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The Gift of Consciously Connecting to Anger, aka Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution Part 1.5

By Lisa Meuser.  

“Everything’s going pretty well in my life, but I feel **so much anger! **”
“I can’t get past how much anger I feel! I want to feel better, but I am stuck.”
“How can I **not** be angry, have you seen what’s going on in the world?”
“Being angry is a negative emotion and now is not the time to be negative.”


Feedback

The feedback from “Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution. Part 1, of 2” had 1 of 3 flavors, generally speaking.

Flavor 1: people wishing they too could move thru their anger in the way I did so as to get to “the good stuff.”
Flavor 2: people subtly moving past the anger stuff so as to get to “ the good stuff.”
Flavor 3: people expressing the sentiment: “damn, this anger is some heavy shit.”

Here’s the good news and the bad news:
The good news is that all of it is “the good stuff.” The bad news is that all of it is “the good stuff.” Yeah, that’s some heavy shit!

I promise that Part 2 will be published, but felt writing a 1.5 would be useful. Anger is a big topic, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so let’s talk about it!

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Flavor 1: Wanting to move thru anger as to get to the “good stuff.”

I know this flavor well.

Part 1 was an example of what’s possible, not necessarily probable, when anger is allowed in and it’s met with loving attention. It’s one example, in a sea of examples. Does it often go that way for me? Well, to be honest, these days yes. But I’ve also spent years lost in an ebb and flow of anger, and that was exactly where I needed to be after decades of being in denial. It was evolution for me to feel safe enough to be able to connect with my anger, and stay there as long as I needed to. It didn’t always feel good, and it didn’t necessarily feel loving, but it was far more empowering than the hopelessness and despair I’d known.

Anger **is** good stuff. Anger is so powerfully good that those in power consistently try to either (1) get us stuck there so that we burn out into powerlessness/ hopelessness (political/capitalist cultures), or (2) tell us that it’s unhealthy and unattractive (religious/spiritual cultures).

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Anger is our friend
Anger is an appropriate behavioral response when our safety is at risk, or the safety of someone we love is at risk. Anger is an appropriate response when we are being violated, or when someone is committing violence against others. It is an appropriate response to injustice, to suppression/oppression, to cruelty and brutality. It is an appropriate response to harassment and to domination.

Considering that a good many of us have been oppressed, dominated, or violated, is it any wonder that the “powers that be” want us to either get lost in anger so that we get killed or ultimately become docile sheep too tired to fight, or not consider anger as healthy response to our circumstances?

Anger is an expressive gift that humans were given to help us process and release. When that gift is taken away, we loose a part of our humanity. Let me say that again: we lose a part of our humanity. Worse yet, we reject a part that we never knew we had. We deny it, and in doing so we deny ourselves.

Knowing this, is it any wonder so many are festering with anger – this forbidden but biologically human expression? The dissonance is enough to make one mad! Quite literally.

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It’s never too late
That’s the depressing news, but here is the hopeful news: it’s never too late. It’s never too late to learn how to be angry in a way that feels safe. It’s never too late to feel the anger that we’ve stuffed down for decades, in a way that feels safe. It’s never too late to develop a healthy relationship with anger, so that we neither get lost in it nor deny it. It’s never too late to be friends with anger. At least that’s my experience.

Has it been easy? No. It’s been as hard as hell. It’s been uncomfortable. It’s been scary. It’s seemed nearly impossible. But bit-by-bit – with the amazing support of various allies – my system has learned it is safe, valid, and healthy to connect with anger. I never knew how unbelievably freeing it could be to become friends with anger.

So, if you are one who wishes they could move thru their anger to “the good stuff, ” remind yourself that anger **is** good stuff. Once you’ve honored it and allowed it to be, it will not have the same hold over you that it might now. Anger is sacred – it has its own timetable. Your anger has waited a long time to be let out of the basement. Get support, and be patient while you learn about yourself – all parts of yourself.

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Flavor 2: People subtly (or not so subtly) want to move past or deny anger so as to “stay in” or get to the “good stuff,” and/or so that they don’t get stuck in “the bad stuff.”

I know this flavor well.

