August 12, 2012

When Things Fall Apart: Hope from the Ashes.

Sadness and I are Friends Now

Part of a three-part series inspired by Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (and others). Part One of this series can be found here: When Things Fall Apart: The Practice

Part Two:  Gone Baby Gone

The very definition of a mother is selfless service to another.
~ Ann Crittenden

If I am guilty of grievous attachment to one particular expectation for my life, it is the idea that I will certainly, absolutely, have a child—a soft, smiling baby with those curiously small toes who will complete my experience on earth, and make me whole.

Of course this child will be charming and entirely precocious (in whatever way she likes, even in her differences). The quirkier the better, I say. I will put to good use all of the years of practice I’ve had preaching to parents about the importance of letting children bang on pots and pans, paint with zeal, construct elaborate forts from the couch cushions, and solve their own problems.

My friends describe me as the kind of uncommon person who actually prefers children to most adults. It’s true—I like their style. Children will tell you they love you right after they tell you that you have flat hair. They are thrilled by cake batter covered spoons, and will always laugh at your jokes about underpants. Children are full of wonder, and believe in fairies.

Don’t think I romanticize. I am experienced with diaper rash, emergency room trips, fevers and tantrums. I am ready for sleep deprivation, and a severely curtailed social life. I’m CPR/First Aid certified, and ready to take whatever that little person dishes out, not to mention what I’m ready to give.

Having a child is my destiny, I am certain of it.

Never mind the troubling fact that I’m on the wrong side of 40 and single. I’ve always been one to ignore the “biological clock” chanting nay-sayers; after all, medical miracles happen every day to mature women who would like a family (Joan Lunden anyone?).

With destiny unquestionably on my side, I set off cheerfully to the fertility clinic.

Confronting Ignorance with Compassion: Sitting Down

What’s encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance. We see very clearly that we’re closing off. That in itself begins to illuminate the darkness of ignorance.

Things fell apart slowly, over two years, and seven attempts to become pregnant. I smiled through the no coffee, no alcohol, prenatal vitamins and foul smelling Chinese herbs. I happily lived most frugally during the expensive fertility treatments. For month after month, I was Tina Fey in Baby Mama, grimacing through the “not pregnant” red line and vowing to try again. This couldn’t be happening to me. Not me.

When a rock star fertility specialist told me that my chances of having a healthy child (who is genetically related to me) was less than three percent, I knew it was game over. How did this happen? How did I let myself get so old before I took the bull by the horns, so to speak? My habit of conveniently ignoring what doesn’t suit me came back to bite me in the ass, with heavy consequences.

My “ignorance” qualified as “not knowing,” but also included “not wanting to know.” This willful ignorance was hard for me to face, since now it was undoable and it made me mad at everyone, mostly myself.

In “Working with Negativity,” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says that there’s nothing wrong with the essential arising of any emotion or life situation. But where it gets problematic is what we make of that, how we make matters worse with how we work with our mind: resentment, bitterness, blame, and on and on.

It wasn’t until I remembered compassion that I was able to let go of the anger. It wasn’t until I started sitting again that I remembered compassion.

Mediation fosters compassion, compassion helps with self-pity. Clear seeing is another way of saying that we have less self-deception. Through the process of practicing the technique day in and day out, year after year, we begin to be very honest with ourselves.

So I sat myself down and remembered kindness. It sure comes in handy with the “clear seeing” part.

Meditation takes us just as we are, with our confusion and our sanity. This complete acceptance of ourselves as we are is a simple, direct relationship with our being. We call this maitri, loving-kindness toward ourselves and others.

Then Came the Sadness: Cultivating Fearlessness

I have always dreaded sadness. In my experience, it has been a visitor with a very bad habit of overstaying its welcome. Reeking like old fish, it hangs on, stinking up my life with soggy tissues and bad television. When I finally gathered the courage to face up to the emotion itself—the clean, tender sadness, without feeding it my sad, sad story, or diverting myself with various numbing rituals—I learned that it didn’t kill me. It didn’t kill me at all.

I experienced my emotional distress instead of making a drama out of it.

We learn to abide with the experience of our emotions.

For the warrior, this experience of sad and tender heart, this genuine heart of sadness, is what gives birth to fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. You are willing to share your heart with others. 

~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

It’s funny how a little courage goes a long way. Sadness and I are friends now.

Then Came the Joy: Daily Aspirations

We make the choice, moment by moment, to be fully here. Attending to our present-moment mind and body is a way of being tender toward self, toward others, and toward the world. This quality of attention is inherent in our ability to love.

I have found that the daily practice of setting aspirations and cultivating a state of appreciation is not only useful, but transforming. It’s the holiest thing I do—creating a personal sense of ceremony around my daily aspirations.

The idea is to dig into the idea of cultivating–actually sowing the seeding of happiness instead of trying to avoid pain. Such a simple idea, yet somewhat harder to remember to do since it’s an active, engaged practice requiring a certain amount of effort.

Authentic joy is not a euphoric state or a feeling of being high. Rather, it is a state of appreciation that allows us to participate fully in our lives.

In the same way that turning up the corners of your mouth into a slight smile in yoga practice can cause a profound shift in your body, taking the time to set intentions or aspirations for the day can set your course toward whatever you intend.

You begin with a sense of intention and go from there.

Note: all quotes in this article are from Pema Chodron, unless otherwise specified.


August 2012 Update:

Since I penned this article in 2010, I have remained committed to creating a family in one form or another, and have looked high and low for the right fit for me. I’ve spent two and a half years inching to the top of a local adoption agency waiting list, and have explored the idea of fostering a child. All of these choices have presented insurmountable difficulties. Still, I remain attached to creating this wee family sooner than later, since I am not getting any younger (in the words of my saucy grandmother).

If you live in the United States, you are aware that health care costs are exorbitant. You also may, or may not be aware, that infertility treatments are not covered by most insurance (mine). I thought I had closed the book on the idea of carrying a baby, until I learned of this final option.

Why would you care?

1. Maybe you don’t. I understand. Bless.

2. Maybe you love teachers and know they didn’t choose the profession for the salary.

3. Maybe you understand what it’s like to fight for a family. Maybe you’ve had IVF yourself.

4. Maybe you love Joseph Campbell, and think that following your bliss is a good idea. Also, that creative fundraising is a good idea.

5. Maybe you like happy endings, and making someone happy would delight you.

Here’s the hope from the ashes part.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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