1.5.18 Dicentra in the garden
I am learning new things about love. When it's needed. When it makes the biggest difference to a life. I am learning it through my son's life, my plants' lives, and my own.
We are used to needing and offering care through suffering. There is an expectation that it is required and deserved, then. Our innate sympathy for pain turns us to it, often despite ourselves, when we witness the sound of it. We know its healing comes from kind-hearted love, and as human beings, we are good at providing that, whatever anyone says, however lost we all say we are. Perhaps some of us deserve more than we receive, but if we can be open and honest with our pain, love and help will often touch our lives in small ways, if we have the eyes to see it and the courage to let it in. I believe we are all drawn to care for each other like that. I love that we are.
I have been loved through suffering, kindly and patiently. What I am learning is that the need for love doesn't stop when you find hope, potential, goodness. If anything, your need for it intensifies.
I am cradling new things just now. I am growing a book. I am growing a new relationship. I had anticipated and looked for neither, but now find I can't help but steer towards their promise, hungry despite myself. They have collided and aligned, unexpectedly, intensely, and I feel more vulnerable, more exposed, and more terrified than I think I ever have. It is a painful joy. A devastating hope. Some days, it's shaking me raw.
When times of suffering come, there is a kind of ease in hardening, in self-protecting. We get to pull to safety, into withdrawal and retreat. But when it is time to put suffering aside, or at least turn down its clamour, which we always must if we are to stay fully alive, we must do the opposite. We must unclench, unfurl. We must shed all our skin and become new baby things, ready to start again, terrible and bawling. Harder still, we must turn, move our feet, reach towards the things that suffering may have told us aren't meant for us at all, because it does that, doesn't it? It whispers that its lands are safer than that bright, unfamiliar place, full of risk. How much simpler it would be sometimes to stay in that hunched, dark place where everything hurts. How perversely comforting and affirming it can be, to let the world confirm what we always feared, deep down: that we are no good anyway, and so should stay right here. There is pain in it, excruciating, but there can also be, underneath it all, a safety, a rightness. Life does make some sort of hollow sense here.
I know this trap. I know its lure. And how much harder it is because it is rarely, if ever, a case of happiness and growth barging into your life and burning up suffering in one bright, magnesium flash. It is never that convenient. Instead, we have to make space for it next to us, still suffering, still bleeding, still secretly convinced of our unworth. This is the only way to live. This is the only way to live. We don't get to leave anything behind. We must simply heave it onto our shoulders and take it into light, and knowing this, realising this, is a new terror. We must be our same broken, flawed selves in a new life. We must show ourselves to it, to everyone. God help us, we must.
This is why we must love each other when things start to go well, or could do. This is the point we must not turn away from each other, and yet we do - oh how we do - out of envy, resentment, out of our own pain and insecurity or our simple disinterest. It seems to get worse with age. We are less indulgent of second chances, third choices, somehow, our generosity worn.
I tell you: we need to be loved, with joy and patient care, through new beginnings, every time. Perhaps, if anything, we need to be loved more each time, more loudly, more uncompromisingly, for it is now, in these tender first steps all over again, with the weight of our pasts on our shoulders, that we are most likely to panic and shut down, to self-sabotage, to decide we can't, we CAN'T, we don't deserve this, we're not good enough, we'll only fail again. It is love's job to say, firmly, delightedly, hopefully: you can, you do, you are, you must try.
I watch my son with his piano teacher on Saturday mornings: his open, nervous, hopeful face as he fumbles the notes for the dozenth time and looks for reassurance, and his warm teacher responds with unabashed, patient praise, with the subtlest of guidance, with pride, and I know that this is a time ripe for love. I know this is a time that love will make every difference to his future.
My friends ask me gentle, hopeful questions now. They make space for my new things. They let me talk about them, eager and embarrassed, frightened and fumbling, and I feel more love now than any kind word achieved in years of heartbreak and pain, because they believe I am worth more than where I was. They believe these new things are mine to have, that I am worthy of them. I know that if these new seeds of things get to grow into something strong and beautiful, it will be because I have been loved through these shaky beginnings.
And so, I guess, this is an instruction. We tell each other to care for suffering, as we should, but all I can think of today is to ask you, to beg you, to let love be bigger than that. Let it be braver. Let us remember to love each other through our fragile, risky, ambition. Let us love the hope of each other. It will take nothing from us. Don't let the wounds in you convince you otherwise.
In Buddhism, we call it mudita. It is joy in another's joy: a wholehearted, honest, generous love, underpinned with a compassionate knowing that joy is rarely simple, rarely clean. It is considered another of the sublime states, not because it is easy, but because it is not. It takes courage and a generosity that doesn't come easy to our wounded, parched souls, and yet we work at it because it matters.
Perhaps all joy, all brave growth, all bright achievement that exists in the world was built on love like this, once: this mudita. Perhaps that's one of the reasons it's so deeply important.
We get nowhere alone, I think that's what I'm realising from this tender, wonderful, terrified place. We get nowhere alone.