I know it like I know the shape of my face in the mirror. I can tell when something changes in it. When there is a new wrinkle. An unexpected twinge. Today it is living in the upper part of my stomach. Just behind the diaphragm. That is the base of it. But in certain moments, when I think of this or that thing she said or didn’t say, a little sliver of it shoots upward and spreads out underneath my heart, like a saucer beneath a warm cup of tea. And I think to cry. But I can’t because I’m at work. Or with my children, or on the bus. And the cry kind of buries itself somewhere in my throat while I look out the window and blink slowly.
At another point today, I found it behind my heart. Embracing it. Like millions of tiny fingers. Like the wires in an electric blanket. And every time I thought of something that happened or didn’t happen, or something that she said, or didn’t say, the wires would tingle and give me a tiny, precious heart attack.
Some people call this pain. Or heartache. I’ve also heard it referred to as Grief or Sadness.
I think of it as feeling. And I’m lucky to have it.
Once I was on this meditation retreat. We sat for 40 minute sections four or five times a day. After I went through the intitial phases of euphoria and anxiety ; self-obsession, and boredom, I arrived at this place where nothing was happening really. I was just sitting. All day. Stopping, then sitting some more. During one of these sessions, I started sweating. Not a lot, but just enough for one, single, solitary drop to form on my head and begin to drip.
Slowly. Millimeter, by millimeter, it moved. Past my eyebrow and on to my eyelid. Along the inside of the bridge of nose and down its peak. Across the right part of my upper lip, over the ridge of my mouth and down across the surface of my chin.
It bothered. It itched. It annoyed. It stressed me out. And then, somewhere in there, it ceased to be a problem. And became simply a sensation. I remembered the words of my teacher. “Meditation is curiosity about the nature of things.” And so I asked myself: What was the nature of this drip of sweat on my face? It was warm. And it left a trail of sensation that I could see in my mind’s eye. I imagined it like a small, illuminated path where the bead had travelled. And that trail felt, oddly, not like something, but rather like the absence of something. Like a light pathway of emptiness.
I don’t remember what happened after that. Did it evaporate, or did it drip from my chin? All I know is that it was something I normally would have just wiped away and never thought of again. But I didn’t because I was meditating. And now I can tell you more about how a bead of sweat feels going down your face than pretty much anyone else you know.
I wonder what would happen if I were to learn that much about something important?
I don’t think, necessarily, that the point of meditation is to learn everything about everything (although the intellectual glutton in me finds that a sexy idea). Mostly it’s just helped me sit still long enough to discover what’s beyond. Or beneath. Because there are greater discomforts in my life than a bead of sweat on my nose. And the wiping away of those discomforts may be a drink or a drug, or an emotional outburst, or a destructive inburst. These are all things I have done. And these are all things which have threatened to kill me and destroy what I love. So in some significant way, my very life depends on my ability to sit still while the sweat drips ever so slowly.
My practice has not rid me of my pain. It has made me a connoisseur of it. I know its nooks and crannies, explosions, and tingles the very same way I know my own face in the mirror. And I am learning to love it, just as I am learning to love the way I look. This is a good thing. Because even though my heart is broken to tiny pieces today, it will be healed tomorrow. (Please?) And I will know that the pain, all this pain, is only a feeling. An empty pathway. A scar of light along the face of my soul.
And so I am free.
To love again. And break again.
January 31, 2011.