Ghost

You still haunt me
in all the hollow places
I once harbored you 
an obstruction in my lungs
when I open the door
of my parents' home
a tightness in my throat
when I drive through the trees
on twisting, tear-stained roads
bittersweet pinpricks of the heart
promising this shameful flush
of feeling will never fade
I fear the thought
of releasing this phantom
and making room
for something new
I guess you can't be in love
with a ghost forever

A Thousand Deaths

A morbid fixation on death overcomes me from time to time. Usually I don’t think much about it. Death hasn’t touched my life much at all in these 28 years. Somehow I haven’t really lost many close family members or friends. The death of beloved animals has been the majority of my encounters with this grim shadow that lingers on the edge of life. It’s been easy for me to live in denial of this unpleasant reality.

Last night as I was reading through the terrible ends of characters in books, I couldn’t escape the contemplation of my own inevitable departure from this world. I was petrified at the idea that I would die alone in some unimaginable form of physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. I don’t have any children, nor will I. I’m also the youngest person in my family. I only have a few close friends. It’s hard for me to picture how I would even avoid a horrific demise besides my near certain assumption that the earth with end before I have to worry about dying of old age or disease.

Then as I was falling asleep that night, a truth I have known for quite some time, but never fully felt in this way crashed over me. It is utterly pointless for me to spend my time and energy playing out this possible future in my head. If this is my fate, if my life ends in isolation and agony, so be it. Thinking about that will never be able to prevent it or change it. Yes, it’s hard to accept that death will find me one day. Even harder to accept that my final moments may be particularly sad and full of suffering. But making myself sick with fear from these thoughts will not spare me this death. Instead it will cause me to experience a thousand deaths rather than just one.

Learning From Loneliness, Loss, and Stagnation

Focusing on the past and trying to make sense of my previous mistakes and experiences used to be a much bigger part of my mental landscape. I think when I was younger it was easier to line things up in a neat and orderly manner in order to create a story that made sense and gave me a sense of direction. Eventually it seemed like I had created so many memories, lived through so many years, met and lost so many people that I started to lose the plot. There no longer seemed to be a way to make all these seemingly random pieces fit together.

One of the good things about shifting my focus away from the past is that I don’t ever dwell on regrets. Someone asked me the other day what one of my biggest regrets was, and it honestly took me a long time to even come up with any. I’ve certainly made a lot of egregious mistakes throughout my time on this earth, but do I really regret those mistakes? I don’t know. I do regret the way I’ve treated a lot of people in my life. But even then, that’s more because of the way it affected them, not how it’s affected me. Although I feel guilty for being so cruel and selfish when I was younger, I never would have learned what I know now or become the person I am today if I hadn’t behaved that way in the past.

For instance, one of my biggest regrets is probably the way I treated my mother during my late teens. Part of me does wonder how I might be different if I had been willing to accept her support and love during some of my darkest, loneliest times. Still I think I wouldn’t have the perspective to appreciate her the way I do now if I hadn’t rejected and hated her all those years ago. Despite my coldness, I was able to feel just how much she loved me. Even when I basically threw her love away each time, she continued to offer it to me at every opportunity. She never returned my disdain or cruelty. She never left or gave up on me. Because of that time in my life, I now cherish her more than I think I ever could have otherwise. One of my biggest regrets still led to the discovery of truly unconditional love and the unwavering support of a mother for her child. And understanding just how lucky I am to have that.

Lately I have been feeling completely stuck and without direction in life. I keep struggling to move past this uncomfortable stagnation. At the same time I just can’t seem to envision how or when this feeling will change. Looking back at the past, particularly our own mistakes, can be painful, but there is a value to exploring our own story every now and then. There is a lot that we can learn from piecing together the seemingly disconnected parts of our colorful pasts. One of those things is refilling our faith that things might not make sense right now, but one day they will.

No matter how badly we might feel we have failed, or how irredeemable our actions may seem in the moment, you can never be sure the future benefits, knowledge, and value we may gain from them in the future. Just because we can’t see it right now, can’t even conceive how that could be possible, we can at least acknowledge that it’s happened in the past. By reflecting back we can recognize how some of our darkest moments eventually, without our conscious awareness, transformed into some of our greatest strengths, our deepest insights, our most valuable lessons.

