Empathy

I have been volunteering with a hospice organization. At first, I was not sure what I should say when sitting by the bedside of someone who is leaving this earthly realm very soon. After weeks of trying to convince myself that I had something of value that I could give to the hospice residents, I came across this poem by Susan Frybort. It helped me realize that my presence, silently sitting and listening could be what I might offer. This could be a soothing salve.

I hope when I take my last breath, someone is sitting beside me. Not with words of wisdom that might make my departure easier. That would be too heavy a burden to ask of anyone. But rather, their attentiveness. Just their being.

Empathy – spoken poetry

EMPATHY

by Susan Frybort

Today I woke feeling my ordinariness next to me.

I never wrote a masterpiece, painted a perfect landscape
or played an etude.
I cannot beat the African healing drum like a shaman
to intercede between the realms.
I don’t know how to touch people to resolve them of all their inner conflict or traumas.
I never looked into a crystal and saw the divine…
I’m not a psychologist,
a therapist, a counselor or a saint.
And Das is not part of my name,
my name is ordinary.
As I thought about how the opportunity to tend to a painful wound
as if it were an injured plant
or delicately administer soothing salve to another earthly soul
would not be mine because I do not possess the official requirements,
I felt a particular sadness,
as though I were, somehow, not enough.

Then suddenly I remembered everything is well within me.

For I know that all my certainties
and all that has ever been established before me
are in sacred correspondence.
I know about the stars and how they gather as constellations
to guide the wanderer through all the eras.
I know of the bamboo that will not flower until many years pass by
and how the blossom gives its life as nourishment and protection
so that the tiny seedling within may push forward and grow.
I know there are mysteries not fully understood.
I know each life holds a unique path,
eventually drawing to an end for all.

And when I sat at the bedside of an elderly woman dying,
or on my knees next to a fading animal struggling for her last breaths
after a long earthly journey,
there was no difference in my attentiveness.
I felt equal compassion for both,
then wept the same mournful tears.

And I know for certain that when I look into another human being,
whether they have eyes to see or not,
I can behold them.

I can view the hurt in them and feel the wounds in me.
It is a pain that agonizes quietly inside
as we share it…
So I reach out to comfort them.
These are the opportunities to extend
and touch another soul with all that is in me now.

And that is good enough for me.

Stay

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known …suffering…. and have found their way out of the depths.  (They) have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.”   ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Today I am sharing a poem from a wonderful book I have recently come across that has brought me hope and comfort. It is by Jan Richardson titled, “The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief.”

Though the author wrote this book of blessings during her husband’s illness and subsequent passing, grief can come to us in many forms. Grief over lost dreams, over parts of ourselves that are not loved, the loss of so much of the natural world, the loss of our or a loved one’s physical abilities. Aging. Loss of memory. Loss of a pet.

But if we can stay with our grief until we come through to the other side, what blessings may await?

Blessing for the Brokenhearted

What if I told you that by avoiding going deep and walking through the darkness of heartbreak, you only take yourself further and further away from who you truly are.

Many of us, if not most of us, do not believe we can carry that kind of pain for very long. We avoid feeling it and skim along the surface of the heartbreak, never taking a deep dive.

We keep afloat with distractions, self-medication, overwork, anything else but feeling.

These dark times, when we sink into grief and let it hold us like a heavy blanket, are the times that give birth to a new way of being in the world. That is that fertile soil from which we emerge with a tender yet strong heart, a heart that, despite the painful memories, wants to give and receive even more. A heart that knows how to carry grief and love together.

The only way out is through. And without that deep dive, we never know who we could become on the other side.

As Henry David Thoreau stated, “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”

Below is a Blessing for the Brokenhearted. I hope it gives you comfort.

A poem by Jan Richardson @ www.paintedprayerbook.com

BLESSING FOR THE BROKENHEARTED

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still,

as if it trusts
that its own
persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.

—Jan Richardson

Earth’s Desire

If your heart is heavy, if you feel exhausted from it all, plant your fingers in the soil of our Mother Earth, breathe in her breath that gently touches your skin as it passes, and walk barefoot on her body.

Let our Mother heal you. And let us care for her in return. This exchange of nurturing is what she needs now, as do we.

I share this poem written by a late, great elder of our time, Thomas Berry.

