Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Making an Offering of Gratitude, of Grief, Praise, Loss and Love

At one point in my life i realized that my heart's capacity to hold joy and happiness and love was only as deep as its capacity to hold sorrow. My heart, like a wooden bowl, was being carved out by the realities of life and grief, making my heart a deeper vessel for all kinds of experiences. I could not refuse to feel the sorrow and disappoint without reducing my capacity to hold the depths of love and happiness that were also available in life.

Then, in a dream I saw a bowl, filled with a beautiful silvery  liquid which i understood to be the water of life. The bowl was like a sieve; it was full of holes. A bowl full of holes that held this most precious liquid and could never run dry. I woke up laughing.  I think our hearts are like this bowl. 

Gratitude and praise, grief, love and loss. They seem intertwined.

When we are grateful we are acknowledging someone or something's special qualities. In this way gratitude is a form of praise. When we grieve, we grieve the loss of someone who has added value to our life in ways we have come to appreciate. In this way our grief is also a song of praise.

Anytime we praise a person's qualities we acknowledge their importance to us and their place in the world. We are acknowledging their value and the unique qualities they possess --and foreshadowing the loss we would feel in their absence. So our praise is a song that holds a slender sliver of sadness. Not unlike the joy we feel at the sight of a beautiful flower, even as we hold an awareness that the flower will wither and die. Or the delight and gratitude we feel at the beauty of  fall leaves and a bountiful harvest, even as we know they foretell the coming of winter. We acknowledge preciousness, preciousness in the face of impermanence.

Perhaps each moment we grieve and each time we rejoice in life, or praise the divine, each time we say thank you for the gift of being alive, for seeing beauty, for giving and receiving love, we are also giving voice to that slender sadness that acknowledges, in a balanced way, that all things pass.

We often refer to this balanced response to loss as "letting go". Sogyal Rinpoche once described letting go this way -- I invite you to try it.

Hold your arms out in front of you. Palms up. Imagine you have a precious jewel in the palm of each hand. Close your fingers around the jewel in each hand. Hold it tightly. Tighter.

Now let go.

You might think i am asking you to turn your hand over, open your fingers and let the precious jewel drop to the ground. Ah, such loss.

But instead letting go asks that you keep your palms up and simply open your fingers. What is precious still rests in your hand. Open to the world.

When I do this exercise I like to take time to feel how much tension there is in tightly grasping the jewel. How much energy it takes to hold on so tightly. Ironically, with my fingers closed and grasping i cannot even see the jewel! What is precious is being hidden, even from me.

When I let go by opening my fingers it feels to me I experience myself as making an offering of what I hold to be precious...sharing my grief and my gratitude becomes a sacred act.