I’ve been thinking about death a lot these days. I had recurring dreams about my own death for several days in a row that I began to wonder…am I going to die?
Death is serious and I hesitate to talk about it because it hits home to so many, and it hurts. Losing a loved one hurts. A lot. But this week, I took some time out to think about my own death, and what it could actually mean for myself, my family, and my friends. It was dark, and depressing because what I came to conclude was that my children would be left without Mommy, and left to live with very careless, dangerous, and emotionally unavailable men. The feeling of powerlessness over that consumed me and brought me to my knees. What if… this day was my last day? What if this week was my last week? What if this year was my last year? What kind of memories have I left for my children? What kind of hopes and dreams have I inspired in them? How much sense of value, worthiness, and self-love have I instilled in their hearts? How would they remember me? What parts would bring them grief? What parts would bring them joy?
It was a sad week for me, but it left me with the conclusion that, I don’t know how much longer I have. I could have another fifty or sixty years. Or, today might be my last day. Because I never know, because tomorrow’s breath is not guaranteed, why would I waste another second not trying to make this day the best?
In doing this reflection, I realized that in order for me to take my life seriously, part of me actually DID have to die. Not a physical death, but the death of old, useless beliefs that do not move me forward in my conscious evolution and purposeful intentions of leaving this world just a little better than when I fell into it.
When I began my “spiritual journey”, I came across a word that at the time felt threatening to me. The word was “detachment”. In the midst of betrayal and infidelity, the idea of keeping the focus on my own recovery, healing, and overcoming the trauma sounded and felt more like “turn a blind eye to the offender”. It was hard to see that it was actually advising that, if we keep our focus on the offender, we will always be in fight or flight mode, stuck in a state of hypervigilance, stress, anxiety, and fully enmeshed in the other person’s life. This prevents us from attending to inner healing that is put on the back burner and not being tended to.
It might be different for everyone, but my understanding of detachment came in phases. The first phase was thinking that I was not allowed to think about the offender (in this case, my husband’s sexual affairs (past or present)). I thought I was not allowed to think or feel about how horrible it felt being betrayed and lied to. It felt like I was being advised to deny my feelings and sadness. What I came to learn through therapy and spiritual practice, was that you gotta grieve, and grief is an absolute MUST in healing. However, grief is only the beginning, not the end, of the healing process. After that, there’s a time to let it go. But to let it go meant that I had to be really honest with myself and identify if I was ruminating over the events/offender, or truly grieving. For me, grieving was about two and a half months. After that it became pretty clear that I was simply ruminating. I was able to recognize the difference as one of the tell-tell signs was me starting to feel bitter, negative, resentful, and angry as I replayed the past grievances that, for the most part, were not even relevant to the real problems, and sometimes the thoughts were putting me into a negative spiral of sadness, despair, and extra pain. It was not helping me heal, but more like “picking at scabs”.
When I realized that I was causing myself unnecessary pain by ruminating, I used the 3-second method, which was this: If I found my mind wandering with thoughts about the offense, I would allow myself to think about the issue for 3 seconds and then automatically change my focus onto something positive. Eventually, through this exercise, the next phase of my understanding about detachment came.
This required me to change my story around the issues. I decided to stop seeing him as a perpetrator and more of an “angel” of sorts. Through his horrific acts, I was pushed to dig deep within myself, and uncover some pretty embarrassing character defects of my own. I was also pushed far enough to realize my worth, my value, and what I really wanted in life. This “angel” had brought so much darkness into my life, that I had no other choice but to decide if I wanted to stay in darkness or shine as bright as I possibly could so that I could at least find my way out. This “angel of darkness” was a further catalyst to my spiritual growth. Without him, I would have stayed stuck in a stale place in my conscious evolution. I was codependent, and afraid. I put on a façade of strength and confidence when in fact I was a nervous wreck always holding back and making excuses of why I couldn’t move forward or pursue my passions. My goals, my dreams, my passions were all on the back burner. But in all honesty, I am not even sure I recognized or knew what my passions were at that time. Perhaps, it was through the suffering, dark coldness that I discovered them?
The monstor image I had of him in my mind, became softer. Anger turned to gratitude. The next phase of my detachment felt like depression though. I was sad. It went to a pretty negative place. I wondered, “if all of this suffering is for some greater purpose, why should I care about anything? Why should I want anything? Why get mad, sad, or even happy, if none of it is supposed to matter? If I can’t do anything about anything, and everything is out of my control, why care? Why bother?” At one point, I was convinced that this life seriously sucked and I had absolutely no hope that it could ever be a life of joy. It felt a little like “punishment”. This was a hard phase to get out of.
