“This is a new life, and I am not afraid.”
Walking along the dirt road path between my home and the temples of Kashi Ashram, the community in which I was raised, the steady rhythm of my footsteps gave rise to this sentence. All I could hear in my mind were these words, “this is a new life, and I am not afraid, this is a new life, and I am not afraid, this is a new life, and I am not afraid.” This became a prayer I breathed as if it were an oxygen mask handed to me as I was drowning in an ocean of sorrow.
At the time, I had just come through months of grief and solitude following a painful two years of severe emotional and sexual trauma. For five months, I had retreated into solitude, become friends with my own company, reclaimed my sovereignty, and let go of most of my ideas of who I was and where I was going in life. There is beauty and terror in such times.
I did everything possible to release old versions of myself. I gave clothes away, I shaved my head, I released treasured books, I changed positions at work, I lived with new roommates, I lost friends, I stopped going out, I bought myself a big bed, and I stayed in it most of the time. I became acquainted with the tenderness of my raw and vulnerable self, heart cracked open, drinking deeply of the well of grief.
On hard nights, I felt my body and heart wracked with terror and pain, not knowing how to cope with any of my fears, and I would numb myself often with at least three episodes of Star Trek. On good nights I focused on discovering what pleasure I truly desired, which often looked like long hot showers, oiling and blessing my body, and expanding my mind by watching at least three episodes of Star Trek. It’s curious how thin the line between depressive self indulgence and tender loving self-care can be. The primary medicine for my wounds were daily walks to the Sarasota Bay where I watched and photographed the light on the water at sunset.
These times of withdrawal, grief, and seclusion come to pass in our lives, and we rarely see them as a blessing. Grief is a sledgehammer that cracks open the structure of our lives and leaves us feeling naked in wide open spaces we never new existed in ourselves. These spaces are frightening and full of possibility, full of glass shards and diamonds. In order to harvest the blessings, we must stop running, get low to the ground, and look carefully at the wreckage around us. Until we do this, we cannot know what will cut us and what will turn into riches beyond imagination.
It’s hard to feel gratitude for anything so brutal as grief when we are immersed in it. I was fortunate to have four walls around me to retreat to, and grateful that my classes and work schedule were such that I was able to spend much time alone. This was four years ago, and I am writing about old grief because I am still navigating the pain and potential of the intense grief I feel from the deaths of my father and one of my most respected elders this summer. Their passing from this life profoundly transformed my understanding of my place in this world. I am still bringing patience, breath, and light to the far corners of the places inside of myself that this grief has cracked open.
We cannot know who we will be on the next edge of life’s spiraling evolutions, and we cannot predict what loss and sorrow we will be faced with next. We can, however choose to seek to understand our selves, to go into the frightening places and bring our love with us, to be willing to allow our being to grow into these wide open spaces, to clean them up and make of them a new home, a new being, a new life. We can transcend and include all of our life’s experiences as we grow into the full potential our lives have to offer us.
This is a new life, and I am not afraid.
I say this to myself now on the border of my twenty-sixth year, while resting in a garden with the sun on my face. I say it with you, whoever you are, on the border of our new year on this garden-planet with the sun on her face.
We have an unknowable amount of grief and beauty and living ahead of us. May we remember that we are in it together, and may we explore the open possibilities of existence together during beautiful, brief shared time and space that we have on this earth.