Last week, overnight, a light brown sunspot on my forearm turned into a very dark, scary-looking thing. I lost no time in seeing a doctor. Facing my fear of melanoma (cancer), waiting for the verdict, I felt terribly vulnerable. I had the thought, “What if this is how it’s going to end for me?”
Death (my own and others’) has been on my mind a lot recently. My former husband passed away 15 months ago, setting off a lot of various emotions in me. We were together 23 years and divorced for nine. The relationship was dynamic and challenging. Together, we manifested the painful energies that were present in our childhoods. In the early years, we had very little understanding of how or why we could so easily hurt or be hurt by the other. We didn’t realize that, actually, most of the time we were wounded little children walking around in adult bodies.
We argued a lot, even as we also enjoyed many happy moments. The habitual ways of communicating, the long-held belief in “right” and “wrong,” and our disappointment that the “other” didn’t seem to be the person we thought we had married made our life together feel like an emotional roller-coaster. No doubt, we loved one another, however, I now know that “true love” requires understanding, and we certainly did not understand each other, at least not in the early years. In retrospect, the seductiveness of the familiar was what passed for love.
Those wounds of early childhood begged to be healed and transformed, and after a few years, I began what became years of psychotherapy and even more years of study at the feet of several spiritual gurus. Gratefully, I can say with all humility, that much of the trauma of my early life was healed within this relationship, and when my work there was finished, I left that marriage and entered a new phase of life, one that has brought me much contentment and satisfaction. My gratitude is boundless and includes especially my former husband without whom I would not be the person I am now.
Even though I like who I’ve become, I know that there is much work, inner work, left to do. The Buddha says the mind is deeper than the deepest ocean. As is true for most, my own is full of memories, many lovely to contemplate, some painful to remember, especially those associated with my former husband and the various members of our extended family. These painful ones have rarely surfaced, but when they do, there they are. True, the past is gone, but the memories live on.
Some of the people with whom I was connected through marriage have passed away; none of them have I seen, nor have we had any contact, in more than ten years. I’ve wanted to understand, to let go of the past, and to love, even if from afar. I’ve wanted to do it for the sake of all of us, because I know the value of peace and reconciliation. This has not been easy. The habit of holding on to old hurts had become deeply entrenched in my mind. I have been, perhaps for much of my life, attached to the suffering of anger and sorrow. That realization has been with me more and more, over these past months.
Events of the past have been flooding my mind, but I’ve noticed, that more and more often, positive aspects of that relationship have been surfacing. Memories of the good times have gradually displaced those that were painful.
However, last week, on my way home from the doctor’s office, huge feelings of sadness washed over me in waves. I deliberately chose to stay with these emotions. As soon as I was alone, the tears came. I sobbed and sobbed for the years of my life, all those many years, that I, that we were on that rollercoaster. So much precious life was spent in suffering and confusion, this life that might soon end.
Suddenly, I thought, “I have to stop this. We have meditation tonight. I don’t want to distress my friends with swollen, puffy eyes!”
And here is what happened:
As is my custom, I enter the meditation room 15 minutes before the earliest Sangha member will arrive. After lighting the lamps and incense, and bowing to the Buddha, I take my seat. Within moments, this thought arises: I’ll invite him and also my daughter (who loved him as the only father she had growing up) to sit with me.
In my mind’s eye, I open the door, and they enter, however, there are others behind them. The room fills with various members of the family, including extended family. First comes my former husband. He has a big smile on his face. Following him are all three of the Warrens, my now-middle-aged sons and daughter. Next, enter his four sons and their wives, my former daughters-in-law. Even the one with whom I had such a strained relationship… even she was smiling!
And there is his former wife who, though apparently happily remarried, had continued to act out her anger in spiteful ways. I’d experienced her as being invasive, interfering, and just unwilling to “to go away.” The tension we co-created affected everyone. Sadly, family weddings, birthdays, and even christenings, meant to be celebratory, were instead awkward, uncomfortable events. Yet, here she is with a genuine smile, looking happy (and alive! She passed away several years before our divorce.)
Now, who is this? What a surprise! There is my first husband, my children’s father who gave up being their father when he met his wife. He enters, looking happy, followed by HER, the “wicked step-mother,” who made it impossible for our children to have even five minutes alone with their father and who finally successfully locked them out of his life.
Everyone seems unaware that we’re in a meditation room, for they’re all smiling, happily chatting with each other. I hear: “Whew, am I glad this run is over! My role was hard” And another says, “Yes, I know, being mean and spiteful is exhausting. And, what about your role?” Someone answers, “For sure, being a person full of jealousy and envy and anger is a miserable way to live. I was exhausted much of the time while playing this role.” Another says, “I sure didn’t enjoy having to be fearful and guarded all the time. Imagine if this play just kept running. I’d have to leave the show.”
I look at all of them with fresh eyes, smiling inside. Why, we’re having an after-the-show cast party! I feel so much affection for these people and a lot of compassion. We experienced so much together, and, all along, we were simply playing our roles. I make eye contact with each of them. “Thank you,” I say.
Breathing easily, relaxing my body, I hear the door open. The first Sangha member has arrived, and quietly takes his seat.