“We do not heal the past by dwelling there; we heal the past by living fully in the present.” ~Marianne Williamson
My life fell apart on a warm August evening a few years ago. It had been a full summer: family visits, plans for a cross-country move, barbecues, and plenty of travel. We were happy, my husband and I.
Or so I thought.
On that August night, my husband came home to our cozy New York apartment, sat down, and told me, behind a smother of hands and hunched shoulders, that he’s in love with another woman. Well, not so much in those words—they actually came much later—but to save you a longer story, we’ll keep it at that.
What was clear was that he would not leave her despite the ten years we’d spent together, despite the love he still felt for me, despite the mistake he knew he was making.
And so, this man whom I loved with unbridled completeness, ran a sledgehammer through my life.
As it happens, the reverberations of that blow rippled out, unceremoniously taking down other pillars I had come to rely on for my sense of stability and well-being.
A week after my husband’s declaration, my spiritual home, the yoga studio I practiced and taught at nearly every day for years, closed with twenty-four-hour notice.
A week later, I was downsized out of another job. .
I shuffled through my days. At times I’d get a surge of energy and suit up with determination to do something about my situation. Other times I’d sink into an unmoving bump on the couch.
After weeks of treading water and binging on my stories of “poor me,” I realized that, despite my best efforts, life just kept coming at me. No matter how much I resisted and whimpered, the sun rose, birds sang, and babies still made me laugh.
I realized that I had a choice: I could keep shutting it out and wallow in misery, or I could open up and receive it.
I decided to open, ever so slowly, almost against my will. I started with small things: feeling the comforting weight of blankets piled on top of me as I vegged out on the couch, tasting the bitter sweetness of chocolate chip cookies, seeing the texture and hue of the landscape I stared out into.
In doing this, I discovered that what was breathing nourishment back into my soul and calling me forward into living again was none other than my senses.
Without doing anything dramatic, without making lofty resolutions or steeling my willpower, I began to heal. I softened. I even laughed. I relearned joy and ease and the thrill of taking risks.
Could it be so simple? Could it be so obvious?
Yes, and yes.
In opening, despite the pain and miserable facts of my life, a new awareness took hold: our senses are portals to the soul.
They are our inborn pleasure centers, receiving and transmitting sensory data—pleasure and pain—directly to the soul, where it is translated into information for the soul to use, to learn from, and to grow from.
Like a salve on a wound, senses can nourish and calm an achy soul and administer cooling bandages to a broken heart.
The senses tell us, in every single darn moment: Yes, we’re alive (and what a gift!). And, yes, there is pleasure and joy and beauty and so much room to expand into. They tell us, yes, this journey, this life, is worth it.
All we have to do is open up to what is, even just a tiny bit. The rest will take care of itself.
Opening, we see the beauty of the leaves in the sunlight.
Opening, we hear the wind chimes.
Opening, we feel a friend’s hand on our shoulder.
We take in the pleasure and the desire of our soul is quelled. We are set at ease. We have space now to rest, and heal.
So, I made the decision to nurture my senses and give my soul what it desired, even if it meant that my senses brought in pain, or ugly sounds, or smelly feet.
Because I learned that when my body aches from too many hours at the computer, I can still look to the blue sky and take cool drinks of water.
Because when I’m wracked with disappointment or the sting of failure, I can still feel warm water on my skin.
Because when I’m overwhelmed and wrung out from demands and deadlines, I can still breathe in the smell of a hearty stew and hear the kind words of friend.
For every pain, there is a pleasure. And I suspect that we are capable of pleasures far beyond the reaches of any pain.
It all starts with one simple move: opening to what is. Opening our sense portals to the deluge of pleasure that surrounds us, and filling our souls with the fullness of ease and nourishment beyond our imagination. This is the space we bathe in that heals wounded souls and broken hearts.