The Place That Hurts

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 I wrote the blog that follows a while ago, but decided it was too raw to post. I so admire my friends who have the capacity to be open in the moment of their suffering. They provide a window for the rest of us into the hardest experiences of another human, and show, through their openness, that suffering is not unique. Our particular flavor may be ours alone but the genre is universal. So I’m channeling those friends today, on the heels of a breakup and sharing this now.

When I was 25, and at my first yoga teacher training, the teacher said: “You, and you alone, are responsible for your life. Nobody can save you, but yourself.” Or maybe he didn’t say that, but that is what I heard, in our philosophy class, sitting there in the humidity, mosquitoes buzzing, under a hot Bahamas sun.

Just down the beach, jolly, sunburned tourists were knocking back fishbowl cocktails at an Atlantis resort. Sometimes their tour boat would come by the yoga deck, and someone on the loud speaker would say, “And over there’s the Yoga Center. You can’t drink. You can’t eat meat. You can’t have sex. You gotta wake up at 5am. And people like standing on their heads.” It was a crowd pleaser, always getting some laughs.

It wasn’t the strictness of the Ashram that terrified me. It was the concept that we are fundamentally alone, that left me screaming and crying into ocean at night, scaring off the jolly tourist who ventured too near to my end of the beach.

I do, on a philosophical level agree with the traditions that say each human is responsible for his/her/their own emotions and well-being, and that we have to strive to meet our own needs. That our personal experience is ours alone, and no matter how much we open up, it can never fully be known by another. Only, on a human level, I have needs that I feel certain can only be met in relationship with another. And I’m not talking about sex (though that applies here too). What I’m talking about is the need to feel loved, supported, and cherished. Yes, self-love is important. Yes, it is good to start with supporting yourself and cherishing your “one, wild and precious life.” Yes, a thousand times yes. But that only goes so far, which is to say, it doesn’t go far enough.

We know we are hard wired for connection. An article from The Atlantic on this subject posited: “Social connections are as important to our survival and flourishing as the need for food, safety, and shelter. But over the last fifty years, while society has been growing more and more prosperous and individualistic, our social connections have been dissolving. We volunteer less. We entertain guests at our homes less. We are getting married less. We are having fewer children. And we have fewer and fewer close friends with whom we’d share the intimate details of our lives. We are increasingly denying our social nature, and paying a price for it. Over the same period of time that social isolation has increased, our levels of happiness have gone down, while rates of suicide and depression have multiplied.”

Rifts in relationships, loss of relationships, vacant holes that we hope will be filled by relationships…these all cause profound suffering. I am lucky to have many meaningful connections in my life—incredible friends and family, and a dog, who I adore, and who gives my life more meaning than just about anything or anyone else. And still, even with this relationship wealth, I sometimes feel like I am starving. Like I might not be able to overcome the grief associated with not having a long term intimate partner. And I don’t care how un-politically correct it is to co-opt the verb, starving, or how petty it might seem that a life filled with so much good, could be cast into pall by one missing ingredient. I am sure there are others who would handle this grief more graciously and more gracefully and more peacefully, but I will need more lifetimes to have that equanimity.

People I love are fond of telling me that I will find love again. As if they have access to a crystal ball. As if they can actually be certain. What I know is certain is this: Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t. And the “maybe I won’t” reality feels crushing.

In a recent session, my therapist asked me why I keep going on all these yoga and meditation retreats. My glib answer was: “So I can remind myself that I am responsible for my misery, thereby compounding my misery, because I can’t even blame anyone for it, but myself.” She let that marinate in silence. “I’m trying to make meaning out of my life,” I said. “And the way I most want to do that—by having my own family—might not be in the cards for me. And so, I’m trying, and thus far failing, to make peace with that. And yoga and meditation are the best ways I know for getting glimpses of that peace.”

My brother recently said to me, “I suspect everyone has a crushing grief that they are living with. And you just move through it moment by moment. And some people are better at doing that than others.” And I think he is right. That everyone truly is “fighting a great battle,” and that there is nothing to do but breath into the moment, no matter how crushing it may be.