I received a letter the other day from a client. I’ve asked for permission to share it this month as my blog.
I am often asked what it is that I do. To those people I feel most safe with I share a phrase that I have borrowed from a friend of mine who describes her work as “helping people fall in love with themselves” (and that is EXACTLY what she does). When I heard those words for the first time, I thought, “that is exactly what I try to do also.” I asked her if I could use that phrase to describe what I do. Graciously she said “yes”. This letter is a reminder that I just might be successful sometimes.
“Strolling slowly along the sandy shoreline, with the cool salt water lapping at my feet, I searched the piles of broken shells for the most beautiful ones worthy enough for me to pick up and take home. Not only did the color have to be vibrant and unusual but, the shape had to be perfect, too. No chips, holes or cracks allowed. In order to be good enough for me to choose, the shell’s color could not be faded from the sun, nor too common. I had to find the BEST ones!
Sitting down in my beach chair for a well-deserved rest after several hours of meditative shell collecting, I proudly looked at the nice pile of perfect shells in my Ziplock baggie. I was already imagining the arts and crafts I could do with them, or how beautiful they would look in a glass jar set near a window in my house.
Every year that I came down to Florida, I would spend time collecting shells in this way; always looking for the brightest, most unusual and perfect shells as possible. My kids even got in on the activity when they were little on our visits with their Nana and Papa. I taught them the importance of finding the ones that were perfect. When they would try to put a broken one in the bucket, I would toss it back out and tell them, “That’s a bad one.”
The year my mom died, I came down to sell my parents’ home. It was a difficult time for me. I knew I was saying, “Good-bye” to a time in my life that would never return. I was grieving my mom’s death and the symbolic death of being a child coming to a safe place to play all those years. This time, I was the adult doing the responsible thing in taking care of my family.
My friend came down with me to support me. Each day, we would take a break from house cleaning and staging to go shell hunting on the beach. It was a special hunt this time because the shells we were collecting this time would be given to her non-profit, for her kids to make picture frames with them. The kids that she worked with were from a very poor neighborhood in inner city Detroit. Many of them had never even seen a real shell before, which made my gift even more meaningful. So, finding the most beautiful, perfect shells was even more important this time. I wanted her kids to have the BEST!
Often, while walking the beach looking for those perfect shells, my friend would pick up a broken one, or a faded one and try to put it in my bucket. I’d tell her that I only wanted the perfectly beautiful ones to give her kids. I can still remember the confused, perplexed look on her face as she told me that she thought they were all beautiful and that her kids would love ANY shell that I gave them since they came as a gift from my heart.
At that time, I had no idea what she was talking about. Since then as a result of our work together, something in me has changed.
At the beach, holding my baggie full of perfect shells in my lap, the feeling of pride I felt was quickly replaced by an odd sense of sadness. Sitting with the sadness, rather than try to chase it away or distract myself with other thoughts or by getting busy doing something else, I welcomed my sadness in, as if she was an unexpected but important visitor, as you have taught me to do. With eyes, full of tears and grief heavy on my heart, I asked her to tell me what she wanted me to know.
“There is beauty in brokenness,” was her reply.
OH, MY GOD!!!!!!
Instantly, my heart broke wide open and I allowed the tears to squeeze out from behind my closed eyes, roll down my cheeks and drip onto the sand. The sun warmed my face, easing layers of pain and compassion.
Through my tears, I heard my visitor go on to say, “You are beautiful, even in your brokenness. Even more so since it’s in the broken places where you are most vulnerable and authentic. Look around and see all the imperfect, broken parts of Nature. You will see your perfectly imperfect self reflected there.”
I breathed her words into the deepest places of my heart and soul…hoping to truly believe them and never forget them.
Wiping my eyes, I stood up to take another stroll along the beach. This time, looking for the most beautiful broken shells I could find. Each time I picked one up to take home, I felt like I was recovering a part of my true, perfectly broken self.”
I’ll close with my favorite poem and one that I have each new client read with me as I try to describe what our work together will be. Though “sadness” isn’t mentioned in the poem as an unexpected visitor, it’s on the list. “Falling in love with oneself”, to me, means that whatever happens on the inside, to turn towards it instead of trying to run away from it, or medicate it, or meditate it away, etc. I suggest that these parts of us (like the sadness that came to my friend who sent me this letter) come to us with a message that is that of a scared 6 year- old, or ancient and wise 600-year-old. We won’t ever know which until we listen. And if we don’t listen, we will never hear the message.
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest-house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Welcome difficulty. Learn the alchemy True Human Beings know: the moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door opens.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade. Joke with torment brought by a Friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets that serve to cover, and then are taken off. That undressing, and the beautiful naked body underneath, is the sweetness that comes after grief.
Mewlana Jalaluddin Rūmī
(From “Say I Am You? Poems of Rumi,” translation by John Moyne and Coleman Barks)