How the light gets in.


Sort of clapping her hands together with delight, my therapist sat smiling in her therapist’s chair and announced, “It’s wonderful that you’re in so much pain!”

We both laughed. This was a few months ago and I had just explained how excruciating it had been to sustain my love for someone day after day despite ongoing rejection, how lonely it is to be on your own in a new town, and my commitment to seeing it through without reverting to old habits. Habits like checking out. Like finding myself walking out of a convenience store with a pack of menthols in my hand. Like burrowing into my work or my favorite TV show on DVD, or a bucket of cookie dough, a bottle of wine.

Instead I continue to sit with the pain. I run with it. It keeps me company in the evenings when life is much too quiet.
“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”  -- Leonard Cohen
What my therapist meant is that the pain is what opens us up, and that opening, that willingness to let it all in, is often the very thing we work toward in life, in therapy, and in relationships. That’s how the light gets in.

As I made the decision recently to move again, to a new place, again, I was once more confronted by the idea of home. Is home a physical place or a social construct? Or something else entirely?

While I personally have taken up residence in a state of constant transition, my family back in Kansas is having to redefine home literally. The farm, which had been in my family for over a century, was sold last fall, and the root system, which bound us together, was dug up and ground to bits in the process. Now we are all even more scattered than before, and with nothing to keep us tied together we wonder what will happen next.  And of course, being from Kansas, we don’t talk about it.

But even though selling the farm calls us to question our collective identity as a family, and as much as I wish I could unlive some of the harder moments of the past six months, I trust that it’s all for the best. I trust that family ties will become stronger or fade away, as they should, and I trust that the love I seek will find its way into my life through the cracks created by so much shifting around. I believe that home is a state of mind, and I believe that new families are formed every day.

Buddhist teacher and speaker Pema Chodron often addresses mindfulness and meditation and what we strive for in both. In her book, When Things Fall Apart, she says, “Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. We explore the unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away … Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.”

I know the face of that love, and I look for it everyday. I saw it from Highway 101 the other morning in the shape of dolphins playing in the surf as I drove by. I see it in the tears of the one I love when I tell him that while I appreciate the exercise I can’t continue to jog in place until he makes up his mind.  And I know that love will show itself to me when I move to the foothills in coming weeks, where I will have my morning coffee on the patio overlooking horses at pasture and golden hills flecked with scrubby oak trees.

This journey is not unlike a marathon. You are only competing with your old self. You press on when it seems impossible. You fortify yourself as best you can with what’s available along the way. You look to your friends in the sidelines for encouragement and they’re always there, cheering you on.

And all you really hope for is to beat your own record, to do it better than you did last time.

If you’re lucky, your therapist can say it’s wonderful that you’re in so much pain because you choose to let the light shine in.

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