One lesson that I am learning recently is that to move through grief, you have to open your heart. Rumi the Persian poet says, “You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” At first it sounds to me like going out and deliberately have your heart broken, which is contradictory, but now I fully understand what he means.
Lately, I have been nursing my ailing guinea pig Phil Phil. As his body gets progressively weaker, my sense of doom grows progressively stronger. It’s like driving in a car with a failed brake. The car is rolling downhill, and you step on the brake in full force hoping that there will be some resistance, only to find that the car is gaining momentum, and you close your eyes, not daring to look at what’s ahead, but in your mind, you already know, and you’re waiting for it.
The doom suffocates me, hovering over me like a heavy dark cloud, blinding me from everything else that’s happening around me. Essentially, my heart space closes. It doesn’t have space for anything else. Physically, I want to crawl into my bed, my place of comfort and safety, and escape from the overhanging despair and worry. Physically, mentally, and emotionally closing myself from the rest of the world. That’s my default coping mechanism, to block out the pain.
As the dark cloud looms over me, I am suddenly transported back to the days when my father was caring for my ailing mother. Now, I can feel the weight that he tried to shoulder as his world was about to crumble down, one bit at a time. But we deal with stress differently. He does not allow himself to appear weak. He resorts to his coping mechanism of appearing to be strong, to refrain from crying. But of course the emotional charge wouldn’t dissipate, so he ends up expressing the energy through aggression, getting mad at everything and everyone, most conveniently, at me.
This period of nursing Phil Phil brings to light many childhood memories. I remember the way my mother cared for me is the same as the way I care for Phil Phil: very delicate and clinical, often devoid of emotions, or more specifically, devoid of nourishing and comforting emotions. My mother was emotionally cold, and for many years, I only remembered her as having one emotion—anger. Although I am not showing anger toward Phil Phil when I nurse him, I am however approaching it in a very mechanical and cold way, almost as if I am doing a piece of homework, treating the feeding as a chore, seeing Phil Phil as a project rather than a warm-blooded living being capable of emotional exchange. I have always felt that my mother treated me as a project, and she approached me with such impatience that if I didn’t cooperate with her, she would immediately roar at me. Although I don’t exhibit anger, but I do find myself having the same controlling tendency toward Phil Phil, when he tries to fight with me during feeding time.
When I catch myself doing that, I immediately adjust my emotions, talking sweetly to him, coaxing him, doing whatever I can to convey joy and encouragement. But truthfully, my maternal instinct is not equipped with the skill to nurture and nourish him in a loving way. In this process of enlightenment, of seeing my mother through myself, I heal my resentment toward my mother for not giving me emotional nourishment. Not only that, I am also able to see exactly why she couldn’t. Her heart space was closed. In fact, it was tightly locked up, like a forgotten treasure box whose key had been lost. I can feel it now, within my body, the exact same locked heart space, desperately protecting myself from hurt, not trusting the world, because I don’t have the capacity to process the emotional pains that the world may bring me.
As I witness and acknowledge the closed heart space, I try to open it, to allow emotions to flow in and out of it. The sense of doom and despair is quite scary, and its increasing intensity is continually a challenge to me, but each time I remind myself to meet it head on, with an open heart!
Whenever I feel the emotional heaviness looming over me, I tell myself to think positively. Doesn’t matter what it is. As long as it is positive. The key is not to collapse into the doom. So I tell myself what Rumi tells us, “What you lose, you gain back in another form.” But I have my own enhanced version: What I lose, I gain back in another form, much improved! And emotionally, I say, “I love you Phil Phil. It’s okay. I am here with you, every step of the way.” I keep saying it and saying it. Because that’s what I need in order to open my heart, to let uplifting emotions in, and to flush my grief out. I don’t know whether I am grieving for Phil Phil, or for my deceased mother. I never felt anything when she passed away. I never understood why. Perhaps my heart was already closed, long before her death, in those years of emotional neglect.
Now I am opening my heart space. I keep assuring Phil Phil, “Good boy, you’re a fighter, you’re doing great!” I try to turn my despair into love and joy, and then share the uplifted energy with him. I want to give him what I never had. It might sound selfless, but it is ultimately a very selfish goal, because it is ultimately a healing that benefits me. I am rewriting my history. I am releasing the imprint of my mother.
I ask myself, how can I make Phil Phil’s life count? What can I learn from this? What do I want to get out of this?
My answer is, I want to thank Phil Phil, for giving his life to me, for teaching me many lessons, and I want to graduate from those lessons, by opening my heart, by healing my wounds, and by becoming someone who is emotionally nurturing.