This is the final post in a series about acceptance and letting go of control. In this post, I talk about how truly experiencing loss makes room for new life and growth.
“Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divining, perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”—Rainer Maria Rilke
Sadness, pain, anxiety, grief—these emotions tend to make us feel insecure and wrong. When they come up, we reach for a distraction, an escape.
In this quote, Rilke eloquently describes how our openness to emotion makes room for new life to enter into us. When we stop trying to change our experiences and rest in confidence with them, they pass through us and we change in ways that we can’t yet see.
The groundless, vulnerable feeling of loss has allowed me to see what’s around me with greater clarity. While writing this blog post, I reflected over some of my life’s losses. I realized that even in my earliest experiences of loss—saying goodbye to my dog, for example–being with my emotion helped me relax and see who I am. Loss has also allowed me to see the gifts around me.
My golden retriever, Rosie, died when I was 12 years old. Rosie was a wonderful friend to me, and she accompanied my brother and I to both our mom and dad’s houses through the course of the week. She was a constant at a time in my life when I felt like there wasn’t much stability—a hiking companion, and a huge source of comfort to me as my life was in transition. She had a smile and playful sweetness that I’ve never seen matched.
When Rosie died a sudden and brutal death from drinking antifreeze (perhaps on my birthday hike, but we don’t know), I felt like my heart had been ripped out of me. I remember laying in my room crying all night for a week and listening to Chrissie Hynde sing Angel of the Morning on repeat. I held her ashes in their tin can and looked at her pictures constantly. I remember that some of my friends made fun of me for how hard I took Rosie’s death. They encouraged me to ‘get over it’ and told me that Rosie was ‘just a dog.’
I didn’t listen to those voices. Instead, something beautiful happened.
While we were waiting to hear if Rosie would survive, my dad took me out to a nature preserve. The two of us walked through the woods; the trees were glowing with autumn golds and the air was crisp. My dad held my hand and led me through the woods.
Suddenly, we heard the cry of a bird that he told me was a Pileated woodpecker. We walked towards the sound, and saw the bright red flash of the woodpecker’s head going in and out of a tree trunk. My dad (an avid birder) explained to me that being so close to a woodpecker was an incredibly rare experience. “They’re so secretive. Usually they fly away if people are nearby.”
Through the course of the weeks, I tapped into the comfort of those woods, and I let myself stay, like the woodpecker, with all the sadness and grief that was moving through my body. I let myself honor Rosie’s memory.
As the weeks went on, I felt held by the natural world around me, and by my dad’s love. A stillness came over me. The sobbing became less frequent. I turned towards the friends and family who supported me and saw how much love existed in my life. I turned towards nature and began running outside to be near Rosie’s spirit.
Writing about it now, I still feel the pain of saying goodbye to my childhood best friend, though I don’t think about Rosie much anymore. I’ve experienced many different kinds of losses since Rosie died, but all have the same quality of rawness. All have allowed me to find love and comfort in places I didn’t see it before. And all of my losses have led to my being able to honor what I’ve lost, to see my own strength, and to continue growing.
I invite you to think of the moments in your own life when you were the most tender and the most burst open by emotion. Perhaps you felt completely vulnerable, and there didn’t seem to be any ground beneath you. What did your heart and mind feel like in these moments? What things emerged in the silence within you?
The irony is that when we befriend what we want to resist, a new experience enters. A new relationship, a new sense of gratitude, a new interest, a new love, creative energy. The brain is so malleable and designed for change—you can literally cut it with a butter knife.
Our pain does cut us, and it leaves a wound. These wounds heal, but they are marks of how much we have loved, lived, and felt. And, in the words of Rumi, “The wound is the place where the light enters us.”
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach is designed to foster a sense of strength, understanding, and joy. Her expertise focuses on individual counseling with adults and adolescents suffering from depression, anxiety, self-esteem and identity issues, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.