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Opening to Wholeheartedness: Learning to Embrace the Shadow and the Light

Recently, I was led into a deep space of reflection as my family said goodbye to my 87-year-old grandfather. This man, whom we all love very much, we realize taught us many things. It's like that in relationships - true catalysts for learning. Grampy, as he was lovingly known was a good person with a powerful vibe. He held strong values as a family man and could be counted on for late night laughter, (always was the night owl), history lessons, (along with fishing, and cartoons - passions of his), and simply being there (grandchildren's sporting events, home improvements, weddings, Sundays at the lake). This July 2022 we will be hosting a celebration of life in honor of him. Prior to the formal events though, in the days just after his death, many of us gathered in the small town of Livonia, NY, where he lived, to say our goodbyes through the perusing of photos and sharing of stories. There were tears and laughter, hugs, faces that haven't gathered in years and time spent in true remembering. It was there, within me, that the deep reflections on wholeheartedness began. (This undoubtably assisted by my reading of Mark Nepo's, Finding Inner Courage, which I continue to softly work my way through.) As we gathered with love and intention and the stories began, I couldn't help to notice that what we were all processing was the fullness of this incredibly simple, yet complex being of nature, my grandfather; a father, a son, a husband, a friend… a man. Each story related in some way to the experiences that those of us still living had had in relationship with him. There were stories of love and laughter, there were stories of teasing and hurt. You see, if teasing were a love language - that would have been his. As we processed the love, and the grief, we also processed confusion and hurt. And I could sense people trying to make sense of how to hold the space of love in all its purity for a person that also could incite the complexity of mixed and unpleasant emotions. This - as part of our human experience is a challenge. As I witnessed and engaged in this storytelling, I became struck by the level of intimacy and exposure each one of us had to the depth of character and authenticity with which my grandfather lived. Through our moments with him he allowed us to be with both his shadow and his light. And though this wasn’t always easy – it is also an incredible gift.

When we move through life in long-term relationships with others, there is an invitation to see all their sides. To see the parts we want to hold on to and snuggle up with forever and the parts we want to turn away from, wishing we never saw, hoping to never meet again. (Somewhere in there, are also the aspects that reside in the neutral, the gray.) Holding space for all of a person, in the knowing of our hearts, is not something we often speak about or ever directly learn to do. Sometimes we make the decision to overlook or minimize and stick around. Other times we decide “That’s enough!” and choose to limit or fully discontinue our exposure. In relationship with people, others, and the self, we are called to consider our needs, to establish and tend healthy boundaries – the details of boundary tending, though critically important, is topic for another day… Through the whole of this experience, I was brought to consider what a gift it is to get to move through life with someone while being able to witness the fullness of who they are. To see their gifts, their imperfections, the things we wish would change, the things they wish would change, the parts no one would give up for anything in the world. There is so much that we are invited to learn and act upon in accordance with the needs of self. This isn't to say that all the teasing and behaviors were okay - quite frankly, they were not. The blend of passive-aggression threaded with love can evoke a heart wrenching experience – catalyzing a swell of mixed sensations and emotions that, had he known another way, perhaps could have been prevented. However, it is to say that these not so easy, nor admirable parts of our nature exist in different ways in each of us. And I do believe that for Grampy - he did the best he could with what he knew.

To embrace this in people, others and ourselves, is to embrace our wholeheartedness. The shadow, the parts we don't want to face, admit, show... and the light, the parts we'd let shine for hours, talk about to others, invite to grow. What happened during some of this storytelling was that mindful compassion arose. Curiosity, kindness, presence, holding space for the whole of our experiences in life with this man, while not trying to change anything – simply just being with. For both ourselves and this incredibly multi-faceted man, my grandfather.

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