Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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Because Bodhi: Finding Gratitude through Grief

From an email I wrote to a dear friend and mentor:

Shortly after Coyote died, you and I had a conversation about what she taught me about living and dying with grace.  As we were wrapping up, you asked a strange question of me: “What has Bodhi taught you about loss?”
Coming from my long-standing relationship with scarcity and loss, I recoiled at the question, retorting that I hoped he would teach me nothing about loss for a long, long time. I left shaken. But I vowed that from that time on, I would do my best to make every moment of Bodhi’s and my life together count. 
What I came to discover was that Bodhi had already been teaching me, even as Coyote lay dying, that loss and grief are impermanent, if I allow them to be. How does that saying go?: “Pain is inevitable; suffering optional.” He was teaching me, with his sunny personality and outpouring of joyful love, that the pain of loss is only one part of living a full life. He was teaching me not to hang onto the loss, not to cause myself suffering by clinging to it.
In the early hours of this morning, Bodhi taught me another lesson, this time about connecting to gratitude through grief. He taught me that miracles aren’t always about gaining more minutes and hours and days to spend with a beloved friend and companion, but about being grateful for the minutes and hours and days you’ve already spent together. Miracles are those shining things you don’t always realize you already hold in your hand. 
In the wee hours of this morning, I learned that Bodhi was bleeding into his abdomen from an untreatable cancerous lesion. When I desperately prayed for a miracle, the Universe wisely answered: “You’ve already had it.” And, through the most chest-exploding anguish of my life, I found gratitude. 
Oh, I’m mourning. He was my best bud, my constant companion, my healing and meditation partner, my heart. 
But he was also my teacher, my Bodhisattva. And, so, I learn. 
Blessings, friend, for providing that reflection for me. Blessings for speaking those words to me, waking me enough to treat him like the living miracle he was.

A note to you, my readers:

If you’ve read any of the dog dialogues here on my blog or follow me on Instagram, you might have encountered Bodhi. He was my gorgeous goofball, my dork-face, my very own personal clown — a true Golden Retriever. But there was also something indefinably special about him. A treasured friend of mine came closest when she described him as “luminous.” It didn’t require physically seeing us together for people to sense the deep, loving connection Bodhi and I had — they could feel it through my posts, my emails, my photos. What’s more amazing to me, though, is that he somehow forged his own connections with people — even the ones he never met — just by being Bodhi.

As I wrote in my email to my friend, above, my grief is deeply felt — and it will continue to be for a long time, as I adjust to the silence and stillness that used to be filled, instead, with his silly, joyful energy. But, outside of the ending, I can honestly say I have no regrets. Bodhi and I had a great life, full of adventure and fun and snuggling. He and I dared to do things we might not otherwise have done, had we never met. We were creating a brave new life together, moving to the mountains of North Carolina to learn about living in harmony with the land. We were road-tripping and hiking and making new friends all along the way.

I have much to be grateful for.

And, so, in collaboration with the people who witnessed and participated in our story — people who sent me texts and emails and messages and photos — I’m writing a series of posts about Bodhi and what we learned from each other, what we gave each other. It begins with a howl of pain, a reliving of the night he died — because, as my brother-in-law Jeff put it so well, that’s part of our story, too. But I don’t want to stay there in the pain. I don’t want us to suffer, you and I. Whatever I post about this season of loss will shift the focus to not only honor my grief, but also to reach through the grief to the gratitude and joy and laughter that glimmers like a guiding star behind it.

Because Bodhi.

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Climbing the Hill

I don’t want to climb this hill.

But the hill is what stands between me and the warmth and coziness of the cabin where I’m staying.

It juts up out of the forest, an abrupt swell of land, dropping steeply away to my left and sweeping gracefully into a deep bowl of trees and underbrush. The road here is well-traveled, deeply rutted by runoff and the tires of 4-wheel conveyances the hunters call “mules.” It’s not my language, the language of hunting and 4-wheel conveyances, so it might be a model, a make, a nickname for all I know. Right now, I’d be happy for a mule of any kind, for a shortcut to the top of this barrier to my comfort.

The hill is hard, unforgiving. Here and there, it lurches suddenly upward and makes me strain and stretch and gasp for breath. I have to pause several times as I climb it, sweat running over my body, the air whistling into my lungs. But there’s no avoiding the hill. I must climb it. It’s the only path home.

Beauty presses in on me from both sides of the road, distracting me from my climb. I let it fill the spaces  when I pause to catch my breath. Many of the leaves have fallen and turned to brown where they lay. The ones still clinging to their branches are molten gold in the afternoon light. I can see deep into the naked forest, finding rock outcroppings that punctuate the gentle undulations of earth out of which they burst. Shadows painted by the trunks of trees stripe the landscape. It would be easy to lose myself in the beauty, in the momentary respite of stopping.

But losing myself isn’t the point, is it?

I must climb this hill. I must return to the cabin and make dinner and wash out a few pairs of socks and do my reading and write — get on with my life. I know I can take this hill, know I can beat it, because I’ve traveled this road before, conquered this hill. I know, too well, the effort required and the rewards. So I push on.