I won’t spend long here. Bypassing anger is so fervently celebrated in our culture – in all areas – that it has created a complicated web of self-bondage/suffering, often in the guise of happiness/peacefulness. Denying a natural part of who we are creates dissociation and disembodiment, one byproduct being a sleepy mass of people who, well, don’t really live fully on the planet.

I often find that at some point in one’s journey anger cannot be denied or moved past any more. The body either starts to rebel (i.e. gets sick), the psyche starts to rebel (i.e. starts to suffer), or the spirit starts to rebel (i.e. wants to die). If one is lucky they will connect with an anger midwife (some kind of guide) who will help them to safely connect to the anger monster that has been locked in their internal basement for their entire lives, refusing to be stuck down there any longer. It is my own experience that it doesn’t take long to understand that the anger monster isn’t a monster at all, but just an energetic presence that is tired of being banished into a musky and dark basement.

Exclusion hurts.

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Flavor 3: “Damn, this anger is some heavy shit.”

Yup. I know this flavor well, and I’m going to spend a little extra time here because this seems to be what most of the comments were expressing.

First a story, then after that, another story.

A friend of mine does sacred bodywork – different modalities – with clients. She is very well established with a fabulous reputation in her community. She has worked hard to create clear and strong boundaries, as body workers are known to be easy targets for predator behavior. Let me just say that again: because predator behavior is so common in the realm of body work, she has had to painstakingly and creatively establish strong policies in her private practice – so as to keep herself safe – while she offers her sacred gifts to clients . [Author’s note: Why have I given you all this information, before telling you what has happened? Why have I gone out of my way to tell you how she’s gone out of her way to have clear boundaries and policies? Just wait one more moment..]

Last week she was in a session with a client who she’s seen many times.
She was deeply involved in the sacred work that she does, when out of the blue the client broke the silence and asked her for a hand job. She froze. She went into a fear response.

She was clearly not expecting this sacred space to be violated. Despite all the work she’d done to create a safe environment for herself, here was a client exhibiting sexual predator behavior.

I’m tempted to side track even more from this story to tell you about her elaborate policies that she’s put in place to keep things like this from happening. Why? Some of you reading this will not be able to keep yourselves from blaming my friend. Your first automatic thought will be: what was her role in this? What had she done?

To those of you doing that- jumping to her role in this – I so get it! I too have been raised in a cultural climate that blames the victim. I too have had a hard time being able to really sit with the abhorrent dysfunction of our culture’s toxicity, and instead, automatically, without even knowing I’m doing it, put the attention back on the violated. I too have redirected conversation away from toxic behaviors, away from the toxicity of what our culture has produced, and focused on the predator’s prey. I too have been a part of the toxicity in this way – implicitly and complicity. Me too!

Last week, however, that was not my response.

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Anger is an appropriate response to dysfunction.
I wasn’t worried – my friend is magnificently well resourced and resilient, and would only grow from this. My response was anger. My response was anger because we live in a culture that blames the violated. My response was anger because in no way was that appropriate in that set and setting. My response was anger because such predatory acts are too common, and too normalized, and too expected. My response was anger because my friend is an amazing healer who does deep and loving work, and does not deserve to be violated by the clients that she is serving. My response was anger because my friend got mad at herself for having the perfectly appropriate response she had. My response was anger because of how entitled her client was, in his request, and how, perhaps, clueless he was with regards to the impact that this kind of behavior has on a female psyche. My response was anger because of what this culture teaches males, and because of how dysfunctional it is that it has created sexual predators in the first place. My response was anger because of the tendency to spiritualize and trivialize such happenings. My response was anger because of how representative it is. My response was anger because of how this incident echoes the massive existence of other predatory incidents. My response was anger because of all the other levels and layers of dysfunction in our culture that exist and make women scared, in their own sacred spaces, in their own sacred bodies.

That’s a lot of anger, huh? I mean, damn, this is some heavy shit.

Writing this now, I can feel the anger. It is some heavy shit, and I can feel it. And I’m grateful that I can feel it… because there was a time when I was so dead inside that I wasn’t able to be angry about things that deserved anger. I’m grateful because I have a system that is safe enough to feel anger when anger is warranted. I’m grateful because I don’t have to pretend and hide from such toxicity any more. I’m grateful because, not having to have to hide from anger, it is no longer a debilitating emotion for me, but a healthy emotional response.

