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Wishing you an Empty and Useless Summer

The forever empty was back today, the cosmic soul-hunger, probably brought on by going out to a dinner party last night; I'm becoming more aware of my introversion and how much socializing, however delightful, takes out of me. I find the performance aspect exhausting, as Eliot's Prufrock warned, "There will be time, there will be time, To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;"

I woke up certain that I had offended someone, said something inappropriate, eaten too much, talked too loud, and generally made myself unwelcome. Of course, I know none of that is true, but it's an old script and needs silencing. I immediately started planning what I could do to fix what I had broken. Working my way back into my own good graces, as it were, getting the ducks in a row and keeping it all going.

As day progressed I started feeling more and more tired. The magnitude of my fatigue hit me mid-morning in my therapist's office. I couldn't sit upright in a chair, so I laid down on the table and wept. He put his hand on my head and said, "How is it for you to know I am here?" and I said, "Grateful that you don't want anything from me, because I have nothing left to give."

It is times like these, that Kimberly Patton pointed out in her beautiful essay, "When Wounded Emerge as Healers", one begins to do the hardest and most precious work of transformation. One of the passages that has stuck with me for years is this: 

"Even if a broken heart does not lie in your past or present, it awaits you in your future, at some place, at some time when you will almost certainly be unprepared. But in myth, in ritual, and in theology, the broken heart is not a regrettable symptom of derailment, but is rather the starting point of anything that matters."  

Yes. I've learned that now.

The forever empty felt spacious when I was laying on that table weeping, because I didn't just see or discern, I FELT, the way that it just is, there isn't any getting around it, no changing it, and nothing to do for it.

It was, in fact, a relief, a place of stillness and non-action.

The curse of action and productivity has been an ongoing battle for me. I don't want to lay this all on Harvard, but as Patton points out, 

"Harvard is a place of astonishing light; but, even at the Divinity School, it is also a place where, in the shadow, very poor human bargains can be made. I have made many such bargains myself, and my tears have not yet healed them. The shadow side of Harvard’s obsession with excellence is the relentless fear of failure, insecurity ,and the reluctance to ask questions that might reveal one did not come to Harvard already knowing everything. But as both myth and cognitive psychology show, failure is how one learns; indeed, it is the most important element of the natural process of learning. And entering new territory one does not already “control,” without a passport, is how one keeps moving outward from the known center, how one avoids calcification, how inquiry and wonder are not stifled by self-righteousness. The shadow side of Harvards obsession with productivity is compulsion, the inability to relax or to rejoice in what has already been accomplished, or even more, to see the value in latency, dormancy, or rest. As Martha Beck observes, Harvard is a place where lovers sign letters to one another, “Wishing you a productive summer.”

Today I saw, so very clearly, the path from hot loneliness to the spacious solitude, and I was grateful for it.

The pain I feel that rides along with, or covers and masks the tranquility of the forever empty is clearly of my own making, my own wriggling on the pin against what is.

Let go. Let go. Let go.

Ken, my brilliant therapist, gave me a hug and said, "Have an empty and useless two weeks!" and we laughed.


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