Friday, January 6, 2012

Healing Through Gratitude: Hold on to Love

When we come to the end of a relationship with a loved one, many of us are overcome with a dire eagerness to get over the person we have built a deep adoration towards over the course of time, to feel indifferent to the memories of fondness and intimate camaraderie we shared with this person, to be able to "move on" and "search for higher heights," as we tell ourselves. Somehow we are conditioned to think that this kind of transition is a sign of having been finally healed from the painful experience of having to say good-bye to something that took all of our mental and emotional intelligences to develop. But, if our love for such a companion is truly authentic and if we've allowed it to become deeply buried within the private corners of ourselves that we protect from the world, is it possible to heal in this way? Is it fair to expect such a profound existence to just dissipate?

After explaining to a close friend of mine how difficult its has been to get over my both tumultuous and endearing relationship with the father of my son, she described to me her mother's experience with her stepfather whom she was married to for 6 years until he died of cancer. When her mother believed that she had moved on, she fell in love with a man she later married and has continued to stay with for 10 years. At her ex-husband's memorial, a surprising realization came to her that she shared with my friend. She explained to her that she felt as if she has was still losing her husband. At the time, my friend's disclosure scared me. Although there may be a difference between losing a loved one to death and losing a loved one to a relationship that did not have the opportunity to become repaired, when our love for someone is authentic, love surpasses the flesh. The thought of being forever emotionally bound to my lost partner extended my torment into a territory of hopelessness.

I could not think of a better word to describe it: torment. We fight so hard not to love the ones that we love. We play tricks on our minds, remind ourselves of the awful things they have said or done to hurt us, or we tell ourselves that we are actually over them, until our hearts win over our facades and we find our eyes welled up again. We may even try to distract ourselves, by re-entering the world of dating, too prematurely. We might familiarize ourselves with a whirlwind of Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross's familiar stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) in or out of sequence, perhaps repeating a few stages, before we come to acceptance. Acceptance? We imagine that magical moment when we're able to look back objectively at our experience and learn and grow from it, like a fable to draw meaning from. But does emotional distance always equate to healing? Is it inevitable that we must suffer an emotional purgatory before reaching the welcoming gates of tranquility?

Another friend of mine had later re-introduced me to buddhism and its precepts and I began to look at the cause of what was causing all this emotional scourge. It began to be clear to me that I was trying to become someone I am not, that I was trying to push myself to negate a part of my being, and the love I had cultivated with my partner that truly had its own life that existed within me. Love is not something I want to disinvite from my life, yet there I was trying to purge it out of me. Through chanting, I allowed that love to continue, to transform. I took a risk, and chanted to nurture that love. I amazed myself. I came to realize the self-healing aspect of gratitude, which is a foundational concept in buddhist practice. I could not have come to understand how the ability to love so deeply has helped me come in touch with my own emotional capabilities if I had continued to long for and wait for, and maybe, with time, achieve, an objective perspective to my experiences with my son's father. I was able to achieve an understanding of how one can truly rise (not passively fall) in love with the complete whole of another person. Naturally, I wanted him to also bask in a renewed and healing love, even if it was not with me. I chanted for the pain that followed him from his past to his future to slough off and allow for deeper experiences with love to enter his heart. I chanted so that none of the circumstances that severed our relationships repeat themselves in any new relationships he may have. And I chanted, of course, so that my own newfound ability at loving may evolve more fully, in a relationship that will nurse its growth.

What's interesting is that this realization felt truly intuitive, as if it had already been alive within me, and I was allowing my ego to steer me away from it. Society tends to look down upon those that continue to feel affection towards those that have caused them harm or distress, deeming them as weak, codependent, insecure, or insane. Because of this, we are often in constant war with those in our lives that have actually guided us closer to our highest potential, and we take on the role of dehumanizing those we have once seen carrying with them attributes of goodness and beauty. While this typical response to pain may feel protective, it actually makes us more vulnerable to repeating similar experiences in subsequent relationships because we later neglect to see the negative cycles that might follow us since we have mentally kept them permanently attached to the image of the monster that caused us to suffer. If we take on a more reflective role by seeing our relationships as moments of evolution, then it is easier to feel a sense of gratitude, and invite love into our lives, instead of exuding shade and suffocating the love we may have worked hard at cultivating. The shift may initially feel like a blow to one's ego, but in the course of this new self-realization the tears of nostalgia don't have to be followed by the dark cloud of remorse that others try to dodge a mile away, instead what follows is an emerging ability to see ourselves as stronger lovers.