The key to that part, for me, was realizing how extremely self-centered and self-absorbed I was. I was only looking at it through what I was getting out of it. What we too often fail to remember is that joy comes not out of getting, but giving. When we do good, or see others do good, we feel “good”. When we do bad, see others do bad, or even dwell on our own miseries and failures, we feel “bad”. What’s worse, is especially when we see other’s successes as a threat to our own, or somehow playing a part in our failure, or competition to our personal success, we feel bad (and in most cases, threatened, and angry). So when we see our loved one walk away from us, no matter how many years we swore that we loved them unconditionally, we do not see them as our loved one anymore, but as an enemy or a threat to our goals. We carelessly misuse the phrase “Oh, I’m just detaching…” We confused completely disconnecting that part of us that loved them very much with detaching.
Hell bent on making it clear to the world that this person had strayed from our tightly held expectations that they should be or do differently than what we wanted, and thus they are in the wrong. Instead of caring about their wellbeing and respect their choices, we shut down and say we’re just “detaching” because detaching keeps us focused on ourselves. This is they way I processed detachment for several years.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t helping me heal. Determined to heal, and determined to stop feeling so bad, I saught the advice of a spiritually-awakened friend. I had to commit to praying for my husband morning and night, that he would get everything he wanted in life, and that he was embraced with unconditional love, inner peace, and genuine happiness. The first week was white-knuckling it and took every bit of strength and energy for me to even mumble those words in my mind, much less outloud. Getting through those prayers for the first week was torture. But after 2 or 3 weeks of praying morning and night, it was when I was able to genuinely feel it and mean it.
The next phase of my coming to understand and grasp what detachment really was, was learning how to understand and accept that everything was out of my control. I couldn’t control what he thought, felt, said, or did. No matter how much I changed, he continued to be mean, verbally abusive, hostile, and deeper into his sexual addiction, alcoholism, and gambling. But this time, since I no longer saw him as an enemy, but an “angel”, and because now I genuinely wished for total joy and love for him, my attachment to what I wanted to be different was no longer there. I was at peace with the fact that he was who he was, and he does what he does. I no longer felt a need to respond emotionally or verbally to his prompts. Through gratitude and changing the way I saw him, my faith and hope grew. I came to realize that perhaps all of this was an opportunity for me to grow, evolve, and learn something very important. I had a nudging sense that if I could process this “opportunity” I was sure to find…joy. This was something I felt very confident about, and looking at how I had processed everything in the past, and how futile it was, I knew there was no turning back to old thought patterns and behaviors. For sure, something about me had to “die”.
Detachment finally meant accepting reality, being honest about my reality, and embracing it. In doing this, we don’t feel sad. We don’t feel depressed, and we don’t feel hopeless, as I had originally thought.
The only sad part about it was that loss is a part of life, that just like everything else, must be embraced. We don’t want to do that because we tend to think that if we “embrace loss” it means that we don’t feel anything- that we’re cold-hearted and don’t care. But what I’ve found in doing this spiritual practice, is that only by embracing loss, we are then able to truly value life. The reality of loss, when embraced, shakes you just enough so that you can finally appreciate it ALL, in its entirety. We step out of our selfish expectations of perfect partners and friendly like-minded people, and see that darkness makes light precious. Death makes life precious. Mean people make kindness precious. We begin to truly cherish everything good in our life. We realize all that nonsense, that bullshit- it’s all a distraction from what really matters.
We stop looking at what we’re getting out of it all, and realize that the real power of change is in what we’re willing to give, and how much we’re willing to love.
The death that I was sensing was this belief that I had time to be angry and insecure, and that I was justified and deserved the opportunity to take that bitterness out on another person. What needed to die was the belief that my passions would simply unfold once I got what I wanted, the way I wanted it, and then had the motivation to pursue them. Life is short, and we’ve got a lot of evolving to do on a conscious level. There is tremendous fear in detaching from that which is holding us back from our true potential and conscious evolution. We attach to relationships, jobs, material things, and the false sense of security they bring, and when those relationships, jobs, and material things are torn away from us, we realize and regret that our foundation was mistakenly placed.
I am starting to see how easily distracted I become when I see things as “not going my way”. Instead of keeping true to my personal values, morals, and holding strong in my integrity and what I believe my purpose is in life, I get side-tracked and react to things I don’t like in ways that don’t reflect the person I wish to be. This distraction has gotten the best of me. For the majority of my life, however, my reactions to unpleasant events were a protective mechanism. And while it seemed to work in my childhood, as I grew up, my habitual patterns and reactions to those distractions put me further from my goals, and way out of line with my values. The person I wished to be remembered for, when my time does come, to leave this world.