Seeing In the Dark

So, it’s been a bit of a rough week, and I’ve got nothing to complain about.

Apart from being closed up in my countryside cloister due to a broken-down car, great things have been happening.

I’ve pretty much filled my pilot course (one spot is left, in case someone wants to nab it over the next couple days before I close it on Sunday – update: the course is now FULL) and I have news about my next novel (which I’ll talk about when I’m able) and, with the help of my amazing editor, there’ve been breakthroughs on the structure of my forthcoming poetry collection.

All good things.

So why do I feel so down?

Success is tough for me, for one. It reminds me poignantly, constantly, of how my brother couldn’t carve out a space for himself in the world and got so sick he felt his only option was to die. It’s so hard to carry that around, and especially at Christmas, the season meant for family togetherness, softly drifting snow, cozy fireside scenes.

Not in my family (nor, I realize, in many).

It was three years ago, as well, that my step-father, out for his afternoon hike, keeled over from a heart-attack, a couple days after the Christmas party he and my mother threw to warm their new house.

On Christmas Eve, the crematorium holding his body burned to the ground and at the time I wrote this: “life is a multi-hued mix of the darkest dark and the lightest light and in the middle of that, there is that fraying, that static, that absurdity.”

Yes.

So how do we carry both the light and the dark, the fraying and the fabric?

There’s an expression that my sister likes, uses often, from Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: “No mud, no lotus.” Nothing meaningful or beautiful can grow without a whole load of shit.

And there’s another which I’ve become fond of: “What is to give light must endure burning” (Viktor Frankl).

This autumn and winter, I’ve been pushing hard through echoing grief, and past all of my comfort zones in an attempt to share what I know about writing and improve the sustainability of my writing life. I’ve been burning, and the burning actually hurts.

It’s hard for an introvert like me to show up offering my skills, to reach out, to tweet and post and boast (or so it feels) into the echoing, crowded auditorium of social media.

Seriously, I think, while I’m doing it. There must be a better way.

There must be a way where we can protect our vulnerabilities, feel the complicated things we’re feeling, share with one another, be accepted, make meaning.

Oh, yeah.

That way is writing.

That way is reading, balancing stimulus with stillness, finding deeper community.

After the holiday season is over, I’m sure I’ll start to feel better. The meaningful action (making positive effort towards the good) of teaching and coaching will help (it always does). But for right now, I know that what I need to do is just accept what I’m feeling and go easy on myself, to try to hold in my heart the knowledge that suffering and happiness exist side by side.

This past August, when my mom was in the hospital, and my sister, my husband, and I thought she was going to die, I thought about this too.

Outside her room, there was a drawing on the wall of an eagle dropping to earth to seize a rabbit in its talons. The previous winter, I’d driven home one day, a few months after my brother had passed, and saw a huge eagle sitting in the tree at the end of our driveway. Right when I pulled over, it lifted into the air, spread its wings, and soared. It was breathtaking.

Without suffering, the eagle does not fly. Without death, there is no life. I took a picture of that drawing. I knew that if my mom did die that night, that way, so suddenly, it would eventually bring me some sort of comfort.

“When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less,” Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in No Mud, No Lotus. “Not only that, but we’re able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion and joy for ourselves and for others.”

So this is where I am right now: living with both the good and the bad, as we all must.

Pondering transformation.

Attempting to balance the mud and the bloom, the burning and the light. Holding out my candle to see inside the dark.

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And you? A week from winter’s darkest day, on the edge of the holidays, how are you doing right now?

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