A Steadfast Teacher

A Steadfast Teacher June 7, 2010

—If we want to be held, we have to behold.

I admit that well into my thirties, I felt this natural yearning to be seen and heard which in time became urgent and draining. But over the years, I slowly came to realize that being held is more important than being understood. When held, I don’t care so much about being seen or heard; because being held is being seen and heard in a way that affirms our very existence, much the way that the warmth of the sun affirms a flower into blooming. And being present is the soul’s way of holding the mystery of life itself, which attended will reciprocate and hold us back in an embrace we call wonder or awe.

I still want to be seen and heard and understood for who I am, which bestowed without agenda are the gifts of love. But the absence of these affirmations no longer rules my life. It still hurts to be ignored, especially if I’ve shown myself completely. And it still feels thwarting to be misunderstood, especially if I’ve spoken my heart as plainly as I know how. But the truth doesn’t need to be explained to be true. And the elements don’t withhold their innate power because we turn our backs to them. We are like tall leaning trees. We sway in our humanness every which way, while our spirit roots firmly in an ever-deepening connection to the earth.

As vulnerable beings we never lose the need to be seen and heard and understood. But without a felt sense of our connection to the web of life, these needs can rule us, overwhelm us, and even devastate us. Without this larger first-hand connection, I can become dependent and even addicted to external validation. Yet when I can somehow find the courage to be present enough in any given moment, I just might feel the tug of all we are connected to. It is this tug of connection that can restore the authority of our being. To be sure, this felt lifeline between our very core and the Universe won’t eliminate loneliness, but it will right-size it. This felt presence of everything larger than us won’t eliminate pain, but it will absorb it.

This means that when present enough to behold the Universe, we will be held by the mystery. I confess that I know I am being held by the nature of things when I feel this ache way inside. When young, it appeared as a sadness I couldn’t explain. And I thought if I could just get rid of it, I might be happy. But after cancer, I began to realize that this deep ache is the tuning fork of my soul. It is how I know I am close to what matters. In truth, this deep and nameless ache in the presence of beauty and suffering has been a steadfast teacher and friend. It breaks me open to truth when I am too busy or numb to take in beauty. And these breakings of the heart are awe-filled events from which I don’t recover but through which I am uncovered.

All this has led me over time to accept that the heart is a muscle that wants to be exercised. And though it feels like we will end each time the heart is broken, the heart only breaks into a larger version of itself. When I am present to this process, I am broken open. When I withhold my presence, I am just broken. I only know that after my heart is broken, I am still here. And each time, I breathe deeper. I stand taller. Each time I wake to an unexpected ability and urge to be kinder.

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