7 years ago, on December 29, 2009 I was in Montezuma, Costa Rica, in the early stages of my first pregnancy – with twins. What I didn’t know that morning was that by the evening I would have flown out of Montezuma, to a hospital in San Jose, spending the night in a hotel room in the city recovering from my first miscarriage, the first of what would turn out to be three in the next two years.
At that same time, eight thousand miles away, my beautiful niece Kailyn was also in a hospital room, taking her very first breaths in this precious life, sharing her birthday with her cousin Austin, some five thousand miles from her, just 13 years old then, 21 years old yesterday.
December 29 is a date that will always be part of my consciousness, as it marks these three significant events. but also because it reminds me of two powerful life lessons.
The first is that, where this is suffering, somewhere there is also joy.
We all have our turns for each – life is a series of ups and downs of elation and devastation, of getting what we want and losing what is most precious.
We can hold on to that thought when it is our turn for heart break – that it won’t last forever, at least not in its most acute form, and that our turn for delight will come around again. We can also remember that in the times we are experiencing the light presence of bliss, that it too will not last forever – we can learn to be truly present to the experience as it is in the moment, while being aware of the suffering around us. It is ok to experience joy, and it is ok to experience pain, and we can bear witness not only to our own experience, but to that of the people around us, in quiet reverence and presence.
The second life lesson that December 29 continually awakens in me is that I am truly, deeply grateful for every experience of suffering I have ever had. It is not that I would go back and choose any one of them, but each one has offered me another perspective, another dimension of a life fully lived, and more than anything else, an opportunity to deepen my sense of compassion, of “suffering with” or “fellow feeling” as the word itself implies.
Each experience has brought me closer to others experiencing similar sorrows and challenges and opened my understanding to what those experiences might actually be like rather than relying simply on an intellectual awareness. I understand the pain of pregnancy loss, of infertility, of chronic pain, or digestive disorders, of marital dysfunction, of mid-life crises, of childhood trauma, of death of a loved one, of financial instability, of rejection, of professional or personal insecurity, of crises of body image, of addiction, of menopause, because I have directly experienced all of those things.
Things I once thought could be solved with some kind words, or by just bucking up, or, by “doing some yoga,” I now know take a toll on the whole body, mind, spirit complex and that every single person reacts to, and manages these and all kinds of life challenges, in their own unique and wholly valid way.
That I too can simply bear witness to the suffering of another, I can respect and honor their own process because I have some experience of my own, I have direct experience of my own process and how it unfolded, and how I was transformed by it.
I can hold the thought for them, for myself, for you, that whatever you are going through now, whatever we are going through now, things will at some time be different. I can remind myself not to hold on so tightly to what I believe to be true about myself or others or our shared and non-shared experiences, rather I can allow and invite, and open up to the possibility of dimensions and understandings that I have not yet experienced.
A joy, a sorrow, a delight, a difficulty. These are all coming and going, happening all across the universe. May we find solace and comfort knowing that our experiences will not last forever, and that we are infinitely connected through these experiences. Let us not feel separate for them, but ever more unified, to one another and to the vast mystery of life itself.
I am reminded of these lines from the Isha Upanishad.
“All that is, from the biggest stars to the tiniest speck of dust, is pervaded by Truth. But the face of Truth is hidden by the golden disc of worldly temptations. Oh Nourisher and Eternal Guide of my Life, lift this veil so that I can see the Truth in its full glory.”