Opening to Heartbreak, Grief and Loss: Feeling the Heat of the Fires
It has taken me some time to digest and metabolize the reality of the fires that are devastating Northern California. The fires have left a vast scar on the earth, trees burned to a crisp, the blackness of the smoke covering what has not been entirely consumed, and it feels like there is a rent in the fabric of our community on a deep level. My heart is feeling the pain of the fires in Lake County and the surrounding areas, it is a deep pain, as more than 60,000 acres of Mother Earth’s body are incinerated, over 1,000 homes burned and several lives are lost.
I feel my heart breaking open wider and wider still, as the the sacred sanctuary of Harbin Hotsprings has burned to the ground. This sanctuary has always been a place of profound refuge and her sacred waters the manifestation of pure generosity, taking away our pain, our self-hatred, our fear and confusion and in return, offering spaciousness, ease, grace and inspiration. The springs offered a total renewal in a matter of hours. And, for now, this sanctuary is gone.
I am feeling the grief that is here in response to the loss of a place where a community of residents once thrived and so many of us have visited to pray and rest, communing with nature and one another time and time again. What I am aware of is that the wellspring of grief, both mine and ours, runs deep.
In meeting and opening to the grief that is arising in the wake of this “natural disaster,” bubbles of latent, unmet and seemingly, unrelated grief, are shaken loose and come to the surface to be known. We are being asked to show up and be with all of it and, what I see, is that there is no where to go, but in.
When a sacred space like Harbin disappears, one which was full of lush gardens teeming with figs, mulberries, flowers of all colors and greenery, one, whose structures were hand-crafted with love and care from wood, stone and metal, it is then that we are asked to find sanctuary within ourselves and in community.
We are asked to find a place to pause, breathe, feel and open to all of the pain when the outer sanctuary is no more. Where do we go in the face of so much loss, loss of homes, possessions, beloved lands, when there is major displacement on so many levels? Where to go? How to navigate the stormy seas of chaos that are upon us?
In listening to what may be called, “my inner guidance” I turn toward home, resting my attention on the sanctuary within, and then, acting from there. I respond with practical and generous action, offering donations of food, clothing and free healing sessions, as well as encouraging my daughter speak up and share her idea to have a bake sale at school to raise money for those who have been most impacted by the fires.
In each moment, there is a choice to be made as to how to respond to what is showing up. That choice is either to be with what is here, or to numb out. We all have our ways of numbing out, perhaps with substances like alcohol, drugs or food, or maybe, it’s watching serial Netflix episodes, however, when we numb out to what is painful, like grief, sorrow and loss, we also become numb to the good feelings, like joy, pleasure and bliss. It is a choice.
As I turn toward my own grief and loss, grief around the devastation of a sacred sanctuary, it stirs up the vulnerability around my not quite old, and yet, aging parents, of beloved friends who have passed, and having just turned fifty-one, of the loss of a certain flavor of youth, as well as the pain of any suffering I may have caused in moments of reactivity or unkindness.
I engage with the grief that has been held in places deep in my body, heart and soul. In welcoming the discomfort and pain, I feel a flutter of grace, I sense a bit more space to be alive in the willingness to contend with the pain, to meet it with soft and open arms...to ride the waves as I open in this tender embrace.
I rest inside, in this inner sanctuary, one that is real and cannot be burned, just as the Kwan Yin statue in the cold pool area up at Harbin Hotsprings did not burn. She sits, peacefully, grace radiating from her kind, smiling, white marble face, unharmed, unburned, patiently awaiting the return of all who come to sit at her feet. She is here. She is unscathed. She is whole.
In this same way, I am whole, we are whole, regardless of the comings and goings of things and time, regardless of the pain that seems like it’s ripping us apart, regardless of the unimaginable losses we experience, wholeness resides within. It does not come and go, it is just temporarily obscured, as the storms rage and the fires burn.
My prayer is that we each find the capacity to meet these fires, the fires of all of our hurts and losses, that we feel it all, ultimately, directly realizing what is passing through, what is unquestionably real and what does not burn.
To donate to the residents of Harbin Hotsprings directly visit: http://harbin.org/.