I had the privilege of attending a friend’s wedding this weekend, and had a wonderful time connecting, meeting new friends, having big deep discussions, and enjoying the food and wine and merriment and music and dancing. A wedding is a joyous thing, to see vows set in motion, two people initiate themselves into a new life together through their commitment. You can see it all over the faces of the bride and bridesmaids. Where else would they wear fabulous shoes like this?
The following day was a completely different experience, both related and illuminating. I am facilitating an ongoing, year-long couples’ workshop for my dear friend Tina Benson, who is conducting it with grace and depth. Tina took the group through a powerful and vulnerable exercise, after doing a demonstration with me as the subject. The details aren’t important, but during the demo session, I fell deeply into my grief, and sobbing as hard as I’ve done in a couple of months. Then, moving through this gateway of despair, I felt myself open to an incredible sense of peace, quiet, stillness and receptivity. Distant bird calls in the forest were the only sound…everyone in the room seemed to stop breathing. I felt a soft joyousness and profound connection that was quite different from the celebration of the wedding.
I’ve been wondering what is so different between the joy of celebration, and the joy of inner peace and stillness. It’s quite hard to articulate, but I can say that in celebration, I’m scarcely connected to myself, I’m immersed in something else. It’s all about the others around me; the celebration and joy happen in the interaction with others. (Of course some of this was the wine I was drinking!) The second experience was intensely personal, I was completely aware of my body and sensation, and very aware of everyone in the room as if I were deep in meditation. For me, celebratory joy requires others, while internal stillness and joy is something I can create for myself.
These extremes are good for me, they stretch me, help me know myself better. How could I have found such lovely inner peace without feeling despair so fully? One becomes the gateway for the other. Somehow, I feel more whole today, having swung through all these feelings over the last few days. I remember the celebration, and smile. I remember that transcendent state of inner joy, and smile again, perhaps touching into the sensation just a bit, bringing my awareness to my body and my feelings. These explorations carve deeper channels for my feelings. Full sorrow makes full joy more available.
Maybe we can only know the fullness of joy by feeling those places we do not want to go, try so hard to avoid. I believe this is why my grief is a good thing, it’s bending me and opening me to love and compassion I didn’t even know could exist. I do know that the months of grief give me a much sharper appreciation for the present, a feeling of happiness with the most simple things.
It’s almost as though an inner marriage is happening Perhaps that’s why I loved this wedding celebration so much.