Even though things have been confusing, difficult, and unsettling for me for what seems like ages now, it won’t feel like this forever. One of the scariest things is the feeling that I’m wasting time, years of my life, of my youth. But our time can never truly be wasted. No matter what we are doing, whether we want to be, or believe we are, we are always growing, learning, and changing. This time is not being wasted, despite how it feels. Periods of stagnation can just as easily be viewed as periods of incubation. This perspective might not make it go any faster, but it does make it just a little bit easier to keep going, even when you don’t know where you’re going or when it feels like you’re actually going no where at all. One day it’ll all make sense again. You’ll be able to look back and see that it was all necessary, that it was all worth it. An egg just looks like an egg from the moment it’s laid to the moment it hatches. Just because we might not be able to see or understand what’s developing within, doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be the day it’s finally revealed.

Positive Pain

Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.

When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”

There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.

I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.

In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.

Sorrowful Sunrise

Let the tide swallow me whole, like morning light through windows. Let that dark water take me home.

Where We Went Wrong – The Hush Sound

The sun slowly rises dispelling the peaceful blackness of night. The stillness, the contentment of mind that lingers on the edge just before consciousness fully reemerges, is stolen in an instant. It is replaced by the heavy weight of memory. It is replaced by the knowledge of the day that came before and the pain that has waited for us patiently throughout the night. It slips back in under half-opened eyelids. It stings like the prickling of so many tears. It throbs in synchronization with the dull ache in my head.

Glancing out into the dawn, snow falls in heavy clumps, coating the earth in a sheet of white. Frail flowers that sprouted too soon suffocate under it’s weight. A few days ago spring had arrived. Now even the weather emphasizes the shift in my personal reality. Winter is not yet over. Tender hopes smothered in harsh contrast with new sorrow, like the creaking skeletal trees against the pure white backdrop.

There is a sharpness of focus that comes with suffering. Pain paints the world in vivid color. Each moment feels crisp and inescapable. There is a sense of complete surrender in despair. Sometimes it feels good to lie down under the wheels of life and let it pass over you without resistance. To accept that there is no escape from the bitter taste of mourning. To submit to the violent pangs of unavoidable loss.

Sorrow seems like a homecoming. Drifting back down to the place where I belong. There is a sense of peace, a strange comfort in that belonging. There is justice in this pain, because I deserve it. It seems my soul is only suited for suffering. Happiness and love are substances that were never mine to hold. They are too slippery in my clumsy fingers. The struggle to hold onto them is a cruelty I can only subject myself to for so long. Now I can finally rest again. I have finally come home to the stillness, to the hollow space at the bottom of everything.

Premature Suffering

Of all the things I fear, it isn’t now and it isn’t here.

Make a Change; Nahko Bear & Medicine for the People

I have been so very fortunate to not have suffered much misfortune in my life. My family members and myself have been healthy and safe. I’ve been treated with kindness, love, and respect by the vast majority of people in my life, most importantly my parents. I’ve never had to go to sleep hungry. Never lost a home due to financial strain or environmental disaster. I’ve always had wonderful, close friends. I’ve always lived amongst the lush green silence of nature. I’ve only experienced the loss of one close relative. I’ve never even broken a bone or been hospitalized.

Despite this, I seem to internally be in a state of constant suffering. I suffer the things that have not happened, the things that have yet to happen, the things that might happen someday. I’ve worried myself sick over thoughts of things that never came to pass. The vast majority of the things I’ve suffered were not realities, only fantasies. Anxiety is a near constant state of suffering future events. The worst part of that is, while there likely won’t always be something happening in your life that’s painful or frightening, there will always be something in the near of distant future that could be. This allows me to prolong my suffering indefinitely.

My pattern is to tell myself that whatever it is I’m fixating on is the “reason” I’m upset/unhappy. I desperately wish I had a magic wand to resolve this particular, isolated issue so that I could find peace and happiness. Even if I had the ability to immediately address, resolve, or prevent whatever it is I’m worrying about, I seem to forget that something else will just as quickly press in on me to take it’s place. Sometimes that same fear comes and goes on a revolving cycle, shaking me to my core and then dissipating without consequence.

My anxiety tells me that I have to be constantly vigilant, that I cannot let these possible catastrophes catch me by surprise. Somehow it feels like if I keep my mind constantly glued to what might happen, I’ll be more prepared if/when it does. I know this to be false though. For example, my dog has been ill on and off for months now. Each time she has a flare up, I grieve over her as if she’s died. I fear that day’s inevitable arrival and I ruminate on the pain it will cause me endlessly. Then when she feels better in a couple days, I forget all about it. Do I really believe that thinking about my beloved pup’s death will make it hurt any less when it happens? Obviously it will hurt terribly, unbearably. I can’t prevent that by making myself experience it before it even occurs. All that does is intensify and prolong my suffering.

