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Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for wisdom and love—so wrote Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207 – 1273), Sufi mystic, Islamic scholar, and poet.

 

 

Certainly, Rumi tasted the gall of grief in the loss of his soul mate and teacher, the wandering Sufi mystic Sham al-Din. For four years, night and day, his teaching had led Rumi to cultivate the path of the heart; such cultivation demanded trenchant asceticism that wiped out self-will and decried materialism in its multiple disguises. Under Sham’s tutelage, Rumi also set aside his rigorous Islamic studies and sermons that he delivered in the mosques of Konya (Turkey). Together, Sham and Rumi’s mysticism flourished. However, one night, Sham disappeared, thought to have been murdered by one of Rumi’s son.

Such an existential loss speaks of Rumi’s willingness to suffer the insufferable with a an open heart; its strange fruits, subsequently, enabled him to penetrate words and uncover fresh symbols linking his readers to the Sacred—Such accounts for his poetic image, garden of compassion, cited above. Within apparent death emerge seedlings of psychic growth that bear close watching: love and wisdom.

Rumi’s saying reminds me not to lose heart when grief’s swamping, so unexpected, assails me. I know, in time, it will pass and it does, not without deepening its residue for my transition. True, I’ve let go of much, but I’m not there, yet. There is still my inconstant will, floozy, fidgety, quaking—Still to be disciplined by grief’s flowering. To this I surrender, anew.

 

 

As depicted in ancient texts around the world hardship, suffering, and death have always seared experience. Brought to our knees, we learn limits and obey, but today’s Covid-19 knows no historical precedent.

It foists upon our awareness the specter of mortality, tinges outlooks with grief, demands mindfulness as we move through each day, and garbles communication among the experts. Intense is the dislocation from the familiar. It feels like being whipped around in a centrifuge, its switch damaged, or like being abandoned within a Sci-Fi thriller that the author stopped composing. Isolated, leeched of energy, exhausted: such dis-ease psyches like barnacles burrow into hulls of boats. If unaddressed, loss of soul occurs. For some, prayer helps; others observe the recommended CDC precautions and follow the daily posting of numbers. Still others invent safe getaways and maintain significant contacts with Zoom. Belly laughter is key to sanity.

Certainly, this scourge bespeaks of an uncanny wisdom at work. Its outcome still eludes us.

A similar scourge, ILD with Rheumatoid Arthritis, is also shortening my life and demands full consciousness to keep self-pity at bay. Slow is the slippage, but decline is happening. Rather than relapse into denial or rationalization, however, I choose conscious contact with Higher Power through practicing CPA’s Twelve Steps. Central to this practice is the simple prayer: Thy will, not mine, be done—Six one-syllable words that easily slip off the tongue, but ones that empower new élan, new direction, and new joy. It still works, and with each day I’m that much closer to eternal life.

 

Once upon a time, perhaps two weeks ago or less, a most strange thing happened. It was the middle of the day, the sun shone, and breezes morphed cloud tendrils into somersaults.

There was this woman. Of all things, she found herself clinging to a rope. She had no idea how this happened, and no one was around to help. Through tears streaming down sunburnt cheeks, she looked up, then gasped—She couldn’t see the end of the rope. She looked down. The same was true there, but she heard the surf pounding the rocky shore. Perspiration moistened her legs hugging the rope, muscle pain fired distress, joints ached, and her grip crazed her knuckles. She was slipping and she knew it. She was going to fall.

 And do you know what happened to her?

 She was on the ground the whole time.

Frequently, I offered this story to stressed hospice patients, their gender matching the one on the rope. Played out by the recital of numerous ills and fears, they welcomed the diversion. Their eyes brightened as they identified with the plight of the unfortunate on the rope. Even their breathing quickened.

Then the question, … do you know what happened to her? riveted them, caused them to sit straighter. With my response, they slowly smiled. They did get it, and their duress was lifted, for the moment—Until the next visit and story.

Now that I’m the hospice patient, I sometimes feel like my eighty-four-year-old body is the rope in that story. Deep-seated habits of control prompt my holding on until waking up, once again, to my true circumstances and letting go. Only then is my contentment restored, the fruit of living the CPA 12 Steps. It’s working, one release at a time …

 

 

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