart wasn’t ready. Thankfully, she is now on the path of healing and getting the help she needs to put her angry beast to rest. I am grateful for all that my sister shared. I am immensely grateful that she *finally* opened up and spoke from her heart. I learned so much from listening and gained so much insight into her pain and suffering and saw what has been going on within her all these years – an epic battle with the angry beast. I alluded to her detachment and the many years that had passed between us. I told her, “I haven’t been angry.” In the moment I wasn’t angry, in the moment I forgave, but as I reflected back I realized I have been angry. I haven’t been feeding the anger I once had toward my dad, but I have been feeding anger toward my sister. Beware! the beast can have more than one head!!
May my story, and especially my sister’s story, serve to inspire each of you to look inward. If there is an angry beast within you, I encourage you to be courageous, to look the beast in the eye, and finally put your beast to rest. There will likely be much pain to face and challenges to work through, but if you stick with it, you can prevail, and where anger once stirred and raged in your heart, you will instead begin to feel the seeds of peace and love, gratitude and compassion, grow and blossom in your heart.
From the depths of my heart, I support you in your efforts to find peace and feel love.