Brighter Than Sunflowers

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If I’m feeling fear, I know I need to open more. Fear for me is a sign of attachment, and the antidote to attachment is opening.

The storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about the difference between being bitter and sweet. When we’re hurt, we have a choice between the two. But she doesn’t mean “sweet” in the sense of cute or kind, like a child or an attentive partner. She talks about the etymology of the word, which is linked to the idea of openness. She speaks of being “sweet” as being wide open, to all that comes. We can’t avoid pain, but we can respond to it, or to the fear of it, by closing (becoming bitter) or by opening (becoming sweet).

So what does it mean to be open? To me, open is:

  • Not holding on to a particular idea of what the future will hold.
  • Allowing events to unfold naturally, without expectations or trying to control them.
  • Allowing people to act of their own free will, without trying to change them or direct their actions.
  • Sinking fully into the experience of each moment, whatever it holds, without trying to anticipate what will happen next, or protect myself from it.
  • Accepting that I will experience pain, and also that it will end, and life will always be beautiful again, except when it’s not.
  • Viscerally understanding, and accepting, that no experience, no matter how ecstatic or terrible, lasts forever.

This is a lot to ask for. And those who know me know how hard it is for me, in particular, because I tend to want to control everything, and it’s particularly difficult for me to live with uncertainty (despite the fact that I realize the idea of certainty is an illusion, anyway). But I think it’s not easy for anyone to be completely open in all these ways, and I’ve been able to do it just a few times in my life. But having experienced it once, I know it’s available to me—I can work toward it, and I know I can reach it again. And it’s the most incredible feeling when it happens. It’s surrender, in the sweetest sense.

Open means letting everything in, and it’s amazing. The beauty of the world is shattering in those moments. The depth of emotions you can feel is overpowering, but not in a frightening way. It’s like floating on the surface of the ocean, without anything in sight, but with complete trust that you’re safe.

If you open a little, you feel vulnerable, exposed and afraid. But if you open completely, fear disappears.

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