On Love and Loss: End of 2021 Essay

Dancing with redwoods, Big Sur, California, Christmas 2021

Driving the 46 West, I decided to send Christmas greetings to everyone I love. I wanted to be the first this year, for some reason. I can’t explain it. A feeling came over me. So I began. I mostly used voice memos to express gratitude for each person and wish them a Happy Christmas. One person responded with a sweet message including a passage from Joan Didion, who’d just passed away two days prior:

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

I’d been seeing this particular passage floating around the internet since she died, and I was already familiar with it. Joan Didion has been an inspiration in my life for some years, but these words were landing in a new way for me this time. I could relate, when I actually sat down to write — which hadn’t been often in 2021. The final line of the passage, though, these were the words really working on me… What I want and what I fear.

I could feel something happening but I kept sending the messages. At one point I thought, how many more people do I need to send messages to?! And I realized I had a desire to send messages to quite a few people. It registered: there are this many people I care enough to send a message to. And then I started crying.

I brought my awareness back to the present moment. Driving on a beautiful highway, on my way to my favorite place in the world. I was alone, choosing to observe a holiday I don’t care much for, in my own way. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas, it’s more that I have mixed feelings about it. And currently, I don’t have a tribe to spend the holiday with in a way that makes sense for me. So I’m building my own traditions until I have one.

Then I thought about the first dream I can remember having — the one where the giant bird drops me off on a tall cliff after taking me for a blissful ride in the sky, and then flies away. The one where I wept on a clifftop with a sense of abandonment, and woke up crying in real life, on a couch. I thought about three-year-old Lindsay and felt compassion for her, again. There’s no sadder feeling in the world than losing someone you love.

I thought about Joan’s words again. And then I admitted it out loud:

What I want is love, and what I fear is loss.

2021 has taught me that it all comes back to this. Or maybe it has reminded me. This isn’t the first time in 40 years I’ve felt the pain and fear of loss, or the desire for love. I think it’s just the first time I’m learning how to live in the space where love and loss coexist, without running away. How to hold and feel and release whatever feelings need to be held and felt and released, in order to keep going. How to relinquish my mind of total control, and allow the body and the spirit to do their work, too.

Lately I’ve been doing this thing. In yoga, I practice chest openers often. Spiritually, I think of chest openers as heart openers as well. Imagine rolling up a blanket like a giant burrito and laying it down on the ground. Then imagine laying your spine down directly over the blanket. This allows for a very gentle chest opener — which helps improve posture, and just feels really damn good.

Lately as I’ve been practicing this chest/heart opener, I’ve also been doing Heart Seal, or Hridaya Mudra. In yoga, the heart seal is a mudra, and a mudra is a symbolic gesture. Heart Seal is the “gesture of the spiritual heart for seeking divine refuge, calling on the support of a higher power — God, universe, love, etcetera” (words by Nityda Gessel of the Trauma Conscious Yoga Method). Imagine again lying on the giant burrito blanket with your chest open. Then imagine placing one hand over your heart, and then placing the other hand on top of the first hand.

I practice Heart Seal as a way of acknowledging the wisdom of my heart, and as a way to focus on honoring and protecting my heart. So Imagine, again, lying on the giant burrito blanket with your heart open, and also, at the same time, covering your heart with protection. Is there something oxymoronic about this? Or is this an attempt to learn what it means to find balance in the midst of love and loss?

I can hear my therapist now. She has asked so many good questions in the last six months. Maybe my favorite question so far was one of the first. I’d mentioned how I was struggling with anger and she asked who I was angry at and at some point, I told her I was angry at God. And then she asked what I was angry at God about and I looked away and scanned the room for an answer. I told her I needed to think.

I went home and kept thinking and I knew none of it was God’s fault but I still wanted to be angry at God. I started writing and listing all the reasons, going all the way back to childhood and how I only have one memory of my parents being happy together, and I kept on going. Eventually I stopped listing but I’ve been keeping mental notes. Part of my anger is the result of losing people and losing parts of myself and losing things I once thought important. My religion, for example, but I’m not mad at God about that.