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I was actually really angry.
It had struck a chord within me, and it felt appropriate that it had. I never want to be numb to the dysfunction going on in our world. I never want to fall asleep, and shut down, because of the toxicity that exists in this world.

And so I choose to feel. I choose to feel because I have discovered, through my sometimes painful journey, that I am safe to feel. I am free to feel. What an amazing gift I have been given. It is the most empowering gift of being human. It is a gift I want everyone to have. It is my life’s work that everyone may know safety.

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What does anger want?
I wasn’t able to go off alone and be physically still with this energy of anger, but I have learned that I almost always have the capacity to connect to my breath and my being regardless of what I’m doing. As I physically moved around in my house I breathed with the energy of anger. It seemed to permeate my being and beyond in vibrant aliveness.

Anger, when paid attention to, lands our attention in the body. That’s good news. [Author’s note: Admittedly, this is not good news for everyone. Connecting with the body is the most challenging aspect of embodiment, and I absolutely honor that it is not always safe for people to be in their bodies, particularly when experiencing strong emotions.] Bringing attention into my being has a different impact than putting attention into spinning thoughts/stories – I feel more grounded, as opposed to feeling spun out. I can be present, instead of getting lost in stories and fears.

All of the internal work I’ve done has helped me to know that my body is safe to be in. As such, the energy of anger – as it flowed through my body – was safe as well. I brought attention to my limbs, my belly, my heart… to all the sensations anger seemed to be connected with.

It is my experience that anger, and any emotion, wants to be connected with, as simply as possible: acknowledged, supported, felt, and/or validated. How this comes to happen can be mysterious, and it is not always an easy process. I am grateful that I have the tools and the training to be able to be present with myself. In my experience safety, compassion and love are crucial in being with challenging emotions and in discovering embodiment. The journey is endless.

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Right next to anger is always something else
We often think that we’ll get stuck forever in a challenging emotional energy if we allow ourselves to “go there.” I think this belief has multiple layers, but one layer is based in the duality of the mind. The mind often sees things as being EITHER this OR that. I used to think that if love existed, anger didn’t. I used to think that if anger existed, love didn’t. I know now that that belief comes from a limited dual perspective, not from truth. Waking up to the lived reality that love includes all has changed my life. In my own experience love is so big that it includes anger.

This may not be your experience, but you may notice that while you feel anger, you are also experiencing “not anger.” One way to test this out is to ask yourself where, in your body, you feel the anger. Chances are, you are not feeling only the sensation of anger throughout your entire body from head to toes. Chances are, you are experiencing anger in some ways, and also neutral sensations, or even positive sensations, in other parts of your body – all at the same time.

When we’re in a heightened state we may forget that there are other experiences happening, within the particular experience that is filling up our attention. It can be powerful and useful to our nervous system and well-being to curiously explore what else is here right now? What else is happening right now?

 

Back to love, back to the heart
When my friend told me about her experience I was so very angry, but the anger was never bigger than the heart space I was inside of – it was never bigger than love. That has not always been my experience because of how unsafe it was for me to feel anger. My life is radically different now. I’m grateful that there is such an abundance of love that “even anger” is safe. Perhaps I am able to experience anger because the immense depth of love and heart space has revealed itself to me.

There is such deep love for all the participants of this story – for my friend and her family (as this one man’s behavior will have an impact on all of them). And yes, also for her client because our current toxic culture creates perpetrators – he too is a victim of this culture. My love extends to all who have found themselves here – few of us have created it; we’re the occupants of a pre-existing toxic culture. So yes: enormous love goes out to all of us as our hearts and psyches are evolving towards a better way to be in the world.

AND, I have anger, because these toxic ways of being in the world are not ok – for anyone. Not ok for her client, or his wife and family. Not ok for my friend. These dysfunctional ways of being in the world are not healthy for anyone. Heart work includes opening oneself wide enough to be able to let it all in: the deep compassionate love, the deep compassionate anger, and so much more. The heart can handle it all.

In my experience, being able to consciously connect with anger is truly a gift. It allows us to respond to injustice. It invites us to be a conscious participant in our own experience. It permits us to honor an intended aspect of our humanity. It empowers us and frees of stagnancy and despair. We don’t have to leave the heart to connect with anger. We don’t have to get lost in anger. We can learn to know love and know anger. We can learn that it is safe to experience both.

