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New Year Written in the Sand
Thu, January 1, 2015
Christine's Corner, Thursday, January 1, 2015
Historically, this column, the first of a new year, is one in which I tend to focus on the bright and magical aspects of what it means to be alive in our world. Fresh dreams, new beginnings, life’s potential made manifest in the promise of tomorrows to come. Our longtime readers know I’m a girl who enjoys new energy and adventures, and as such revel in the burgeoning freshness of a brand new year.
Yet as I sit and write these words, amidst the exhilaration that accompanies me at this time of year, this year I also carry a sense of reverence and contemplation, even sorrow. The truth is the last several months of 2014 seemed to carry with them a steady stream of illness and even death for people in my life and those I care about.
As I played and frolicked with my granddaughter over the holiday and literally bathed myself in the preciousness of that unique kind of love, I couldn’t help but think of the tragic and sudden passing of a friend of mine whose memorial service was that very day. One life just beginning, still filled with the fresh wonder that can be experienced only by young children, and another ended after just a couple days of having contracted some kind of virus that seemed like a bad flu.
Just in the last week I received word that a friend of mine had to make the unimaginable decision to remove his son, young, healthy and vibrant just two days before, from life support. To imagine waking up on Christmas morning and finding yourself just hours later in the emergency room fearing for your son’s life is a reality I cannot fathom. I’ve been unable to stop thinking about him and his family ever since and my heart just breaks for all of the pain they are enduring.
So I’ve grappled these last several days of how to approach this column. How do I talk about the true gifts offered from divine creation, the very real present received from the Presence in our lives in the midst of so much tragedy? How can I focus on the pain of grief and sorrow when so much love is available to us in each and every moment that enables us to begin again?
Somehow in the midst of my confusion, excitement, and despair it came to me. Life isn’t about being this OR that. It’s not about having joy OR sorrow. That is the extreme deliciousness of life – that all is offered to every one of us in each and every moment.
Do we grieve for those we’ve lost? Absolutely we do! But we also celebrate the precious moments of those lives and the tremendous blessings we’ve received from having had the gift to experience those individuals within our lives.
At times do we hold on so tightly to the moments that have already passed that we fail to see the bright shiny moment that has just arrived? Without question, we do! We also at times become so entwined and focused on what has not yet or perhaps may never occur and live instead within the projection of our futures.
Pema Chödrön, a wise American teacher of Tibetan Buddhism shares a great parable for us about the impermanence of life:
“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”
― Pema Chödrön

Particularly for those of us who are going through or accompanying one of our loved ones through a health challenge, life can feel distorted, imbalanced, and chaotic. Life seems to strip away all but that which needs our primary focus. It filters out the noise so that our attention can focus on what needs to be done. Death and life’s major developments do the same thing.
We are brought to this very moment in all of its fullness, which in and of itself brings both fresh life and death as one moment gives way to the next. Our ability to release, to surrender to each moment as it passes is illustrated by Pema:
“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”
― Pema Chödrön

And it is there that we find not only the beauty of life itself and an affirmation again that life is not this OR that. For within each breaking heart lies the possibility of healing to begin, for new life, new hope, new joy to be resurrected in a heart that through its very brokenness has made way for even more love to exist.
If we can sit in the stillness of the fragility of our lives and with the broken pieces that have come from our greatest hardships and tragedies, the resilience inherent within us – that unmistakable, mysterious quality that exists as the spirit within us carries us forward to the birth of a new moment. And we are able to take that new strength with us, now embodied as wisdom, compassion, and truth, forward as we begin again.
And so as we enter this very sacred time of fresh beginnings, the entrance to a brand new year, I leave you with this wisdom to accompany you as you enjoy the presence of the present moment.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön

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