An ode to my father's passing: An invitation to let your pain mold you into a more whole and alive person
As the patient inward energy of winter eagerly burst outward into the first warm blooms of spring, my father's life energy transitioned from outward to inward, leaving his body cold on the early morning of the fourth day of the most recent Satvatove Advanced course.
Since then a part of me has naturally gone inward, too, honoring him through loving grief and digesting how this experience is shaping me.
Today I’m sharing the lessons I’m learning from this loss.
My father was a deeply sweet and loving man. He was simple, straightforward, light-hearted, and fun.
He was also a man who was deeply hurting. He suffered a lifetime of running away from unresolved pains, as many of us do.
I believe suffering is not natural to the soul, and at the same time, I've experienced that pain is a natural part of the human experience.
For many, if not all of us, the tendency to avoid pain can become the crux of suffering itself, nailing us to life-draining habits of running away from the very pain that, while scary, seeks to shape us into more whole and complete beings.
These habits look different for everyone. For my father it looked like drowning feelings of inadequacy, self-abandonment and corresponding inner loneliness with alcohol for thirty years.
With these habits he turned unavoidable pain into entirely avoidable suffering, as many of us do.
Part of my healing process is alchemizing the pain of this loss into some sort of gift.
More than a week has passed since my father and I exchanged our last "I love you's,” and I now feel a deep motivation to support others like you to continue to do the inner work my father was possibly too scared or simply unaware to begin earlier on in his life.
What I am realizing on a deeper level is that we can spend our entire lives running from ourselves without even realizing it.
My mentor David Wolf of the Satvatove Institute often shares this quote by Kierkegaard:
“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed.”
Too easily we unnoticeably lose ourselves in the folds of daily life and the subtle life-draining habits with which we sometimes fill them to avoid facing the shadows inside of us.
These habits are often more subtle, and therefore more insidious, than alcoholism.
Emotional distance, codependency, distraction in busy-ness, distraction under the guise of helping, distraction in sex, blaming others, blaming ourselves, being a victim to life, passivity, aggression, numbing ourselves, hiding behind masks of the nice guy/girl or the strong one or wise one - these are all more subtle habits of running away from ourselves that, like alcohol addiction, also kill us slowly.
I think these habits numb us from what we think will be a more terrible pain:
The pain of honestly acknowledging how insecure and weak we can feel.
The pain of feeling the inadequacy that consumes us at times.
The pain of feeling like a failure or an imposter.
The pain of being unaccepted, unloved, or abandoned.
The irony is that we usually end up paying much bigger prices than the hurt of this pain.
T. Harv Eker says that “If you are willing to do only what's easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what's hard, life will be easy.”
When we do what is easy, the price we pay is very hard existence; a life where pain turns into suffering.
I've heard my mentor say many times that a full life is full of both joy and pain.
When I run from the inevitable pain that comes with the package of being alive, I run from the opportunity to let my pain mold me into a more whole and alive being, and I miss the joy and energy that comes with that.
Our pain has a life-giving purpose. It is not senseless suffering that pain seeks to bring us.
“…the very misfortunes that trouble us and seem to be a hindrance to our carrying out the task of our life are in themselves the task of our life…No sorrow is as great as the fear of it. Resisting sorrows creates suffering…” - Leo Tolstoy, The Wisdom of Humankind
Unpleasant emotions like pain, insecurity, fear, anger, weakness, or anxiety are all loving invitations to heal what is out of harmony within us.
The seemingly unending sorrow, the cutting insecurity that collapses us at the knees, and the terrifying anger that we spend so much life energy avoiding - when we truly face these emotions without avoiding or wallowing in them, we actually gain more life energy. We clean the house that our spirit lives in so that we have opportunities for new life, new joy, and new laughter to come in and enrich our souls.
In my mentor David’s book Relationships that Work, he quotes John Dryden, "First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.”
I am sure that when my dad was establishing the habit of running from himself in his twenties, he had no idea that 30 years later those seemingly innocent decisions would be what prevented him from holding my brother's baby, his soon-to-be first grandson, for the first time this June, or enjoying weekly dinners at his daughter's new home this spring.
On the same page of his book David writes:
"We are endeavoring to change ingrained emotional and behavioral habits. This requires deep commitment... Conscious living involves examining what our habits have made us, what part of the legacy from our past habits we truly want to keep and what we choose to discard."
I believe choosing to courageously turn towards ourselves rather than away from ourselves is one of the most profound accomplishments we can create in our lives.
This is an opportunity we get to embrace. Not all will take it.
I praise my father for being two years sober and a few weeks into therapy by the time he left his body. Still this was too late to save his liver from 30 years of overtime work.
In spite of his shortcomings, the vast majority of my memories of my dad are deeply sweet and loving. The way he made me giggle and beg for relief when the “tickle hand” who he claimed he couldn’t control would pin me down making me squeal in 5 year old laughter. How he taught me even and odd numbers through playful games. How he encouraged me to remind him to put his car seatbelt on by giving me permission to playfully punch him till he put it on. How in the past few weeks he was so generous with doing little favors for me. How much he loved my kisses when I came to visit him and said goodbye. I have heard many say he was the sweetest man they ever knew.
My father loved me very deeply. It took me 25 years to finally open my eyes to see and receive the deep love he always had for me even though it didn’t always look the ways I wanted it to.
One of the last things he said to me was "You and your brother were God's greatest gift to me."
He was to me, too.
Even in the painful legacy he unintentionally shaped for me - the deep-seeded belief that I was not good enough for him to fully be there for me - even that deep wound, thanks to the courageous inner work I did through the Satvatove Advanced seminar, has healed and evolved into the greatest gift, allowing me to deeply empathize with others' suffering, which I believe is one of the highest gifts I have to offer others every day.
I am grateful to myself for making the lifelong commitment to stop running.
I am not perfect, I still run sometimes, and I am deeply committed to a life of honest and courageous introspection.
I now ascend an upward spiral with many successes and failures, rather than losing myself in a life-consuming downward spiral or a stagnant line.
If you are running in some way, I wonder what your self-avoidant habits may be.
My father ran so blindly that he blinked and thirty years went by.
If you are running, I wonder how long you are willing to run, how many years you will let pass by the time you open your eyes after an extended blink of time?
I think it takes three important qualities to turn towards ourselves rather than turn away - humility, courage, and an urgency to truly live.
Humility to acknowledge that we feel weak, that we don't have it all figured out, that we're not where we want to be.
Courage to be humble. Courage to admit that our smooth survival strategies are not actually as smooth or functional as we thought.
Urgency to truly live rather than just get by.
My father lacked an urgency to truly live.
If I wish anything for you wherever you are at in your life, it is that you somehow access within you an incredibly urgent desire to truly live and make the commitment to courageously stop running away and instead bravely run towards your deepest self today. It is there within you that a wellspring of wholeness, joy, life-giving pain, inspiration, power, and the deepest love eagerly wait for you.
So what legacy will you choose today?
Self-Compassion Coach + Transformative Leadership Mentor
Satvatove Institute Apprentice
- If you're interested in participating in the seminars that helped me use my pain to shape me into a more whole, alive, and purposeful person, click here for more information or contact me to set up a call. On the call you can learn more about what value the seminars can bring to your life.
- Coaching is an opportunity to invite someone to hold you in your pain, empower you in your aliveness, and help you discover and stay powerfully aligned with your unique purpose. If you're interested in coaching with me, schedule a free call so we can get to know one another, and begin to understand what's blocking you and how you want to move forward.