Heart Wide Open Hurts
You know how sometimes the water is so hot it feels cold? Or you are so overcome with emotion that it’s almost hard to distinguish between feeling and numbness? That’s how it felt as soon as we turned out the light.
I had been too tired even to watch our show, so it was on the early side — before 10:00pm. The meditation music began, and there it was — the constriction in my throat that somehow coupled with a sensation I can only describe as one of being a much younger woman, early 20s say. I’m reminded of how a few weeks ago, Pearl shared with me that she suddenly understood that we are ALL THE AGES we’ve ever been. So, she shared by way of example, if she’s really mad, maybe in that moment she’s actually four. It made perfect sense.
I lay there for a few minutes quietly while Mani pulled me in close; we take turns as we fall asleep with who’s the “big spoon,” and usually start out with her wrapped around me and me skooching my bum against the hollow of her belly as close as humanly possible. It’s my safe place, at least one of the top three.
And suddenly, I choked out these words with a sob. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been lost my whole life.”
With that, I cried and cried, tears rolling one after another from my eyes down the side of my face, drenching the pillow. She didn’t say a word or ask any questions, but just kept her arms around me tight. I let myself sink into the body memory of living inside of myself in other cities, other moments in time, but with the common feeling of not quite knowing how to BE in the world. How to translate the boundarylessness of being, or if not translate it, contain it and apply it in some useful way. In other words, how to feel at peace, inside and out.
Eventually, I got up to blow my nose. When I came back to bed, Mani asked what brought that on. Apparently, I wasn’t done crying yet, as her question triggered another round of heaving sobs. Flooded by how much I love my kids, more than perhaps they will ever know, and feeling in my bones that this is how much my mother loves me. The immensity of love felt almost like too much to bear. Because it is also pain, and it is also loss. There is no picking and choosing here.
And she told me then, about an image of Hanuman, a Hindu god in the form of a monkey. In the depiction she was recalling, he has ripped open his chest to expose his heart. Here’s one version of this moment, excerpted from a longer story:
Hanuman is given a string of pearls as a token of appreciation. He immediately breaks the necklace and begins cracking each pearl open with his teeth. When asked why he is doing this, Hanuman replies that he wants to see if Rama’s name is present in the pearls. If it isn’t, then the necklace has no value to him. Sita then asks Hanuman if Rama is inside of him as well. At this point, the monkey god rips open his chest to reveal the name of Rama inscribed on every organ, muscle and bone, and the images of Sita and Rama are found on his heart.
Heart wide open hurts. Heart wide open means alive, human. Chest wide open means heart exposed, and heart exposed means not numb. Means withstanding intensity of aliveness. Means riding waves of all the ages, more moments than would ever be possible to contain or count. We are uncontainable, really much too big for that. And yet here we are, walking around thanks to gravity inside of these skin-shaped vessels called bodies.
Someone gave me a string of pearls and I broke it open to see if God’s name was written there. It was as if I swallowed the pearls whole and took them into my heart, or strew them about in a fit among falling leaves. And then, the chest, the heart, the dark, the music, the holding and the letting loose of all the ages and all the ache and all the love that is too much to carry sometimes.
This morning, I saw their faces, the children I bore who I can only pray know my love. It’s literally in the brownies I made last night, and the way I sat while they ate breakfast and we chatted about this and that dream one of us had last night. It’s in my touch when I squeeze a shoulder or a thigh, my gaze when I’m doing that embarrassing mama thing, and it’s even underlying my annoyance or frustration when they’re fussing at me or each other. I wish my love was the very air they breathed, and I suppose in a way it is. Bigger than me or any of us. And no guarantee of ease.
It hurts sometimes to feel this much. And yes, sometimes I feel like I’ve been lost my whole life and still am. Because what is its opposite — found? Like “Amazing Grace,” is there such a moment when one arrives at the other shore? I’m not convinced. It’s more like a tide that carries me out and back, sometimes violently, sometimes so calmly I don’t even see how far I’ve drifted. There is floating and there are bouts of panic: Where are my people? Where is the ground?
And then there is surrender. To the currency of salt water and tears and ocean and the big sky that might be spacious enough for all of this, and the tightest hold that weathers me through.