The return to school was the hardest. I didn’t know how to be with people again and people didn’t know how to be with me. My teacher, a stern ex-army sergeant, made no reference to where I’d been. In the playground, a friend asked me ‘Are you happy?’ I replied yes and she said ‘You shouldn’t be. Your Daddy has died.’ I stayed there for a moment trying to be OK but then…
It’s hard to be ten and to lose the gentlest, funniest, most intelligent father imaginable. It’s hard to be any age and lose anyone you love. And when we say ‘hard’ we can of course mean anything from upsetting to beyond devastating.
Everything in the human life drives us to closeness with others. The family unit as we are growing up, the reliance on the mother and father, the siblings and extended family. Then the making of friends, the finding of a partner perhaps, the settling down, the having of our own children or caring for those of others. The entire orientation of human being is the formation of strong bonds. (With consequences for all of us when these bonds are not formed, trusted or are broken or dangerous.)
Which means that we live in these close bonds with the possibility of losing the people that mean most to us, who we speak to every day or spend most of our time with, who know our deepest secrets, who have our backs, who we love with all our hearts.
How can we live with the possibility of the loss of these most precious beings and how can we live with that loss if it happens?
This must be the greatest conundrum of human relationships. In the words of the brilliant Mary Oliver:
“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
How to do that?
We could start with a video with Byron Katie talking to a woman whose daughter died in a car crash. They had been driving in two different cars on the motorway. Her daughter had been in the car behind and the mother saw the fatal accident happen. The woman’s life had become a living hell. She no longer lived but barely existed. Everything reminded her of her daughter and in particular everything brought to mind the scene of the crash. She could not bear her memories. She could not bear to be in her head. Everything was intolerable. Her existence had become a constant fight against what happened, against the unfairness, against her thoughts.
Byron Katie with the gentlest, unwavering kindness showed her that anything that isn’t now is a creation of the mind. Even when someone is in the room next to us they only exist, in that moment, in imagination. Even when someone is right next to us, everything about the way they appear is appearing through the filters of perception.
Again and again we come back to what the mind creates. How you appear to me is my version of you. The only relation it has to your version of you or anyone else’s version of you is if our minds have had similar conditioning, learned the same beliefs, associations and distortions. The greater the disparity in culture, societal rules, the less similar will be our versions of each other.
In other words, we exist for each other as creations of our own (largely) unconscious mind. And the wonderful, beautiful, extraordinary thing is that, as this becomes clear, it doesn’t take away the other. No. It delivers them to us more fully, more vividly, more expansively than we could ever imagine. The irony is that, the more clearly it is seen that there is no other, the more absolute freedom there is to know and to love that other with every fibre of our being.
Why is this?
Because understanding the mind, understanding the role of conditioning, understanding that our self identity cannot ever be secured by another is to live in this moment right now.
And then we really see them. As they are.
Not as the solution to our needs and insecurities.
Not as the object of our dependencies.
Not as the villain, the source of our issues and frustrations.
Not as a victim, the evidence of our evil.
Not as someone to change or fix so that we can feel better.
Not as the guarantor of our future or the preserver of our past.
Not as something that has to be held on to, sought out or resisted.
But as what they really are. As what we really are.
Life localised in apparent, perception-created, conditioning-shaped, unique, miraculous form. The same as us.
And from this space we see the loss of them as it really is:
The dissolution of that unique apparent form but the continuation of it… in the only place it ever really existed… in us, our mind, our life, our actions, our words.
And the uninterrupted continuation and infinite presence of the life they were… still are… As evidenced in us, all around us, in the trees and grasses, in animals and birds, in the sunrise and sunset, in the air we breathe and the food we eat.
They live in us. They are us. As it is in life, so it is in death.
And that doesn’t mean we won’t miss them. Doesn’t mean we won’t feel their loss like a thud in the gut or a train rolling over us. Doesn’t mean we won’t eat dinner next to an empty space and feel alone in every cell of our body. Doesn’t mean we won’t yearn for their touch or the sound of their voice.
But it means that the loss of them, the thought of them, every memory of them will, through the rolling storms of grief, bring us home. Bring us back to what we are. The timeless absolute of life in a blink-of-an-eye temporary form.
The loss, and the possibility of loss, is saying, return to what’s true. This. Now. This. Have all of it. Live all of it.
Live it until you know it can never be lost.