The natural world has always been my place of refuge. Where I can breathe deeply and feel calm filling in the spaces that have become encrusted with frustration and bitterness. Where I can look out at the water, or gaze at the sun, or look longingly up at the stars, and understand that the world is much greater than my pain in the moment.
The natural world also helps me to understand those things that seem incomprehensible, especially to one without a religious or spiritual tether. Life and death happen; disasters happen. Death is necessary in order to sustain life. And from death, comes rebirth. There is no Good, no Bad. Nature is a system that strives only to maintain balance, and ironically nature is most in balance when humans resist the urge to interfere with it.
When I realized that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, when I started to understand how completely it had derailed my life and my plans, I was angry. I wanted to blame people, institutions, events. And I could do that: people, institutions, and events all aligned in such a way that I emerged irreparably damaged. But the only thing that provided any solace, any comfort or understanding, was the realization that I am a part of this world, and the world is wild and unpredictable: accidents happen; death happens; tragedies happen, and leave behind deep wounds.
It is tempting to believe that my family has endured more than its share of hardship in recent years. My son is surviving cancer, diagnosed three years ago. My niece died from cancer two years ago, just as she was becoming an adult. My son and his wife have more recently endured several personal tragedies, one after the other in rapid succession, and the fallout has been extreme.
I realize others experience hardship and loss, and that my family isn't unique. I know one only needs to scratch the surface to find grief that is fresh, or old and unhealed, or more likely both. And sometimes people are battered by too many tragedies all at once, and it seems like we will never be carefree again. We start feeling weighted down as the hurts are piled on us; it feels harder and harder to get up, let alone start a new day with hope and gratitude.
Sometimes I sit on a bluff overlooking the ocean doing gentle yoga and trying to quiet my thoughts. Inevitably feelings of sadness and discouragement surface; they’re never very deep. I imagine offering my grief to the ocean, where it will be carried away by the currents and absorbed by the waves.
Some days I wonder how long – how many days, weeks, months, years – will I have to come here and offer my grief to the ocean before I feel the sorrow cleansed from my heart?
Last night the sky was clear, and the stars sparkled brilliantly overhead. It was cool but not cold, with a delicious moist breeze that felt wonderful on my face. I did my yoga under the stars, breathing in deeply, breathing out fully. I imagined the tears of my family falling upwards and becoming the stars in the sky. I realized that the sky could contain all of our tears. There are stars enough, sky enough, for all of the tears, for all of the world’s grief. It was a comforting thought.
After finishing my yoga I laid back and gazed up at the stars. We are made of star stuff. I tried to imagine what this really means. I tried to feel it. I come from the stars. My tears come from the stars. Everything that happens on this planet, in my family, is a part of the dance of the stars. Every hope derailed because of a physical or mental accident, every life cut short too soon, every tear cried, every family in mourning – all of this came from the stars and will return to the stars.
Every ache of my heart, I release to the waves. Every tear I cry, I send up to the stars. I don’t know how long it will take, but I know that no matter how infinite my grief feels, the ocean and the sky are vast enough to contain it.