There are many emotions that we aspire to, but none perhaps has inspired so many teachings, poems, songs, dances, plays, and movies as love.
Love, the Ultimate Good Emotion
Love is often spoken about in reverent terms. It is this pure and perfect part of us, the part that rises above, the part that perseveres, the part that conquers all. Many believe that our consciousness or soul is born of love and will return to love when we die.
Jesus is love. Buddha is love.
I love Shania and JJ deeply, crazily, with wild abandon, and all the way. That is my nature. Shania was a three legged dog. She was one of those super happy, affectionate, dogs who was very easy to love. When she was happy, I was happy. Since she was happy pretty much all the time, so was I. She also made many of the people around her happy. Most of our neighbors loved her and became friends with me because of Shania. Love has a wonderful multiplicative effect of spreading happiness.
This is one side of love.
Love and Loss
There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.
Love, however, is more complex than happily ever after. As soon as there is love, a relationship, or an attachment, loss enters the picture.
- We fear the loss of our loved-one to someone else, this breeds jealousy.
- We fear the loss of other opportunities for love. What are we missing out on?
- We fear the loss of independence. How do I live with you?
- We fear abandonment and loneliness. How do I live without you?
- We fear the loss of our loved-one to illness, aging, and death.
My parents divorced when I was about 9 years old. Looking back, I now see that my mother suffered greatly from that loss. She did not know how to respond to her pain, and as a result, she said and did many cruel things. We children were caught in the middle and we suffered greatly from it.
Love is not simple. We can choose to label love-gone-wrong as over-attachment, grasping, or addiction, but whichever label we use does not change the nature or complexity of the emotion. Love can cause people to act in extreme ways and it can cause great suffering.
In the very beginning I tried to deny loss. I told myself that I was fine emotionally, and focused on the physical symptoms of loss purely from a body illness standpoint. Later, I thought of loss as the price I had to pay for love. I love both Shania and JJ, so the deep pain I feel after their death is the price I have to pay for all the love and happiness they brought into my life. Love came with strings attached, but I still saw love and loss as opposites: love is good and loss is bad. While closer to the truth, this is not an accurate picture of love and loss.
I now realize that loss is simply a continuation of love. I still love Shania and JJ deeply and all the way. They are gone, but my love for them has not changed. As a result, I miss them greatly. This, in turn, causes me to feel deep pain, sorrow, grief, and suffering.
Rejecting loss or the pain of loss means rejecting love and the pain of love. They are one and the same. If I did not love them, I would not feel the deep pain that I feel. Loss is the name that we give love after our loved-one has died or left us. Pain and loss are not a taint on my memories, but part of the love that accompanies them. I am not ill nor do I have anything to blame myself for, except for continuing to love.
When we lose a loved-one, we still yearn for them.
The love continues, and we feel pain.
The stronger the love, the stronger the pain.
This is what we call grief and suffering.
Recovering from Anxiety and Grief
How then does one recover from loss? Should I cast my love away now that it is no longer convenient? To avoid the pain, I tried very hard not to think of Shania and JJ, but that only worked for the very short term. In the end, I struggled, failed, and suffered even more.
I have a lifetime of unprocessed emotions, so I was carrying a lot of emotional baggage. This contributed to my anxiety and depression. However, a big part of why I was so stuck was because of the way I viewed my emotions – in terms of duality, opposites, good and bad.
- Love is good, loss is bad.
- Happiness is good, sadness is bad.
- Courage is good, fear is bad.
This flawed view of life created considerable internal conflict because I wanted to eradicate one side of the emotion equation, which is impossible. I cannot install courage without facing fear and I cannot embrace love without embracing the pain of loss.
To resolve this conflict, we need to move beyond this limited view of emotions as good or bad. Courage is not purely good and fear bad, they are both part of a whole. One does not exist without the other. Similarly, love is not purely good and loss bad, they are also part of a whole. The key to recovery is to stop rejecting and to embrace them all with loving-kindness.
Does this mean we must feel pain and suffering? Yes, we will need to face our pain and our suffering. This is necessary, just as we need to face our fear. Mindful breathing, emotion recognition and regulation (RAIN, RULER), cognitive behavioral therapy, energy therapy (tapping), somatic therapy, and more, are all tools that can help us tend to our emotions.
Facing our difficult emotions will help us build tolerance. Tolerance will expand our lives and ultimately set us free to access any memory, analyze any thought, feel any emotion, and no longer be controlled by our pain, fears, and worries. In this way we transform our pain into limitless freedom.
I bask in the glory of their love,
And cry in the shadow of their loss.
Love and loss, I hold both in loving-kindness,
And in so doing, I find peace at last.
Love and Letting Go
What does it mean to let it go? In the past, the “experts” advised people to try and let go fully after the death of a loved-one. Nowadays, the new recommendation is to let go of the physical relationship, but continue with the emotional and spiritual bond. I am not sure anyone can let go of those, even if they wanted to.
So what does acceptance mean? Acceptance means accepting my new life without Shania and JJ in it. In the past, when I woke up, I thought of the day I would have with them and I was happy. Now when I wake up, I think that they are no longer here, and I am sad. But that is ok. I lean into the fear, sorrow, and pain and think about Shania and JJ with love. The joy is still there. When we see that the pain comes from love, then the anger and self-blame drops away, some of the fear drops away, and the pain seems worthy to bear.
There will never be another Shania or JJ. They are the loves of my life and part of them will be with me for as long as I shall live. There will be other loves and it will never be the same, but to paraphrase a wise soul, “life is broken, but still good”. By denying the pain, I deny my love, and in so doing I deny myself.
Although, in the present, there are some things that you dislike, there are many more conditions that make happiness possible. It is true that when you walk through a garden, you can see that a tree is dying. But the sadness of that situation should not prevent you from enjoying the rest of the garden that is still alive. Don’t let the dead tree image stop you from enjoying all the trees growing strong and beautiful. Look again and you will see how many things there are in the garden of your life that you can still enjoy.
~~[Thich Nhat Hanh]