Embodied Intimacy, Transformative Inquiry, Creative Emergence

Drinking the Tears of the World ~ Start Close In

Posted by on Oct 1, 2019 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 7 comments

Drinking the Tears of the World ~ Start Close In

In times like this, it’s easy to get lost. Overwhelmed, exhausted. Bereft of knowledge, shorn of guidance on how to respond to the suffering, the division, the violence, the chaos. We can lose our inner GPS and just keep spinning around, picking up one thing, and then another, without a clear sense of how to proceed.

I have been participating with a group of people who are meeting to explore the issues around racism and white privilege. Most of the conversation was focused on the racism in the US, in relation to black people. I was very engaged with this, and it was touching me deeply, as I am half American. One morning a few weeks ago something became clear to me: I needed to work closer to home. I live on Vancouver Island, on the west coast of Canada—we don’t have many black people here. What we do have is our indigenous people, who have been living here, in this ecosystem, for over four thousand years.

Early this morning I went out on my porch with a cup of tea, to watch the sunrise. As I stood there, I allowed myself to take this in: these people have lived here for a very very long time. I stood there, watching the pink clouds move south, breathing the truth of this deep into my body: for four thousand years they have been here, belonging in all ways to this land. I began to feel so young. Not just as one person, but as a lineage. My ancestors moved around; they came across the ocean from England, northern Europe, Scotland and Ireland, to this land, that was already occupied. As the mayor of our city said last night, at the beginning of a series of dialogues on reconciliation with our original people: “How do we live, when we become aware that we built the city of Victoria in their living room?”

Working close to home is a very helpful direction. The moment I decided to focus on this place where I live, I could feel things line up inside me. My nervous system came into a much deeper state of coherence. And then all sorts of opportunities to work with our indigenous people and this land appeared, like magic. This kind of magic is real; it’s not a trick. This is the way life works. When I am aligned with something deep and true inside me, the universe supports me. I’ve seen this, felt this, watched how this happens, all my life. That support doesn’t always come in the way I prefer. Sometimes life supports me by kicking my ass. Tough grace hurts; and it’s still grace.

Working close to home is the ordinary wisdom David Whyte speaks of in “Start Close In:”

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation…

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take

It can be easy to get lost in heroics these days, with all that is unravelling. To want to do something big, instead of starting close in, responding to what is right here, in your own backyard. Or at your own front door. We are a global culture now, and there is no going back from this place. And still, we each have to find our own place, our own way, which often involves a lot of stumbling and falling. If we aren’t willing to stumble around, and make a mess, look bad, feel foolish, we will never find our way.

Woman grieving2

Instead of launching myself into some kind of heroic action, which is very natural to my conditioning, I have let myself slow down a lot, and start close in. Not with doing, but with witnessing. I was seeing that the question, “What can I do?” is not always a good question. I was called to the witnessing here on this island through the practice of global witnessing I have been doing for years, and through the work I do with people in private sessions. I’ve seen such deep healing and transformation happen when we are witnessed, really seen and heard and felt.

Quite often, when someone comes to me after many years of working with a dilemma or a trauma, they believe they have been witnessed. They tell me so, that they have been heard, and seen. That they have heard themselves, witnessed these lost and frightened parts of themselves. When we look a little closer, when we dare to become more intimate with the wound, the trauma, the part of us who has been left behind, we find out that this is not quite true. Real listening, and real seeing, is a lost art in our culture. It asks a lot of us. It is a capacity that belongs to our maturity, and it has to be practiced, with deep humility and compassion.

As it is with our individual lives, so it is with us collectively. I discovered that I could offer myself as a witness, someone who can be present, open, curious and available, even when very painful things are going on. Even when my own heart and mind are deeply distressed by what I see and hear and feel. I can offer myself in this way, because I know now how to regulate my own nervous system. I have grown up that much. I can breathe the suffering in, and let it move through me. When we are able to bear witness in this way, tears flow, insights dawn, hearts open, walls dissolve. The one being witnessed is not the only one being blessed. We enter a sacred moment together, that can’t be manufactured. The movement of healing is like grace, like light. The burden that has been carried for so long falls away, or starts to lighten.

This doesn’t happen right away. Standing as a witness, I offer the flame of my heart, the openness of my mind, the strength of my body, my connection to the earth. I don’t know what will happen. I am just an offering. It can take a long time for the frozen, forgotten, bitter places in us to melt. Sometimes they don’t melt a lot; and just a little bit of melting is a miracle.

I can’t drink the tears of the whole world, but I can drink the tears in my neighbourhood, when I am ready. In my willingness to share the suffering, I bring light into this world. My tears are real medicine, when they flow from this place of clear-heartedness. And this goodness has flowed not from my doing, but from my being. From such a simple, human place.

Whenever we do reconciliation work with our indigenous people, they always remind us not to throw our tissues full of tears away in the garbage. That would be disrespectful of the sacred nature of the tears. They ask us to gather the tissues up and take them home. And then burn them, offer them into the fire. This is our small gesture of love and deep respect, as we continue to surrender into the suffering and the glory of this human incarnation.

with love,


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Michelle Wilsdon

    such a small request
    from one neighbour to another
    freely given
    connects us now
    to find how much

  2. Fred Pockrass

    Thanks Shaye. Your letters are heartwarming and so well written with love & compassion.

  3. Paula

    This is beautiful, thank you for bringing your light to this world.

  4. Eileen Delehanty Pearkes

    Thank you so much, Shayla, for this reminder to all of us that Canadians must stop thinking of the failures of others with regards to racism and look to our own social and economic structures as they relate to Indigenous losses and betrayals. This work has been at the center of my writing life for years now, and I am watching a great awakening. Keep listening, but don’t forget to talk too. Your words are important.

  5. Ruth Beck

    Shayla, there is such subtle and profound wisdom and encouragement in your words. Thank you!

  6. Sandy

    Beautiful Shayla – this resonates deeply.

  7. Leo Sofer

    Thank you so much Shayla. I have saved this email for many months, expecting the right moment will come to read it. And it has. I’m deeply touched by the compassion and whole heartedness here. Just what I needed to read today.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *