Lessons in Love: Good Grief.

The past few days I have really been thinking about Love. And loss.

For most of my life, I had always thought love and loss seemed mutually exclusive of one other, sort of like flip sides of a record – “Love” on side A and that terrible B-side song that nobody ever wanted to listen to: “Loss.” “Love” was the only song I was interested in listening to because, frankly, “Loss” sucks. Who wrote that tune anyway and why is it even on the back of a record with such a fantastic A-side?? There’s no beat and you can’t even dance to it. I rate that record a “0.”

Playing “Love only” is what I have tried to do, for a very long time – from the days before I got into yoga and spirituality and even when I was first diving deeply into it. The song “Love” that I thought I knew was always upbeat, joyful, and celebratory. I knew the words to “Love” and I could sing along, loudly and in tune, by golly. That song always made me feel good. And, isn’t feeling good what it’s all about? Isn’t that what life is all about? It’s all Love. Just feel the love, man. Love is all we need. But, whatever you do, don’t flip the record over and play that awful B-side song “Loss,” or any of it’s aliases like “Sadness,” “Anger,” “Depression,” or “Grief.”

My problem with all of this was that I was I had only been listening to one particular song called “Love,” over and over and over. This song made me feel great, which I thought was the whole point, and the more I listened to it, the less I listened to the B-side: “B-side? What B-side?” I thought – especially when I first began this journey – this was what living a spiritual life was all about: feeling more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. I thought this was yoga and that advancing in my practice meant that the more love I felt, the more I would abide in an ongoing, peaceful, calm state of homogeneous and unchanging bliss.

In those highly impressionable early days, when I didn’t know yet how to go inward for the truth, I had heard from many people and read in various literature that sadness, anger, grief, depression, etc. – in other words, all emotions most of us don’t want to feel – are called “negative emotions.” Not only that, but I had heard that these “negative emotions” are not even real, and that feeling anything but Love in any moment is not only a waste of time, but it’s not what living a spiritual life is all about. As someone who had virtually perfected the art of doing anything and everything possible so that I would never feel these so-called illusory “negative emotions,” reading and hearing this was A-OK with me!

I became highly practiced at living in my head, using my intellect and esoteric spiritual ideals to continue my life pattern of not feeling my feelings. When I felt sadness or anger, I began to equate that with a lack of practice: “Oh, I’m not doing my practices as much as I should be. This is why I’m feeling all these negative emotions.” So, I’d do the various asana and meditation practices I knew to get myself back into a blissful state. I actually bought into this for a very long time, thinking that not giving attention to these emotions was the way to make them go away. “Great! All I have to feel are the good things, the love, the bliss! I’m finally off the hook for having to feel the things I don’t want to feel.” The rest of that stuff isn’t even real. Only Love is real. It’s all I need.”

The other problem for me was that the more Yoga became my way of life and not just something I did on the mat from time to time, the more I began to feel more. Of everything.

Not only did I feel the bliss more, which was great and what I was striving for, but I also began to feel the sadness more…the anger more…the so-called “negative emotions” even more. What I began to discover is that, as much as I tried – and I’ve spent my whole life trying – it’s impossible to selectively feel. Feeling is like a light switch: it’s either ALL on or it’s ALL off. We can’t choose to only feel the things that we want to feel and not the feel things we don’t want to feel. Turns out, I had gotten pretty good at turning it all off, thinking I was achieving some sort of yogic state. Thanks to 5 years of recovery work and the discovery of Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of the heart and the emotions), I’ve thawed my frozen feelings and, gratefully, finally, feel it all. I’ve never felt more alive and more authentically me.

FullSizeRenderHowever, the past couple of weeks I have been feeling so much and everything I thought
about Love is changing and expanding. We found out that our one-year-old kitty, Addie, who had been incredibly sick for two weeks and not getting any better, had lymphoma and was at the end of her short little life. We helped her make a quick and pain-free transition and thus began the terrible grieving process…which, I’m learning, is also the incredibly healing process. And all of this has really gotten me to think about Love. And loss. And grief.

Those old yoga platitudes that I used to buy into would say, “Well, there’s really no such thing as loss or grief; everything is one. It’s all Love.” Or, my intellect would tell me, “She’s out of pain and in a better place now.” It’s so easy, under the guise of spiritual teachings, to keep freezing the feelings, to turn to the practices as a form of escapism to not deal with things that don’t feel blissful.

Yes, there really may be no such thing as loss because everything is, indeed, one, and my intellect and spirit knows this, but what of my sweet kitty-girl who is no longer physically here? I miss her. My heart aches to hold her and scratch her under her chin until she falls asleep, to feel the softest fur I’ve ever felt, to hear her purr as she presses her paws into the green blanket I have on my bed. Turning to spiritual ideals or intellectual pontificating does nothing to help me drop down to the ground in sadness and grief and feel this terrible soul hole of a loss, so that I can feel the love —not the one flavor of love that feels like bliss, but so I can feel alive with the infinite swirl of Love that has so many textures, colors, seasons, and flavors.

Yes, it’s definitely all Love, but love isn’t always happy happy joy joy, and it is most certainly not always bliss. It doesn’t always have a beat that you can dance to. Love, and the heart through which we feel it, is pulsating with all the variations of life, I’m learning. Sometimes love is passionate and romantic; sometimes it is most definitely a calm bliss with a peace that passes all understanding. And sometimes, it’s sadness and grief. It feels so good to love so deeply and fully; yet, what I’m experiencing is that loving that hard also hurts so much. I’ve loved Addie with the infinite vastness of all that I am. And now, the infinite vastness of all that I am is hurting. And healing. But, I’m only healing because I am feeling. The more I feel, the more I heal. And the more I heal, the more I’m real. That’s Yoga, to me.

*Note: If you’re interested in working with your emotions and learning about the gift that each one brings for us, I highly recommend Karla McLaren’s book called The Language of Emotions. This was a life-changing read for me and a book I regularly go to for deep wisdom.

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