These days I relate more to Pi from Life of Pi. Ever curious, Pi was a student of life and multiple religions. This isn’t to say I don’t believe in God anymore — I do. I just got so tired of feeling angry at all the people who inflicted violence on the world because they clung so desperately to certainty that their ideas of who God is and what God wants — were right. And everyone else’s ideas were wrong. As if any of us know. It all left me feeling depressed and wondering, what about love?

Next time I see my therapist, I will tell her about my latest revelation on love and loss. And I imagine she will ask another good question. She’ll probably start with something simple like, what does love mean to you? What does loss mean to you? And I’ll give her that look I give her. And I won’t answer but I’ll know I have something even more important than an answer. The power of knowing I have a choice in how to think about love and loss.

I did lose some people in 2021. Some to death, some in other ways. Different kinds of relationships ending or changing in significant ways. Friends I could once go for a walk with or grab a drink with moving to a different city or neighborhood. My own mother leaving a city she’s lived in most her life — this after I returned home from a 20-year adventure. Like, WTF Mom?

These losses make me think about abandonment, and then I remember the dream and how the bird abandoned me. And then I remember how we’ve reconnected — today Lindsay (am I the bird?) and three-year-old Lindsay, abandoned on a cliff. And how I’ve learned to share and receive wisdom with her, and how to heal. Therapies and meditation have helped me learn to do this work.

Some of the losses in 2021 may have triggered my abandonment wound, but I don’t ultimately think of those losses as abandonment. The only person who made me feel truly abandoned this year, was me.

Trying to force things and hold onto things with someone who’s not good for me: self-abandonment. Numbing out through screens or other addictive substances when I know there’s a feeling asking for my attention: self-abandonment. Allowing a storyline to take place in my mind when I know there’s an error in thinking: self-abandonment. And I don’t think I truly knew what abandonment felt like, until I realized I was abandoning myself.

Yes, I am scared of losing people I love. It’s all part of the human experience, can’t escape it no matter how hard we try. Losing people hurts because we love them. If I want to stay fully alive, I have to keep opening my heart to loving others and trying to find that balance with protecting it in the process. Because love is all there is. But I’m realizing, again, maddening and hilarious as it may be sometimes, that it all comes back to loving myself. Because if I’m not showing up to love myself, how the hell am I going to show up to love you?

The other night, I came home from a hard day of work. The house was empty, no housemates around, so I was alone. I walked upstairs into my room, slid down a wall and sat on the ground. I was aching with loneliness. I started crying thinking about how I didn’t have anyone to come home to and talk with about my day. As I cried, I tried to imagine what that would be like, if I did have a loving partner to return home to.

As I tried to visualize this, it occurred to me I didn’t have a healthy idea of what it looks like. I’ve never known a love like that. Then I started crying harder thinking about how I didn’t even know what that looked like. And I let myself cry and then I asked myself, what do you want it to look like? And then I started visualizing that. And I cried some more thinking about how visualizing it and having it are two very different things and how I wanted a real live human in that moment.

And then it happened.

Something clicked and I asked myself what I could do for myself in that moment. I started speaking those words I needed to hear, out loud to myself. I listened to what my heart needed to express. I soothed myself with deep breaths and a hug. And everything I thought I knew about self-love suddenly seemed like nothing.

As I sat there on the floor, theory became praxis. As I breathed and hugged myself and spoke gently to myself, I told myself I wouldn’t lose myself anymore. I would keep showing up. I would love myself.

May you be loved as well.

Originally published at https://www.reconnected.live on December 29, 2021.

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Yoga teacher, adventurer, storyteller happily based in California 🌼

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Yoga teacher, adventurer, storyteller happily based in California 🌼

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