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Part 2
People often want to know how “I handle” challenging emotions or social justice challenges. I think it’s extremely helpful that people have options for providing support in their own unique evolutionary journey. I will talk about this in part 2, and will also dive back into heart work as a continuation of part 1 and part 1.5.

I hope this blog post was helpful in revealing that anger can be a valuable and perhaps even necessary part of heart work. As always, I welcome feedback and comments!

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

The Gift Of Endings

By Lisa Meuser.   We got in a car wreck last weekend while driving home from a family trip.
It was a surprise, of course, as car wrecks are never planned. Thoughts of how it could have been avoided were interwoven with thoughts of gratitude in regard to how lucky we all were…all things considered.
The latter was at the forefront of my attention, though, as I continuously found myself grateful that I was paying full attention to the road at that moment. I can’t say the same for the dude three cars back who wasn’t and ended up slamming into the person in front of him which contributed to—and perhaps even caused—a nine car pileup.

We walked away with the usual neck and back pain that comes with being rear-ended, and that was it.
Actually, we drove away. With the help of some sharp tools from the highway patrol, the metal that was bent into the rear tire was cut away and we made it home the following day. But the back door was permanently jammed shut and the trunk was destroyed. I was later told that the car was deemed irreparable—a total loss.
Only a month before, I was considering getting a new car when my hybrid battery expired, because hybrid batteries are crazy expensive. But I found a friend to help me out, which made it cheaper and eliminated the need to get a new car. I was quite fine with the one we had, thank you very much.

While later talking with a good friend about what had happened, she gently reminded me that I sometimes stick with old models when they are “past their expiration date.” She wasn’t just talking about cars: lovers, friends, clothes, jobs, houses, ideologies, teachers, behaviors… The list seems endless when I consider those things with which I’ve not wanted to part.

Now, I like beginnings. The beginning of beginnings, and the time right after beginnings. But completions and endings? I have learned how to bring a lot of conscious attention toward them, and yet I still find myself avoiding them.

What makes endings and goodbyes so hard? Is it possible that it comes down to having to feel feelings I’d just rather not feel? The awareness that comes along with facing reality: that things do end (quite often), that death is a constant part of life, and that all things are temporary? Yes, that might just be part of it.

While cleaning out my car, preparing for it to be towed away, I found some old toys of my daughter Kathrynn’s, and even a baby picture. I shed tears of nostalgia. I am deeply in love with my daughter, and I love all things “of her,” including the two toy horses that she used to play with while in the car, and the picture of her wearing a campy grin as I was changing her diapers at three months old. We’d travelled around the country for the past 11 years in that car together… I was flooded with memories—and more gratitude.

Eleven years is a substantial amount of time to own a car. I’ve personally never owned a car this long in my life, nor has any family member that I’m aware of. It seems quite reasonable in our culture to replace cars frequently, depending on financial resources, of course. Left to my own devices, however—i.e., without culture telling me I should have more! Better! New!—I’d just as soon stay with the old. And yet, again, it’s reasonable for this car to now be dead, so I can move on to the next one. I shed my tears, and off went the car. Cars don’t last forever, after all. Endings.

The day that we had our nine car pileup, I got a call from our vet. Our cat Michelangelo had fallen into a diabetic coma with other complications that I still don’t understand. Hundreds of miles from him, we had to make the horrible decision to have him immediately euthanized to keep him from future suffering.

Unlike with the car accident, never once did I consider how lucky we were as the pain of abruptly losing our cat flooded over us. In this case, gratitude was the furthest thing from my mind. Instead, I was unrelentingly tortured by a slew of thoughts like, “How could this have been avoided?” and, “How could this have happened?” He had seemed just fine when we left for our trip. I was being blindsided by life, and I simply was not having it. I refused to accept this ending.

Michelangelo was seven. Seven years is a long time, and at the same time it’s hardly the blink of an eye. I could have sworn he was still three. Our last cat, Jazmine, had died when she was quite old, and it was fine when she died…because she was old. She was so old. She was 18 and, honestly, we’d expected her to die long before that. Just as we expected Michelangelo to have plenty of years left. Seven is too young for a cat to die.

