You are open air flying through the canyon chasing bliss. Rushing water plunges and swirls around misplaced boulders, pursuing its destiny to the sea. Low autumn light catches the spray of sparkling white caps, each drop effervescent as it leaps for freedom before being swallowed once more by the river. Sometimes your life felt like that.
Red canyon walls rise stoically above you, echoing wisdom of ages. Their shadows play hide and seek with the sun. Its flickering warmth kisses your face a thousand times as the wind tosses your hair to and fro like a kite in a thunderstorm. If this was a small taste of bliss, what did he feel, silence roaring in his ears, as he sailed through the atmosphere?
You constantly cautioned him. He had been born too sensitive, too brave; and his pain too deep to mask. He always seemed illusive, like an unattended balloon floating aimlessly through the sky. An old soul, one day he calmly looked you in the eye and said, “If you can’t feel truly alive, why be here?” Today you agree; but back then you were always afraid for him. Or, were you just scared for yourself? Your courage was the timid kind that said prayers. Sometimes prayers weren’t answered. Sometimes it wasn’t the answer you wanted to hear.
Funny how time marches along, randomly changing lives without notice or permission. True love ephemeral, unplanned babies, broken bones, amazing careers, raging fires, hurricanes; and always, if you lived long enough, losing someone you have no idea how to live without. After the perfect storm blew over, you found yourself standing alone in the aftermath, wondering how this could have possibly happened to you. And, why?
“Why?” was the question you chased around the world. The voices of many Gurus rang true; but they could never tell you what you needed to discover for yourself in your own time. Through it all, he was there, your best teacher. You thought of him now. In your mind’s eye, you see him grinning, like it was yesterday. You swear you can hear him laughing as you fly through the canyon. His is an infectious laugh; and you could always read his mood by the color change of his blue eyes.
There had been so many teachers since. But it was he who stuck in your mind like glue, like a well-worn shoe that fits just a little too tight, but you wouldn’t even dream of ever throwing it away. Subconsciously, you step hard on the accelerator. The speed of the sports car is addictive as it lurches forward. Purring in obedience it handles the curves with precision. You know he is loving it as he watches you fly by, shaking his head knowingly with a crooked smile. He thinks of you as amazingly Jedi; and sometimes more like a yard sale, all over the place.
Happiness, flamboyant yet fleeting, had always been a powerful and addictive elixir. Entitled, you had chased it for years like a hungry dog, insatiable. With practice you were eventually able to hunker down in the small moments of quiet that elude a busy mind. It is where you finally found the grace of peace, maybe for the first time in your life.
Bliss is different from happiness. Whimsical, yet all in, it gives you wings. You own it in the small moments as you watch one white line, and then the next, until they become a blur. Bliss, ethereal, cannot be bullied. Requiring complete surrender, it is simple but not easy. Choosing it’s time carefully, it slips in quietly. A deep Zen-like peace washes over you. You catch an elusive glimpse of true being, an all-encompassing and expansive oneness, an alert stillness so profound its palpable, so soundless, it can only be heard within.
Wide eyed with wonder, you found bliss only in the truly magical moments at first. The miracle of childbirth and holding your baby in your arms for the first time; or falling madly – puppy dog, head over heels – in lust with the love of your life. Eventually, awe found bliss in the simplicity and candor of nature as you humbly lay witness to a thunderhead rolling across the ridge, crashing waves on a rocky shoreline, the cry of a hawk on the wing, the enormity of a sunrise over the Himalayas or a sunny marsh where cattails wait. Here wonder replaces words. These moments are enchanting and rare when Ego, like a well-behaved dog, rests obediently by your side- once an overbearing master, now servant to your heart.
Never again would you take an innocent goodbye for granted. Years after the police told you that hikers had come across his body, you had finally suffered enough. Life sang your song back to you; and you knew you could never go back the way you had come. With nowhere else to run, bliss was kind, waiting patiently for you to fall to your knees one last time, a place where you could finally hear its subtle whisper. And, like that hidden image in a painting, once you saw it, you couldn’t un-see it. And once you had felt the brush of its gossamer wings, you would always know its touch.
Destiny has a way of turning a perfectly good life upside down. Like a rag doll, it shook you, nearly to death, testing your resolve. Yours felt like a painstakingly slow return from insanity where you had vacillated between feeling too much or feeling nothing at all. What if you had suffered through it all, and never got the point? What if there was no point? It was a fine line when you had to choose. Simply fade away, drifting like that untethered balloon or intentionally seek all the things worth fighting for. You chose life.
If it is true that suffering is optional, you summoned the alchemy of unimaginable pain to transform like the Phoenix rising – victim to Intrepid Survivor. You were stronger and more courageous now, even without prayers. Once blinded by grief, with tears of gratitude you could finally see that your loved ones had never deserted you. They stood with you in the fire. Theirs were the footprints in the sand.