—-

I don’t want to cry these tears.

But the tears are what stand between me and the warmth and wholeness of a healed heart…


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A Practice for Healing Grief

 

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”

— John Muir

A Walk in the Woods

I am grieving.

I recently lost a Being so essential to my experience of joy that it’s left me reeling in a deep, spiritual darkness. My Golden Retriever, Bodhi, was diagnosed several weeks ago with an untreatable cancer that had begun bleeding into his abdomen. He was only 6 years old, the picture of health and vitality one day, and suddenly gone the next.

Upon hearing of Bodhi’s passing, some dear friends offered me the use of their cabin on 200 acres of forest land so I could start processing the trauma of my loss in much-needed solitude. Here, after my morning meditation and yoga, after my breakfast and doing the dishes, I lace boots onto my feet and walk out into the woods to try to ground myself.

The crude forest road is broad and rutted. Fallen leaves flatten themselves onto its uneven surface, creating a brilliant mosaic of fall color beneath my boots. They’re slippery from last night’s storms, so I pick my way cautiously down the hill and around the wide bend to the creek crossing.

I’ve always looked to nature for healing. When circumstances allow, I seek out remote spaces where I can peacefully and privately soak up the energy of my surroundings and invite in whatever wisdom or comfort the Earth has to offer. I open myself, often by small degrees as I’m able, to connecting with the world around me: I breathe the air deeply to take in its scent; I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of insects and animals and the wind; I handle plants and trees and rocks to connect with their texture; I focus my attention on colors and shapes and shadows and light; I sense the vibrations of of the space. Most importantly, I silence the stories in my head, as told by the inner critic who nags and frets and complains and finds fault with me.

More often than not, I seek out forests.

Forests continuously, visibly reflect the rhythm of the Universe, the cycle of life that moves from birth to growth to reproduction to death and back again to birth. While they lack the raw, stimulating power of the ocean, forests offer a deep, restorative wisdom, a literal and figurative rootedness I find lacking in the ocean tides. Trees have always held me. Even as a little girl, I climbed their branches to read and dream and cry away hurts, up and away from the world and its noise. Although I rarely climb them anymore, I still find solace leaning against their strong trunks or sitting among their roots. Native Americans call them The Standing People, and they pulse with the quiet patience that comes from slowly growing and stretching and finding the light. I walk among them with the intention of engaging in what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” I walk in the woods to immerse myself in living energy.

Barriers and Flow after the Storm

As I walk, I see that last night’s fierce storms have wakened the washes that now trickle and twinkle with tiny rivulets of run-off from the enfolding hills. I arrive at the creek bed — just yesterday dry and littered with naked stones — to see water splashing merrily over rocks and turning fallen branches into delicate fairy-falls. Here and there small pools quietly gather, slightly murky with autumnal tannins from the oaks that grow here. A sudden splash captures my attention as one of the pools pushes its way out between the roots of a tree to form a new streamlet. I crouch for a moment and close my eyes, listening to the gurgling of the water. When I open them again, I realize that today’s lesson would be about barriers and flow.

I stand up, watching the deceptively placid surfaces of the miniature ponds reflect moss-encased tree trunks and the soft, mousy grey of the clouds, and I think about my habitual ways of dealing with difficult emotions: fear, self-doubt, anger, and, yes, grief. I usually distract myself from them or let them collect in some dark corner of my heart until I’ve convinced myself they’ve healed with the passage time — or, on occasion, that they never existed at all. But, like waters in rain-swelled pools, those difficult emotions eddy and swirl, becoming murky and dark until they can no longer be contained and leak into unexpected areas of my life, manifesting as illness, stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety.

There is wisdom in pools, and I value it. There are times in our lives when we need to let emotions collect for a while until we are ready or able to release them in healthy, intentional ways that support us. But we do need to release them. We eventually need to let them flow — sometimes in little trickles, sometimes in raging rivers — so they don’t fester behind the dams we construct thinking we’re keeping ourselves safe.

In receiving this gift of sanctuary from my friends, I’d committed to diving deep into the grief, rather than running away from it. It’s a painful practice. Uncomfortable. At times almost unbearable. I patiently locate the grief in its hiding places in my body and focus my yoga there. I resolutely sit with it daily in meditation, holding it, calmly accepting it without judgment, until — like everything else, including joy, tenderness, and peace — it slowly recedes and floats away. I pour it onto the pages of my journals, examining it, discerning for myself what truths it contains — and what lies I tell myself about it and about my relationship with Bodhi — until I find the glimmer of gratitude buried beneath my tears.

I take my grief for daily walks in the woods. And I listen.

Looking at the water skipping over and around the rocks and rotting branches criss-crossing its flow, I reaffirm that I would not carry this loss like a stone in my heart. I will not allow it to become so deep that I drown in it. I’ve done that before. It nearly ended me. I will honor the loss, care for the grief, and learn from it. Not all at once. Healing happens in its own time. But I am opening my heart and letting it flow out of me, in whatever dancing trickle or rushing flood it demands, until its course is run.

And then I will get on with living joyfully, as my Bodhi taught me.