This perpetual fear of the future is a thief that robs me of all the joys and wonderful moments of my life. It’s devastating to realize, looking back, that although I’m exhausted from the daily suffering I carry with me, nothing bad has actually happened to me. Surely my dog, as well as everyone else I love, will die someday. How can grieving those losses right now make that situation better? The knowledge that bad things can and likely will happen in the future shouldn’t take away the pleasure of living today when everything is alright. The thought of death and loss doesn’t have to be something that causes pain in the present. It can be a reminder of how wonderful our lives our right now. It can remind us to treasure every moment we spend together, to not take even the smallest moments of tenderness for granted, to make sure we express how much we love those in our lives.

My dog is going to die some day. Maybe tomorrow, maybe five years from now. Maybe I’ll be in a car accident on my way home and never have to experience her death at all. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Even the things that seem inevitable, might be things that you won’t end up being around for anyway. The future is all just possibilities, created and crafted by our own limited minds. The present is real, it’s right in front of us. We hold it in our hands right now. It should be cherished. It deserves our full attention, our mindful presence, and loving awareness. Don’t let the future take away what you already have. If control is what I’m after, I should focus on what I can control and that is this moment, what the universe has placed before me in each unfolding moment, as it happens.

Pain Puts Things in Perspective

Without the fear of loss would we ever truly appreciate anything? We suffer from the mere thought of a loved one becoming ill or dying. We wish that we could live in a world without such awful realities. Yet, I wonder if a world without these negative moments, would be worth living in. It’s easy to imagine that in a world without pain, sickness, or death we would all be eternally happy, loving, and grateful. I’d like to believe this is true, but part of me knows myself too well to even pretend.

When I first became an atheist, the loss of the afterlife I’d imagined, didn’t make life less meaningful, it made it more so. Life was no longer simply a dress-rehearsal for eternity. This was it. This was what mattered, all that mattered, and I had to make every moment count. There would be no waiting to reconcile with someone past the pearly gates. There would be no final repentance or forgiveness or second chance to share my love with those most precious to me. This what it. This time I have on earth was all that I was going to get. Wasting it was not an option. When I died, when a family member or friend died, that was it, the final curtain call. Never knowing when that moment might come, the contemplation of that fact, is what give me the courage to not hold back.

Oh course, we can’t help wishing we could avoid it when the pain inevitably comes. I desperately wish that my dog was healthy and I didn’t have to go spend god only knows how much on expensive treatment, but somehow at the same time, I’m grateful for this experience. The small, petty problems of day to day pale in comparison to the joy of holding my dog in my arms. Even my recent fears and worries about money, seem insignificant. I have enough to save my baby, and that’s all I need. What a blessing it is that I can afford to help her. Nothing else matters.

Ideally we’d like to always recognize the love we are blessed with and never take an opportunity to bask in that love for granted. The reminder that my dog will die one day, that she will become sick and beyond help one day, makes the time I share with her all the more poignant. I want to think I’d always treat her with the devotion, attention, and affection she deserves regardless of the time we have in the future, but I know that isn’t true. These past few days of fear and uncertainty have shown me that. They’ve highlighted for me just how much I have been taking her for granted.

How many times have we said we’re “too busy” for those dear to us? Would we ever have enough time for them if our time together was not limited? Or would we keep putting off those quiet, tender, attentive moments indefinitely? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that I’ve never felt more grateful for every caress and sloppy kiss shared with my sweet dog daughter than I have in the last few days. Even the thought of her sweet, loving face and wagging tail brings tears to my eyes. I want to spend every moment I can with her. I want to make sure she knows just how important she is to me. I want her to feel this love I hold for her inside and know what I cherish her.

It pains me to say it, but I know that without this recent health scare, I would be continuing on as always. I’d be paying little attention to her and getting annoyed at her for little things. I’d speak harshly to her for not doing as she’s told. I’d feel irritated by always having to clean up after her. The realities of suffering, pain, illness, and death are sadly essential. We need them to shock us back to our senses. When faced with these hard truths, we are reminded again and again that love is the only thing that really matters. Everything else is irrelevant. Suddenly we see just how absurd it is to waste time and energy on anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, fear, etc. We should be spending every ounce of our beings on putting forth more love and happiness into the world. No phone call is more important than acknowledging your child. No chore is so urgent that you can’t take the time to be kind.

These are life lessons that we must learn again and again. In this way, the things that bring us the most agony in life are actually things to be grateful for. Death and loss are hard to accept, nearly impossible at times, but without them there would also be no love, no peace, no joy, no perspective. We must always try to be grateful for it all, even when it’s hard.

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