Dear Ms. Feverfew -
In the comments section of the last letter, a reader mentioned how she is anxiously awaiting to hear back from her daughter or from the agency that handled the adoption. She says,
“It is such an awful feeling to lay your feelings all out in the open, and for them to be rejected or ignored. I know I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do.” (J., August 2012)
Her observation of what she shouldn’t feel has given me a lot to think about over the past few days. I know that feeling all to well. It is precisely how I felt for nearly 15 years post-relinquishment – I shouldn’t feel “that” way (whatever “that” way happened to be in any given situation). I spent a great deal of energy and time trying to convince myself I “shouldn’t” feel or think in some way because then it would make me a “bad birth mother” and I never wanted to be one of those.
But I grew weary of running at a break-neck pace from those emotions. I simply lost the ability to outrun them. So now, instead of telling myself I “shouldn’t” feel some particular way because my feelings don’t fit within the dominate discourse of what a “good birth mother” should feel, I sit with those dark emotions–grief, shame, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and yes, sometimes even depression. Instead of ignoring, subverting, or minimizing my suffering I simply let the suffering be and let it move through me. As this suffering moves through me, something sacred and divine is happening: I am finding the words to tell my heart to beat again.
Miriam Greenspan, mother & renowned psychotherapist, says, “…great suffering can open the gate to a world charged with the sacred” (Greenspan, 2011, p. 145). But for suffering to open the gate to that sacred space, we must be willing to allow our hearts to be broken. We must surrender to those dark emotions, instead of running from them. We must ride out the grief, the fear, and sadness to whatever destination they might have.
“Each of the dark emotions has a purpose and a gift, a sacred, redemptive power that we discover when we come to it with mindful openness…Surrender is not about giving up our will, wallowing in our pain, or becoming victims of our feelings. It is the art of acceptance, of mindfully allowing the energy of the dark emotions to flow through the body to its end point. In surrendering, we let the dark emotions be. What follows is often unexpected and magical. (Miriam Greenspan, 2011, p. 146-147).
There is great truth in Greenspan’s words – at least I have found there to be great truth in them. These letters to you have been a way for me to mindfully allow these dark emotions to flow through me. As I learn to honor the grief, the anxiety, the fear, the sadness that exists in my heart, an unexpected thing is happening: I am being changed and healed. As Greenspan says, “…the heart heals itself when we know how to listen to it” (p. 148).
This surrendering is not easy or comfortable, not for me nor for those who have walked through this valley with me. In fact, sometimes it is outright ugly, but through this process, I am learning to mindfully and compassionately say – with no guilt or shame – “It is what it is.” And in the middle of this surrender, the great alchemy is occurring (Greenspan 2003, 2011). Grief is replaced with empathy, compassion, and gratitude. Fear dissipates, leaving behind a joyful vulnerability. From depression grows resiliency and a trustworthy faith in life.
As you have read these letters written across the last four or so years, I know you have encountered my broken heart time and time again. Perhaps my whole, but broken, heart flayed open for the world to inspect leaves you unsettled, uncomfortable, and uneasy. Perhaps it causes you to doubt the veracity and beauty of your own life story. Or perhaps you can accept my vulnerability because your own heart has already been broken wide open, too. Perhaps you find comfort in these letters because you already know pain is a natural part of life, and that through pain there can be love, growth, and healing. Wholeness.
Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once said, “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” The world breaks our hearts open, and the openness makes us whole. Engaged with a brokenhearted world, we cannot and should not expect to be ‘cured’ of grief, fear, and despair. Rather, we learn how to become more comfortable with our shared human vulnerability. We learn the art and power of no protection–a spiritual power, not an egoic conquest won through armoring ourselves against pain, or against an enemy. To learn this alchemy, we must be willing to accept suffering and vulnerability as a normal part of life. Because we are vulnerable, life hurts. We are not here to be free of pain. We are here to have our hearts broken by life, and to transform that pain into love.” — Miriam Greenspan, 2011, pp. 148-149.
Not cured, but transformed. Grief into empathy. Depression into resiliency. Pain into love. That is the alchemy I am trying to learn.
Much love and belief -
Greenspan, M. (2003). Healing through the dark emotions: The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications Inc.
Greenspan. M. (2011). Healing through the dark emotions in an age of global threat. In K.L. Carrington, S. Griffin, & H. Teich (Eds.), Transforming Terror: Remembering the Soul of the World (pp. 143-149). Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.