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The Amber Necklace

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I won a set of brown beads in a raffle. They were simple and pleasing, warm to the touch. To my surprise, they turned out to be amber, understood by the ancients as both a kind of solidified sunlight and as the tears of a goddess.

 

For me, amber’s combination of sun and tears recalls a paradox I’ve experienced many times: finding joy in the heart of sorrow. Those times have been moments of grace, linked through my life like beads on a string. Here are three of them:

 

The Common Wound

 

I was at the Kripalu Center taking a yoga training. We were learning about “trauma sensitive yoga”. “There is simple trauma,” began the facilitator, “caused by one traumatic event. But actually complex trauma is more common.”

 

A hand went up. “Can you give an example?” 

 

“Well, especially in childhood, there is the repeated trauma of feeling unheard, unseen, or having one’s voice repressed…”

 

Our listening silence deepened. There were quiet murmurs of recognition, a few moist eyes. Somehow we were all being brought back to the same kind of painful memory, literally seeing it rise to the surface in each other’s faces. Seeing its pervasiveness. For who doesn't remember those moments when we seemed invisible to those who mattered most?

 

The Love Guru

 

A few days later we had a guest speaker. The topic was “opening the heart.” I was tired after a long day of lectures, with little patience for yet another session. The speaker adopted a solemn stare that I found particularly annoying. Surveying the room with a soft intensity, he came out with a few sparse words about compassion, every now and then pausing for dramatic effect. In my mind I cynically dubbed him the “love guru”.

 

He began to send questions out into the darkness. At first there was silence, then a few desultory answers. Finally a young woman with a mass of jet curls and an effusive manner talked of having her expressions of love and affection rejected as “too much”, as “coming on too strong.” 

 

This caught my attention. I felt I had an explanation that would help her feel better. Raising my hand to speak, I told her that she was not necessarily the problem, but that some people found it hard to receive affection. I started to talk jokingly about my own experience at Kripalu, how I came in search of the loving atmosphere, but once I arrived all the intensity and positive affirmation got my back up. There were knowing chuckles, as I’d already been recognized as the group’s “bad yogi”.

 

And then I realized I’d talked myself into a bit of a corner. Just why was I uncomfortable with something I knew I needed, that we all needed? Shouldn’t I explain myself to this woman, help her accept the prickliness of others like me? I started to slow and stumble in my words.

 

“I think I find it hard….I’m willing to say…it’s because…” The next words were stuck in my throat, blocked and backing up against each other. 

 

“It’s because…I think I don’t deserve it.”

 

It’s not like this was a big revelation to me, but saying it aloud in a room full of people, none of whom felt the need to tell me how silly I was being, had a larger effect. I felt terrified and released. I had to sit in silence with what I’d just said. It felt like self-indulgence…but also like truth. 

 

Over the next few days, people approached me on the stairs or in the hallway.  What I’d said had rung true for them too. They shared with me stories of difficult or distant upbringings. Turns out there was a quiet fraternity of fellow sufferers out there. And now we knew we were not alone. 

 

There it is: the seed of joy hidden in the heart of suffering, what Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron calls the “genuine heart of sadness”.  When I was able to be surprised into recognizing my own and others’ suffering, I found a sweetness that was almost exquisite. I looked on the world with new eyes, a softer gaze. I found a willingness to be there for others and, perhaps more importantly, for myself.

 

The Wise Child

 

This redemptive gift has often come as an unexpected grace. Once I was having a deep conversation with my youngest about an aspect of their childhood in which I had really dropped the ball. I was just beginning to fathom how deeply my obliviousness had affected them. I was full of regret, but my child seemed complacent. I found myself saying, “You seem to be surprisingly okay with all this.”

 

Their reply? “I don’t identify who you were then with who you are now.”

 

This was not a distinction I had ever made for myself (or for my own mother for that matter). While practice has softened my edges, I am still capable of holding my grudges close as lovers. 

 

My child’s words represented a level of wisdom I could barely aspire to. And here I was, their beneficiary. Once again I felt that sense of release that accompanies the acknowledgment of suffering. I had been given the means of forgiving myself.

 

Buddha said, “Ignorance of suffering is also suffering.” It follows then that the recognition of suffering is the key to its relief. 

 

The recognition of suffering is the key to its relief: that’s why I wear the Goddess’s tears around my neck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
 
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Comments

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Saturday, 10 December 2016

    This is beautiful, Archer. So well thought-out and integrated. What a wonderful avatar your child is; and yet we are told that souls may pre-pick their parents. No such thing as coincidence, right?

  • Archer
    Archer Sunday, 11 December 2016

    I've always said reincarnation is the only explanation for the talents of both my kids! Thanks for the kind words Ted!

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