Bliss feels like happiness on drugs as gold, red and orange leaves skitter erratically across the road, crunching beneath your tires. You close your eyes for a dangerously long moment inhaling the musky smell of earth. Oh how you love fall, a final goodnight kiss before winter’s embrace. Surrendering to a passionate presence welling up inside, you fall in love with life all over again, nature your solace.
He had been born into sadness. You thought of the early months when he was a baby. For weeks he cried each night, kicking his little legs in anguish as you tried helplessly to comfort him. It was always with a sigh of relief when he stopped hurting and you could lay down with him. Placing him on your chest, you could still feel his soft breath against your face as he slept, his little heart beating in rhythm next to your own. These special moments were indelibly imprinted in the timeless spaces.
Intuitively, you take one hand from the steering wheel, placing it over your heart. In the glow of the sun, a smile plays at your lips as you remember all those years, the psychics, self-help books, friends, family and Gurus, a cast of thousands who lifted you from the mire. Ironically, it had been here all along, his precious heart beating within yours…just patiently waiting for you to notice.
You had only touched the edges of bliss, a place you one day hope to live. There you can feel the expansive love of pure essence as it whispers, calling out to you. In your grateful moments, you are able to appreciate the gifts that have come from such sacrifice, his and yours, knowing that the people and things you love most will always live on in your heart. Because you know that nothing can ever hurt that way again, you begin to savor a life lived as if there is nothing left to lose. He lived his life like that, his legacy to you. He is right here beside you, as you learn the art of flying in the face of fear, even when it feels like falling at first.
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms– “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places…”
Everyone is different, and grief takes as long as it takes. Yet when I look back, I wish I had learned sooner, the tools that were so useful for my “healing”. With so much pain and grief in the world, I’m hoping that by sharing the things that have helped me survive; I can make a difference for someone else trying to navigate through the process of grief. Watch for my forthcoming post concerning what I’ve learned along the way on my difficult trek back to life – “From Pain to Bliss- Returning from the Dead”
The following are just a few sobering statistics relating to suicide, which is how my son died in 2004. The crisis is only getting worse according to statistics, most of which are still dated 2016. It appears that the age groups most at risk are also changing since 2016, further exacerbated by the more recent Opioid and social media related suicides. I would expect 2018 figures, relating to the Opioid addiction, Millennial media/social interactions, and population isolation, to soar even higher. No longer able to boast about rising life expectancy rates, (largely due to increasing suicides), the US rates have declined for the third year in a row. Why are things getting increasingly worse instead of better?
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US (123 suicides per day-51% involving firearms). For our youth, 10 – 24, it was the second leading cause of death increasing more than 30 percent (2016).
Statistics are understated due to the stigma of suicide, unreported suicides and attempted suicides. It is estimated that for every death by suicide, there were 25 attempts nationally. In 2016, 7 of 10 were white males and 3.5 times more often men than women.
Colorado ranks 9th (since 2016) in the U.S. for suicide, (6/11/18 Becker’s Hospital Review) 20.5 per 100,000 with our Colorado teens dying at nearly twice the national average rate in 2017. According to Colorado Public Radio News 9/6/18, the statistics for our young now surpass death from car accidents, with overall young people of Colorado now the highest suicide statistics in the nation.
Eagle County statistics (Vail Valley) have always trended even higher than Colorado state statistics and well ahead of the national average with 12 deaths so far in 2018 (23 per 100,000 versus Colorado at 20.5 per 100,000).
Check out some of the following links for more insights into cause and effect:
“…overdose misuse associated with the opioid overdose epidemic could be driving the suicide rate higher.” Another factor under consideration by CDC is the impact of social media. “Social media can exacerbate bullying, romanticize suicide and provide harmful content on suicide methods.” https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/409176-suicide-rates-are-rising-across-the-us-and-the-numbers-are-not-subtle
“There’s much not yet understood about the rise in suicides, but one finding of the CDC’s previous research was that it’s not necessarily linked to mental health: More than half of the people who died by suicide in 2016 had no known mental health problems. Instead, as Vox’s Julia Belluz reported this summer following the death of beloved chef and author Anthony Bourdain, researchers have found that the majority of suicides are related to problems with relationships, substance use, health, jobs or finances.” https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/11/29/18118601/suicide-rate-highest-decades-life-expectancy
“What is making so many Americans turn to alcohol and drugs and still others to take their own lives? Explanations will run the gamut. Usually, people will cite their own particular hobbyhorse, and I may be guilty of that. My obsession is family decline. Due to unmarriage and divorce, more Americans are living alone than at any time in our history. Let me quickly acknowledge that the steep rise in adolescent depression in recent years may have more to do with social media than anything else. Jean Twenge’s work suggests that girls are particularly vulnerable to online cruelty.” https://townhall.com/columnists/monacharen/2018/11/30/why-are-we-so-sad-n2536748