Michelangelo was years from death, said me. He was supposed to live a long time. Cats live forever, or nearly forever! He’d had some issues—kidney failure twice—but he’d recovered and seemed entirely healthy. Still a kitty at heart, really. Running, jumping, very playful and very loving. He was the sweetest cat, my sweet Michelangelo, and after he recovered from kidney failure, I felt immense gratitude that he’d lived through it. Not taking it for granted, I routinely gave thanks for his existence. I really loved his energy, his spirit, and especially his sweetness. He was the epitome of joy.

After my heart had broken a million times over, after I resisted letting go of my sweet boy with every thought I could muster, after I was done arguing and debating with reality, after I was able to sit with the deep pain of loss, my mind stopped having those “how could this have been avoided” kinds of thoughts. Finally gratitude found me. Gratitude that he didn’t suffer, of course, but mostly gratitude that we were gifted seven years of love and joy with this delightful sweetheart. I was grateful for his sweet meows, his mothering of our younger cat, Pearl, his roly–poly belly, and so much more.

My dad died last year, right around this time. He, too, left us too soon. Having lived an already fulfilling and meaning-filled life, he still had plenty of years in him. The week before his stroke he helped me move into my new house. He’d been on the elliptical at the gym the day before. But as he lay helpless in his hospital bed, the nurses had no idea that only 24 hours prior he had been a very active 75 year old. For some, “active” and “75” might not go well together, but my dad was indeed active, with no end in sight. My dad was supposed to live forever. Well, at least into his nineties. Right?

He’d had his stroke while sitting down, and I was immediately told how grateful I should be that he didn’t have it while driving my mom home from church. And I was grateful for that. His carotid artery had been 99 percent clogged, and I was grateful that he was alive at all. But my dad was on a hospital bed, in critical care—and we all knew somewhere deep inside of us that his life would never be the same. I felt much despair, grief, pain, and burning anger.

My dad lived for about a year after his stroke, and during that year my emotions traversed a range of depth I never knew existed. From great joy over the smallest yet most profound improvement in his health, to the lowest of lows as he’d have another setback.

I found myself dancing in immense gratitude one moment and plunging into the depths of sorrow the next. I always knew the hug I gave him before getting into my car to go home could be the last. Beginnings and endings were constantly being shoved in my face, sometimes accepted and other times fiercely denied.

While my father was living, dying, living and dying, I was in an intimate relationship that was also constantly hovering around death’s door, and I was unable to walk through it. I feel it’s no coincidence that, after my dad finally did die, the relationship died not long after. I tried with all my might to keep that relationship alive, while modern medicine did all they could to keep my father alive.

But both were past due, and we were trying to avoid the inevitable. Deals with God, deals with one’s self, deals with the inner narrative…these never go well. The denial of endings and the refusal to let go only create more dissonance and suffering. Eventually the pain of loss has to be met, and for me it was debilitating as my heart felt ripped open and torn to shreds.

The heart is a mysterious organ and, despite anything I’ve just written, I don’t actually think our hearts are truly breakable. But they do seem to break apart, and in the healing they become stronger…bigger. Over the last years, my heart seems to have stretched to capacities I never knew existed, and this expansion seems nowhere near its end. In that expansion, there seems to be room for everything—pain, joy, anger, and even fear. How paradoxical is it that, when I live from my heart, fear can be included, but when I live from fear, most of life is excluded?

A teacher once told me, “Do whatever it takes to make your heart break.” As counterintuitive as it may sound, I grok this wisdom because I know deep inside that, when my heart is breaking, it’s getting wider, deeper, larger—growing, as she simultaneously expands. That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes attempt to shrink and protect and defend when pain reaches a certain amount, but I continuously invite myself back toward my heart, meeting whatever is there—pain or joy—again and again. And as I do, I find that my heart never really shrinks. She just pauses in her expansions.

Maybe it’s like when we were kids; we can’t grow all at once, right? Growing happens, along with some growing pains. Then it pauses for a while. And then we grow some more. Maybe our hearts are the same. Growing, growing pains, pausing, more growing pains, more growing—if we’re lucky.

