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Walking through the doorway to mystery

We all face loss in our lives. I have not lost my home, as have so many in our valley recently. My heart goes out to them. This article is about the deepest loss in my life and what I found there.

There is something bigger than everyday life that keeps surprising me. It can happen through something as simple as a smile, a sunset or a summertime fresh-from-the-vine burst of cherry tomato flavor. It can also happen in a moment of deep pain.

In a poem I titled “Deep Loss, Deep Embrace,” about the day my mother died in 1995, I attempted to express one of those surprising moments in my life:

Her body lies in bed

Now only a shell

Where has my mother gone?

On my knees at her side,

I let go to pain, to sobbing,

Waves of loss overwhelm.

Quietly, a subtle sensation grows;

As I begin to feel

The endless ocean of life

Beneath the waves of loss,

A sweet, massive loving kindness

Pours through me

Co-existing with sobs and pain.

In this moment,

I feel and know

That this ocean of loving kindness

Embraces us all.

This something that “embraces us all” is so huge, yet so intimate that words fail us. Of all the words I have read or used to describe this feeling or presence, I gravitate toward the word “mystery.”

“Mystery” admits right up front that I don’t know it all. As I have grown older, I have learned that not-knowing can be more powerful for growth in my life journey than knowing.

With a known belief or dogma, I either believe it or argue with it. When I open that door and enter, I tend to see many boxes. I see people arguing about whose box is the right box.

With mystery, there is nothing to argue with. Entering that door requires only an open mind and a yearning heart. That door won’t be closed by coronavirus, as have so many other doors this year. That door is inside each one of us, 24 hours a day.

How do we open the door to mystery? I prefer practical to philosophical, so here are a few suggestions.

Gratitude journal: You don’t have to go “big.” Some days I have to start with the most basic. I might write: “I am grateful for this breath right now.” That’s a start. “I am grateful for my family and friends.” That’s a start. Each morning, you can write two more seemingly “little” things in your life you are grateful for. In just a year, you can look back at 730 moments of gratitude in your life.

Be in nature: Dig in the dirt. Plant flowers or vegetables in your garden or a community garden. Combine nature with art as you walk the Bandersnatch Trail in Ashland or visit Cantrall Buckley County Park in the Applegate Valley. Sometimes great beauty and meaning is found through reminders of the resilience of life.

Be vulnerable with a loved one: In our lives, and especially during this challenging year, we need to reach out to one another, to family and friends.

As author Brené Brown has said, “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”

Play with a pet: Being with a dog, a cat or another creature who responds with playfulness and love lifts us out of self-absorption. Moments of play are very healing.

Finally, appreciate little moments each day: In my experience, I have found “I’ll be happy when ” or “If only ” to be sneaky traps that I set for myself and then fall into. Not pleasant. On the other hand, each day is already filled with moments to notice and appreciate. Do you eat food? Appreciate the flavors. Do you prepare food? Appreciate the farmers who grew the food, then your creativity as you prepare it. Do you walk? Appreciate your muscles working. Can you see? Appreciate a beautiful detail right in front of you right now.

I encourage you to consider that a doorway to mystery or loving kindness or inner peace is before you many times each day. We can each learn our own ways to crack open that door, walk through and more fully explore the richness of the life we already have.

Peter Finkle writes about Ashland history, neighborhoods, public art and more. See WalkAshland.com for his Ashland stories.