Good Grief — What Am I Feeling?
Today is my 20th wedding anniversary. Note that my marriage didn’t last for 20 years (as detailed here), but I was married 20 years ago today. As you can probably imagine, today is bittersweet for me.
My feelings about today are apparently far beyond my comprehension. Please indulge me as I try to unravel them.
I feel a lot of gratitude today. I’m grateful for the children that I have as a result of that marriage. I’m grateful for the loving relationships I have today that I would not have otherwise. I’m grateful for the many happy years that we experienced together. I’m grateful for the person I’ve become (and that I’m becoming) as a result.
I feel a lot of loss today. This is more difficult for me to understand than the gratitude. My relationships with my children are certainly different today than they were five years ago. I’m feeling the loss of the physical closeness of those relationships. The loss of a partner is also a very significant loss that I feel today. I also feel strongly the loss of dreams, or perhaps of the ability or willingness to dream.
I grew up imagining growing old a certain way — the traditional way: you marry, you have children and a career, you grow old with your spouse, children, and grandchildren there with you enjoying every step of the way. This vision was somewhere between an expectation and a dream, but I didn’t imagine my life going any other way. This was simply what life is.
Since my divorce, I experience a lot of fear and distrust in regard to dreams. I find solace in much of Eastern thought — Buddhism teaches us to let go of attachment as a step towards finding peace; Taoism teaches us that hope, like fear, is a phantom; Eckhart Tolle (not from the East but might as well be, ideologically) teaches us that there is no past and no future — only right now. My own experience teaches me to distrust dreams and to question the value of dreaming at all. These ideas work well with my fears to create a little box for me where I feel safe.
I have come a long way in learning how to live following my own interpretation of these ideas. Certainly I’m misinterpreting parts of them, but I’ve still found them very valuable. As I look at each moment independent of its future or past, I find that every moment is fantastic. As I take my focus away from hopes, and look gratefully at what is real, I experience less fear. As I let go of expectations/attachments, I find myself at peace with my circumstances.
One of my highest values is authentic connection to others, and I have changed in such a way that I find this connection more and more. Letting go of expectations of myself or others, I find that it is much easier to relate to and connect to other people.
As I work to move forward in my life, I run into some challenges with this mindset. I’ve come to a place emotionally where I’m ready to think about dating again. I’m buying a house, and I want to make it a home. I’m ready to get serious about self-improvement. The difficulty is, dating a person, creating a home, or improving myself all seem very linked to the future and dreams about the future.
Another important teaching from Buddhism is called the middle way. In its simplest form, it basically says avoid extremes. Maybe the two extremes I’ve bounced between here are living only for hopes and dreams of a particular eternity on one hand, and refusing to accept any hopes and dreams on the other. Perhaps to find the middle way here, I have to face that fear and explicitly allow myself to have hopes and dreams.
I’ve spent a lot of effort over the past few years unlearning and “unbecoming”. I’m so grateful for this. I can’t express how meaningful it has been to me to have that experience, nor even can I explain what I mean by it. Today, I’m at an inflection point. While I don’t ever want to give up the practice of unlearning, I think I’m ready to start learning and becoming again. The fact that this inflection point coincides so closely with my wedding anniversary gives me a unique chance to look back and reflect.
I’m very fortunate to have the past that I do. I don’t know what’s in the future, but (here goes that hope thing) I’m very excited about it! Maybe in stead of looking toward a particular point in the future, I can look at the present and just be grateful for my current position/circumstances and be mindful of my instantaneous rate of change.
I know that I’m not alone, especially today, in grieving. I hope that we can all make good use of our grief to move us in a direction that will bring us more joy, peace and love.