During my early adult years of marriage and motherhood, though I loved my family with my whole heart, I was afraid.
When I turned 45 and had just left a marriage of 25 years I was lost.
When I turned 50 I woke up. I felt something unfamiliar in my chest. A fluttering. Somehow I could hear it too. It was the sound of my heart opening.
My whole life has been lived in shadows, the secrets of my childhood caused me to shut down so completely I didn’t think I would ever open up to anyone. A Dickens quote from “A Christmas Carol” seemed to fit me best. “… secret, and self contained, and solitary as an oyster.” And so I was (and to some extent still am) but something changed.
The outer circumstances of my life here at the cottage, with the animals, in my solitude are very private, but peaceful. And from where I stand centered in these woods and gardens my heart has opened up bigger than the full moon. As I have begun to trust life, I want to reach out more to help others. It is a state of grace, and it has come out of my mindfulness practice.
There is something so touching when we are very still, and very present with our breath. In those moments of illumination we can experience that sense of oneness with all that is. These moments are fleeting and they don’t come often but when they do we feel such a tenderness for everyone, everywhere, and all around us, if we are really awake to the present moment that love, that oneness, includes ourself as well.
I had intimations of this earlier, but it was very fleeting, it didn’t last. There was a time, an incredible time, when my father was dying. He who abused me. I sat at his bedside in the hospital for the week before he died holding his hand in one of mine while with the other hand I filled an entire journal. My heart broke open to such incredible compassion I couldn’t believe it. I wrote, “How do we stop the chain of pain, the gift that keeps on giving?” He had come from very hard circumstances as a child and then lost both of his sons from his first marriage. He was 20 years older than my mother and I was 4 when they married. He was a deeply troubled human being and the abuse I suffered at his hands changed the whole course of my life but as he was dying I felt a tremendous sadness for us both.
Daddy died, my husband and children and I went back to Virginia where we lived at the time, and I sunk back into depression and despair. For a brief moment in time I had been fully awake with a heart wide open, but it closed again when I got home. You can forgive someone but still have to live with the consequences of their actions. He was gone but I would bear the pain and the scars of the abuse. 4-18. That’s a long time, the whole span of my childhood. I was a broken thing, and like Humpty Dumpty I didn’t know if all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could ever put me together again.
And they thing is, they couldn’t, they can’t, nobody can. I have had loving support from family and friends, I have been in therapy for 40 years, more in than out, and all of these things help, but until we are ready, until we are able, until something happens that makes us believe that we are more than the pain, we will be stuck. But in 2002 I met someone that changed the way I would see myself forever.
I was in a time when I was very afraid, not knowing what would become of me. She said to me, “You are so much stronger than you know, you are not your diagnoses, you are one of the most intelligent women I have ever met…” and she went on, and somehow in that moment it was as if someone threw the windows and doors open and let light and air in. I took a big breath and for the first time in my life I thought this might be right. I am not defined by my string of mental health diagnoses. I write, I draw, I care for these animals, I make beautiful gardens, I am making a home, I am a teacher and a healer, and I want so much to help people.
I am so much stronger than I ever knew and it has surprised me. Shocked me really. And sometimes I have very bad days, but I am that strong, I know that I will get through somehow, and I do.
Once you have seen, heard, felt the truth you can never completely close down again, and as I opened up a little more each day, as I felt more certain of who I am, and knew that somehow or another I would make it, the layers of my heart opened up in a beautiful arc, one petal and then another opening, opening, opening. And the quote from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche came to me again and again… “We must open in the face of tremendous opposition. No one is encouraging us to be open and still we must peel away the layers of the heart.”
That is the practice I moved into and mindfulness held my hand and helped me along the path. All I had to do was take care of a single solitary moment and fear fell away, fear from the past, and from the unknown future. And there are those great luminous moments when I see it all clearly and open my arms wide to the sky and say, “I am here I am here I am here, I am alive, thank you!”
The thing is it is a practice for life. My heart doesn’t close but fear will rush in like the rising tide. It is my job to raise myself up, and not shut down. Things hurt less when my heart is open. We think that if we stay closed down we will be safer, but the revere is true. When we are soft, when we are open, we can receive and release the difficult things with greater ease.
No one is encouraging me to open
I am peeling the layers of my heart.
I have embraced myself and filled my cup from a well of love that is always there if we are open to receive it. My heart is blooming, opening, soft, radiant, full of love, and finally, in my 60th year, I have found peace. Now my real journey has begun.