Sunflowers & Sorrow: On Feeling It All

An old photo of me popped up on FB: me, laughing, in a sea of sunflowers as the sun beams. It looks like heaven.

And it was; sort of. 

This was a challenging time, one of my hardest. In the middle of marital separation heading toward divorce, I was living in a temporary housing situation, unsure about life’s direction, and sad beyond the pale. Sad enough that eating was difficult; I subsisted primarily on Chick-fil-a milkshakes and bowls of cereal. Sad enough that I burst into tears when a patient asked me if I was ok; sad and ashamed: my second marriage was not supposed to fail. I was not supposed to face divorce again.

And yet: I stood laughing in the sunflowers field. That was real. 

This entire post could be an accolade about good friends: my friends held the broken pieces of me together, each resting an etheric hand on my soul. They kept me from scattering into the winds; they helped me feel whole.

But recently I attended a dharma talk about the Bodhisattva vows, about what the vows mean. One of the meanings the teacher elaborated on was how “vowing to free all beings” is about vowing to turn toward life, to be with life in all its forms. To return to the body and experience the present moment. 

Another way to do this is to look through the lenses of small mind and large mind: small mind is what gets us through the details of life. Large mind is what allows us to get beyond those details. 

I’m proud of myself when I look at that picture. My small mind busied itself with lots of details during that time: how to show up at work and still support my patients, where to live, how to go about undoing the mundane intertwined pieces of a relationship (car insurance, cell phone accounts, et cetera). But my large mind: it allowed me to find pockets of joy. It allowed for acceptance of all of it. I found freedom right alongside pain; I turned toward the life of my friends, toward the sun, toward the flowers. 

I remember this day. I remember how my body felt: my guts vaguely ached and I welled up with tears at times. There were cracks that entered my consciousness and for a moment I would freefall: How can this be happening? I am a failure. I couldn’t help but fall into the cracks, give myself over to the void, briefly. Then, I reached a hand out, grasped toward the light offered: toward my friend’s daughter, who cuddled on my lap, toward a mug of hot apple cider, toward the warm-crisp Autumn air.

I practiced feeling it all: the despair of life’s instability right next to the grinning face of a sunflower. And suddenly it is six years later, yet another Autumn. I am grateful to still be practicing, still turning toward life, deepening my learning so I can dive deeper, to land even more fully in this moment, this season, right now.

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