Last weekend, I climbed a mountain with my sangha friends to honour my husband and to raise money for a fund set up in his name. I came home from that mountain imbued with a new courage. My hike up that trail, under the most adverse conditions, has helped me to let go of the fears I have had around conquering other obstacles in my life.
I have been afraid to let go of my beloved husband. I will never let go of his memory, or the love I have for him. Those things will always remain. I think of him every day, in every moment, and his presence lingers in this house and this village and these hills. His love and generosity brought me to the colourful world of Northern England, a place I am happy to call home, and I am so grateful that knowing him brought such a richness to my life.
But I have needed to make room in my mind and heart for who I am to be, and to make this home my own. I have needed to put away some of his things to find the parts of me that have been hidden. I have needed to make space, to clear, to cleanse, to let go.
The thought of letting go and making room for what is possible in my future without my husband carries with it a great deal of fear and pain. Who am I without my Stan? How can I carry on without him by my side? What do I talk about if I am not talking about him? He made my life so full and interesting. How do I deal with the emptiness of a world without him in it?
I am so afraid of emptiness. This fear is deep, and old, and was with me long before I met him. It was one of the tensions in our relationship. It bothered him that I had to fill my time with various sources of noise and information as a buffer against the world. I spent far too much time, he thought, (and told me regularly), reading newspapers and browsing the internet and watching telly. He wanted me to be fully present. He wanted me to be able to just sit with him and not be consumed with other things.
In time, with him, I learned to do that. I gave up my obsession with reading the Saturday Guardian and the Sunday Observer, and I left the smartphone in my pocket. I turned off the television. I learned to shut down those distractions to focus on him, and on us, and to relish our time together.
Since he died, those distractions have returned. I have told myself I deserve a break from the sadness. I have turned on the telly more often, at night, and I have kept access to the internet at my fingertips. I have been afraid to let go of these buffers against this life, a life without the man I loved. I have seen these buffers as company, as tools of nourishment, much as a mother brings soup and comfort to her ailing child.
But they are devoid of substance, and they have outlasted their purpose. Using them feels no longer necessary, and wrong. I want to enter into this new life without tranquilisers. I want to be present and able to meet whatever comes. The pain. The sorrow. Perhaps a sliver of light around the corner. Perhaps a hint, one day, of joy.
I came down from that mountain feeling brave. I realised I could walk through my fears and move through the obstacles in my path. I came home with a willingness to let go of the need to always feel full, with a desire to turn toward emptiness, to make room for what comes.
Remember those bumper stickers from the seventies that said kill your television? I decided to kill it. I have cancelled my TV subscription, and I am going to give them away. They will be gone by the middle of July. I will still have access to shows on the internet, and there will be times when I will miss it, I am certain, and since I have done it, I have sometimes been afraid. But I feel liberated, too. I hope to read more, write more, to study and sit and meditate. I will have more room to remember him. I will have time, and space, and silence.
I am making some changes to our home, as well. I have taken up the carpet on the stairs and in the hallway. I will learn to live with the chaos of DIY projects, for awhile, and I will paint and sand and make things new. I have weeded the garden and planted flowers.
I am clearing away, cleansing, making room. In the midst of this huge leap forward, I feel little and afraid. I feel courageous and strong. All of those things are present. And I will be present to greet them.
One of Stan’s favourite poems was written by Rumi, a Sufi Mystic. He sent it to me via email when we first began to talk. It was read at his son’s funeral. It speaks to the person he was, and to the person I want to become.
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.