Video of Earth’s Desire by Thomas Berry

Earth’s Desire

By Thomas Berry

To be seen
in her loveliness

to be tasted
in her delicious
fruits

to be listened to
in her teaching

to be endured
in the severity
of her discipline

to be experienced
as the maternal
source
whence we come

the destiny
to which we
return.

The Thing Is

When the darkness of despair

finally gives way

to that small sliver of light,

I pull my eyes upward

toward the source of the light

And inward

to my heart,

knowing the two are connected.

I grab the edge of the light

and I hold tight

And let it bring me back to this indelible world.


Click for the Video of The Thing Is by Ellen Bass

Video of the poem The Thing Is

The Thing Is

BY ELLEN BASS

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you down like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

Kindness

When I first heard this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, I viscerally felt the truth of it in my body. The truth I felt is that great suffering is the door through which kindness enters and becomes the only thing that makes sense in this world. Kindness to each other, the earth, animals, every living thing.

The one line that stopped my eyes on the page, and that I kept going back to over and over again is the line about the Indian in a white poncho being dead on the side of the road. I thought, why this line in such a beautiful poem? What does this mean?

Even though we walk through life thinking we have time, things like this won’t happen to me, I must admit to myself, that really, it can all be over in an instant. This man on the side of the road could be any of us on any given day. So what matters most in this transitory world? Where life ebbs and flows, in and out of existence? I wonder if Naomi Shihab Nye might have found the answer.

Click the picture for the video or read the poem below.

Kindness

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

The Witchery of Living

A poem by Mary Oliver. This is an excerpt from that poem. I plan on uploading a video of the whole poem in the near future, but I find this section particularly meaningful at this time in my life.

Click the picture for the video or read below.

To Begin With, The Sweet Grass

Mary Oliver

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s praising.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
   still another.

Love After Love

The weight of heartbreak and loss can envelop us in what feels like darkness so deep and wide, it is unimaginable to think of receiving love from another again. However, the most neglected and estranged person we encounter in our lives is oftentimes ourselves.

It is possible to love ourselves again, or for the first time. This poem by Derek Walcott tells us to discard the letters and preconceived images we have of ourselves that were borne out of disappointment and to love those parts of ourselves we have neglected. Fall in love with that stranger.

Love After Love

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Prescription for the Disillusioned

Too often, we only have indifference, neglect, or even contempt for ourselves. Yet it is self-compassion that opens our hard shells to new beginnings and out of the illusion of futility. It is imperative in these times that we show ourselves the compassion we wish others would show to the suffering. Who among us is not suffering at times and who among us is not worthy of compassion?

Click the picture for the video or read below.

Prescription for the Disillusioned

by Rebecca del Rio

Come new to this day.
Remove the rigid overcoat of experience,
the notion of knowing,
the beliefs that cloud your vision.

Leave behind the stories of your life.
Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation.
Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp
of your useless fears.

Arrive curious, without the armor of certainty,
the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined.
Live the life that chooses you,
new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.

– Rebecca del Rio

How The Stars Get in Your Bones

A poem by Jan Richardson tells of the luminosity that can come from integrating one’s grief and letting it set fire to the fractured parts within. As caregivers to loved ones, nature, the world, we are burdened with an enormous responsibility that may feel like a suffocating weight. However, this weight can be used as alchemy to form diamonds.

Click the picture for the video or read the poem below

How the Stars Get in Your Bones

by Jan Richardson

Sapphire, diamond, emerald, quartz:
think of every hard thing
that carries its own brilliance,
shining with the luster that comes
only from uncountable ages
in the earth, in the dark,
buried beneath unimaginable weight,
bearing what seemed impossible,
bearing it still.

And you, shouldering the grief
you had thought so solid, so impermeable,
the terrible anguish
you carried as a burden
now become—
who can say what day it happened?—
a beginning.

See how the sorrow in you
slowly makes its own light,
how it conjures its own fire.

See how radiant
even your despair has become
in the grace of that sun.

Did you think this would happen
by holding the weight of the world,
by giving in to the press of sadness
and time?

I tell you, this blazing in you—
it does not come by choosing
the most difficult way, the most daunting;
it does not come by the sheer force
of your will.
It comes from the helpless place in you
that, despite all, cannot help but hope,
the part of you that does not know
how not to keep turning
toward this world,
to keep turning your face
toward this sky,
to keep turning your heart
toward this unendurable earth,
knowing your heart will break
but turning it still.