After we made the decision to euthanize Michelangelo, and after experiencing a nine car pileup, I was weary. Having been consumed briefly by a wave of fear earlier that day, and knowing there is another way to live, I made a conscious commitment to myself: Stay turned toward your heart, no matter what.

My heart was aching, tender, and it took a lot of conscious willingness to turn toward her and not tighten, defend, or shut down. Breath by breath, over and over, I turned toward her. As I did, I felt my system widen—and deepen—and loosen. The habit of closing up in the face of pain returned quickly and often, but each time that I felt this protective closing, I reminded myself to open back toward my heart.

I was on a conscious journey of choosing my heart over fear, and over and over I chose my heart. I practiced with each breath until I no longer had to remind myself, because, even though it was still not easy, turning toward my heart had become the kindest and most beautiful action I could enact—especially when compared to how it felt to go toward fear.

As I went to sleep that night, I felt peace, but I woke up in the still of the night. In that quietness, my mind kicked back on and fear returned. The “what could I have done to prevented this” thoughts returned to try to cover up what was being revealed quite loudly to me: Life is fragile, life is temporary, and worst of all, I am not in control.

Half in and half out of sleep, I saw visions of car accidents and bad things happening to my daughter. I replayed the events of the past week time and again, looking for a way that things could have gone differently, so as to have an alive Michelangelo instead of a dead one. I was mentally fighting against not being in control, as my mind kept trying to understand what had happened—how my sweet cat was suddenly gone.

I was fervently resisting endings—both current and possible future ones. I was afraid, and even in terror at some moments. Eventually, I calmed myself, and I fell back to sleep. As I got out of bed early the next morning, I reminded myself once again: Move toward your heart. Even though it hurt to feel the deep pain in my heart, the alternative hurt more. As I felt the truth of how fragile life is, how everything is temporary, and how I am not in control, it once again felt like my heart was being ripped open. Endings loomed everywhere.

But something curiously exquisite happened. The more I leaned in toward my heart and the pain there, the more I felt connected to life and safe within it. It took a while, but breath by breath, life stopped being scary and started being beautiful and mysterious again. In that ripped-open state, nothing was excluded, and all of life—including its inherent transient nature—was allowed. Bit by bit, my existential angst turned into existential sacredness. I knew that as long as I picked my heart over fear everything would be okay, and that as long as I didn’t shrink into a protective and defensive space I’d be safe. I knew that life was safe, even though it was comprised of constant endings.

Life really is a mystery. Life itself doesn’t care if I’m grateful for it or bemoaning and resisting it. Life doesn’t care if I’m open or if I’m closed, if I’m turning toward fear, or turning to love. Life has its own “plan,” and doesn’t seem to take into consideration my ideas of what’s suitable or correct.

Life doesn’t seem to follow my (or anyone else’s) rules or follow a particular timeline. (In fact, the idea of “timely” with regard to life makes me giggle a bit.) Life doesn’t seem to know what is appropriate or inappropriate, and doesn’t seem to subscribe to the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad. Life doesn’t ask me what I would like it to do before doing it. And lastly, life knows nothing of “making sense,” and refuses to be figured out.

Life itself may not care, but residing in love, turning toward my heart, and being present yields an experience of life that feels kind, gentle, and simple. That day I drove eight hours back home, and throughout the drive, I continued to turn toward my heart—my sweet, tender, courageous, blossoming heart. Whenever I felt fear approach, I felt the hardness that comes with a sense of the self trying to protect itself. This visceral sense was a quick reminder to return to the softness of love that resides in my heart, where everything is truly allowed.

I felt immense gratitude during that drive, a gratitude which continues to live on. Gratitude for being reminded of the fragility of life, and of life’s truly exquisite nature. Gratitude for what it feels like to be in the experience of heart presence, as opposed to being in a state of fear. And gratitude at being in awe of the mystery of life, as opposed to being scared of it.

Death and endings may never feel “good” in the traditional sense, and sometimes new beginnings can be scary, too, but when approached and met from the present heart, everything seems manageable and okay. Perhaps it is only when coming from a self who thinks it will live forever that the need to defend, protect, and resist arises. When we can truly remember that everything is temporary, including the self that is experiencing that awareness, it becomes apparent that our only sane option is to constantly turn toward the heart, no matter what.