Recently, someone I trusted betrayed my confidence deeply. Or rather, I just found out about it last week. Before then, I’d have said such a thing could never happen – and I’d have staked my life on it. In a way, I did. Maybe some day I’ll write about the specifics, but right now I’m too shocked to have any perspective. I haven’t slept more than a few hours at a time all week; my heart pounds so I feel each beat; I have no appetite. Sure, it’s great to drop five pounds in a week, but not with shaking hands you have to hide from clients or sinking guts that weigh down every breath.
I’ve often heard in the rooms that placing one’s faith in people, places, and things is a recipe for pain. But how can we avoid doing just that? Part of my loving – or feeling I love – inevitably involves dependence. I trust that a friend or loved one honors me as I do them, and pretty soon I’ve hung my well-being on their actions without even realizing it. In the same way, I rely on the places and things I love to provide me security. I get attached to my body’s health. These elements should all stay put just as I’ve arranged them. I want to know my happiness is safe, that I can depend on the world to take care of me.
But it isn’t, and I can’t.
When illusions get ripped away, we realize that everywhere we make a home for ourselves in the world, we simultaneously become exposed. We begin to think that home is part of us, of our being – our identity – and that we can shed our skin there in perfect safety. But people are flawed. They fuck up. They decide, at times, that it’s a grand idea to be immensely selfish, throwing us under a bus. Other “homes” are just as impermanent. Diagnoses drop bombs on our health. Jobs end and take financial security with them. Sweet kids become addicts. People move away. Houses burn. Earthquakes happen. Nothing stays put.
When I am most in pain, I turn to god. And god, I have found, is there for me most when pain has torn open my heart. I can feel it. It doesn’t exactly empathize, because pain is not part of its realm. But it loves. Even when everything has gone to shit, god loves as always – the way the sun rises each morning, the way the ocean waves curl over and thunder up the beach, the way the spring grass sprouts through winter’s dead mat of straw year after year after year. “I’m here. I love you.” That’s what it says. But if I listen closer than I want to, it’s also saying, “All is well, if you’ll only let it be so.” It’s talking about acceptance. About humility. God is in what is. So when I fight what is, I’m fighting god.
Do I think about taking a drink? Wouldn’t that fix everything? Wouldn’t it calm my heart from slapping against the inside of my sternum? Just cop a decent buzz and I could quit giving a shit. Then I could vent my hurt as outrage and lash out about what a worthless piece of shit the person who hurt me was. That anger – wouldn’t it jack up my sense of power, raise me on towering flames of righteousness so I could smite? Then maybe I wouldn’t have to feel this intense vulnerability, this loss, this pain… pain… pain….
Sure, that might happen temporarily. But when the drunkenness retreated, I’d have nothing. I’d have lost not only the person I trusted, but myself.
I hadn’t gone to one of my Near Death Experience (NDE) meetings in months, but when I asked last week on Facebook if someone would go with me, a Tennessee friend who’s had an NDE as well responded: “I’m in town; let’s go!” At that meeting, the makers of a TV show came down front and announced they were interviewing NDEers. So, as one of them passed my aisle seat, I handed him my card. I didn’t think much of it.
Yesterday I was sitting with my pain, my journal open in my lap, staring into space. The phone rang and one of those TV researchers asked if I would tell her my NDE story. It takes a while, because I’ve had 14 paranormal after-effects as well, but she assured me she had all the time in the world. So I told it again for the for the first time in years. The story’s scattered through my addiction memoir and I’ve presented it to Seattle IANDS* and at the Seattle Theosophical Society, but there’s no call to tell it in daily living.
When I got to the part about my huge 9th Weird Thing, I explained:
“That’s the moment when I got it. I mean, before then I’d believed god was real whenever I was feeling spiritual or something, but otherwise I’d set that aside and believe in my own mind. But this thing was so inexplicable – it was all the proof a person could ask for. I knew then god is with us in every tiny thing that happens. And something changed in me. I was sobbing and I prayed, ‘Okay – I know you’re real! I’ll never you doubt again!'”
“That’s so cool!” exclaimed the woman. She was busy taking notes. And in the little stretch of silence that followed, something nudged me: Hear yourself. Sitting there, I remembered that the 9th Weird Thing really did happen. I remembered all my weird things – that they had actually happened to me, that I really lived them, and that no material view of the world could explain them.
What I’d prayed fervently a few nights before was this: “Let me know you’re with me.” So it came about that I spoke the very words I needed to hear. Plus there was a deeper message wrapped up in that “hear yourself,” saying also, “heal yourself.” It went something like this:
There’s a home at your core that’s always safe, because you and I inhabit it together. Make that home your true one. Spend time there, spruce it up, make it strong. Because there, sweet child, even as the world falls down around you, my love will carry you, and you’ll be okay.
Today, I know that’s true.
*Seattle IANDS = Seattle branch of the International Association for Near Death Studies