I met Emily several years ago. We were both pregnant with our now 4 year olds, volunteering for a wonderful organization called Harmony with No Limits. No Limits is an after school program created for low income children with hearing deficiencies. Like so many of my stories, Emily and I reconnected on Facebook. She shared a quote about Bodhichitta, and I was immediately intrigued. The quote is powerfully beautiful, and you can read it at the end of Emily’s story. Through Emily’s pain and darkness, she awakened her own heart. I am honored to share Emily’s Voice.
|Photo of Emily and Dad in 2006.|
My Heart Opened in My Darkest Time
By Emily McGill
Growing up my Father was a friend to all – a stray animal, anyone who needed guidance. He put others first because he cared, and I think looking back he wanted to control his environment. If he took care of others he somehow believed he would be okay, too. He seemed so strong. He could almost will things to happen.
My Stepmom was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago. With her perseverance, treatment and the selfless care from my Dad, she lived well after the diagnosis. However, the tighter he held on to things and managed her care, the more insecure I watched him become over the years. Every test, every appointment no matter how routine threw him off course for weeks. Love and hugs did not comfort him. He wanted answers. Absolutes. A guarantee she would not have cancer again.
My Stepmom was diagnosed with a secondary cancer the beginning of 2010. She passed in the summer of 2010 after a very short 6-month fight with liver cancer. My Father’s will and spirit passed away the night she died. I felt it as I drove away from the hospital. My husband stayed with him.
He spent many nights with my two young boys and me for the 11 months that followed, and then returned to his home during the day. There he searched for answers. He read about the afterlife and spirituality. He flew across the country to meet with an author and doctor who wrote about the afterlife. He met with religious leaders in his community searching for answers. He was angry at the world. He was angry with himself. He had no compassion for anything but perhaps my two young boys.
I knew the answers were within him. I couldn’t give them to him. Why couldn’t he know that? I listened to him for hours at night. Repeating to him "for now" you feel this way. "For now" you can't see a path ahead of you, “But it's just for now, Dad”.
My Father committed suicide three months ago. He always woke up bitter and sad at my house. When the sun came up day after day, he couldn’t bear his reality without my Stepmom. He left my house that morning and went home. Normally, we spoke every few hours. When I did not hear from him, I knew in my heart something was wrong. He went home to his house, and took his own life.
My world forever changed in that moment I found out. It changed and there is a sorrow that I have deep in my soul. Yet, it was then that I found an (my) open heart for me and it demanded grace and compassion from me, not from others – but from me.
It's not been a subtle transition. He was one of my best friends in addition to being my Dad. I felt anger and wrote my Father a letter one night several weeks after. I spent a miserable time in anger and loathing his decision, and after my letter to him my anger was released. And in walked more sadness and sorrow. Yet, when I found the passage about bodhichitta I also found compassion, understanding and grace.
I think I've been on a journey of self-discovery since I was a child; I had always liked the idea of yoga and Eastern thinking. Been drawn to it since I was young. However wanting yoga and more Eastern thinking to be in my world seemed a struggle. It's as if I thought just thru my yoga practice I would find enlightenment. If I just could master wheel or headstand all would come to me. It wasn't until my Father’s death that I realized all those beliefs where within and not a struggle at all. They were inherent. I’ve always had an open heart for the world and finally I had an open heart for me. I have to heal me, look for the deep soft place in my heart I see so easily in others and saw so easily in my Dad.
I'm actually at peace in one of the darkest times in my life. My journey may never be over in regards to healing from my Father’s suicide, but I have compassion for him and for me. Something my Father wouldn't allow himself to do if ever. I realize now that he was searching all along for what was right inside of him, inside of all of us: the most tenderness of love and hearts, he just never turned it onto himself to give himself the compassion he needed.
A good friend introduced me to the writings of Pema Chodron earlier this year as I was struggling to take care of my heartbroken Father. I bought him a book of hers, which remains untouched. I found one of her books “Comfortablewith Uncertainty – 108 Teachings on Cultivation Fearlessness and Compassion” just a few weeks ago that had a passage on Bodhichitta.
Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word that means "noble or awakened heart." Just as butter is inherent in milk and oil is inherent in sesame seed, the soft spot of Bodhichitta is inherent in you and me. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. No matter how committed we are to unkindness, selfishness or greed, the genuine heart of Bodhichitta cannot be lost. It is here in all that lives, never marred and completely whole.
It is said that in difficult times, it is only Bodhichitta that heals. When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself. Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion - our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. Based on a deep fear of being hurt, we erect protective walls made out of strategies, opinions, prejudices, and emotions. Yet just as a jewel that has been buried in the earth for a million years is not discolored or harmed, in the same way this noble heart is not affected by all the ways we try and protect ourselves from it. The jewel can be brought out into the light at any time, and it will glow as brilliantly as if nothing had ever happened.
This tenderness for life, Bodhichitta, awakens when we no longer shield ourselves from vulnerability of our condition, from the basic fragility of existence. It awakens through kinship with the suffering of others. We train our Bodhichitta practices in order to become so open that we can take the pain of the world in, let it touch our hearts, and turn it into compassion.