I tell you,
this is how the stars
get in your bones.

This is how the brightness
makes a home in you,
as you open to the hope that burnishes
every fractured thing it finds
and sets it shimmering,
a generous light that will not cease,
no matter how deep the darkness grows,
no matter how long the night becomes.

Still, still, still
the secret of secrets
keeps turning in you,
becoming beautiful,
becoming blessed,
kindling the luminous way
by which you will emerge,
carrying your shattered heart
like a constellation within you,
singing to the day
that will not fail to come.

One or Two Things

A short contemplation of nature and now for this Sunday morning. This is where I find divinity and strength, though hard at times it may be. I sit or take a walk outside if even for a few moments, and notice the smallest of creatures in flight or running across the path. And I remember, everything is divine, everything will pass out of this world. This world is so beautiful if I can just stop and breathe into it.

One or Two Things

Mary Oliver

1
Don’t bother me. I’ve just been born.

2
The butterfly’s loping flight
carries it through the country of the leaves
delicately, and well enough to get it
where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping
here and there to fuzzle the damp throats
of flowers and the black mud; up
and down it swings, frenzied and aimless; and sometimes

for long delicious moments it is perfectly
lazy, riding motionless in the breeze on the soft stalk
of some ordinary flower.


3
The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
crow voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,

and never once mentioned forever,


4
which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.

5
One or two things are all you need
to travel over the blue pond, over the deep
roughage of the trees and through the stiff
flowers of lightning—some deep
memory of pleasure, some cutting
knowledge of pain.


6
But to lift the hoof!
For that you need
an idea.

7
For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then
the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
“Don’t love your life
too much,” it said,

and vanished
into the world.

Pushing Through

Over the past two years, I have experienced more loss than my entire life before this time.  I know I am not the only one.  It has been a dark night for our world, a darkness we must walk through in order to exit, hopefully, wiser and more compassionate.  There is a quote I like that helps me remember that the darkness must be embraced and listened to for the alchemy to transform ourselves and our world.  “The only way out is through.  The only way through is in.” 

However, this is only half of the alchemy.  We have been taught in our culture that, after a short time, the only acceptable way to grieve is behind closed doors, alone.  And it does not address the daily grief that those in caregiving roles shoulder almost daily.  We have been taught to “get over it,” “move on,” “do not burden others.”

What we have forgotten in our culture is the other half of the grieving process, the way in which the transformation can happen for us as individuals and as a society.  We in the “modern world” have lost the communal experience, the vessel in which we come together as a community and hear and hold each other through our grief.   

This poem by Rainer Maria Rilke may speak to that reaching out.  Whom is he asking for help?  A divine presence?  A loved one?  His ancestors?  His community? 

I hope this poem gives you some solace and perhaps an answer for your own situation. 

https://www.wevideo.com/view/2459050750

Pushing Through
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

 I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.

You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.[1] 

The Patterns of Your Life

Let us say, your story goes like this….

This is another poem that I contemplate almost daily, The Art of Fugue VI by Jan Zwicky. Why is it that the patterns of our lives repeat themselves? What is it that we need to understand, hear, or learn? I listen more intently now to the quiet between the moments of my noisy life. Perhaps someday, I will hear what I need to hear.

Click the picture for the video or read the poem below:

The Art of Fugue, Part VI
Jan Zwicky

Once again, the moment of impossible
transition, the bow, its silent voice
above the string. Let us say
the story goes like this. Let us say
you could start anywhere.
Let us say you took your splintered being
by the hand, and led it
to the centre of a room: starlight
through the floorboards of the soul.
The patterns of your life
repeat themselves until you listen.
Forgive this. Say now
what you have to say.

To Love What Death Can Touch

To Love What Death Can Touch

Recently, I have found much comfort in this 12th-Century poem, especially during this time when everything seems to be changing and out of our control. In order to truly feel the depth of appreciation for those people and beings we love, whether a parent, a pet or a flower, it is necessary to see that their end will come as well. Everything we love, we will lose. It is an unchanging law of this physical world. I try to walk the path of holding these two seeming opposites in my hands. Grief and gratitude. They are twins of the same mother, love.

Here is the 12th-Century poem in written and video form (click the picture above). The author is unknown.

‘Tis a fearful thing

To love

What death can touch.

To love, to hope, to dream

And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

Love,

But a holy thing

To love what death can touch.