My heart is swollen. As if a gland,not a muscle, writes Kimiko Hahn in her poem “Utica Station”. A few words into Hahn’s poem, and I’m hooked, right there, remembering times past and feeling—as well—a swollen heart.
Hahn’s poem invites us to look deep within. At what and whom we have loved. And lost. And if we do, engage in what many call navel-gazing, we might find sadness, longing, regret, fear. All those uncomfortable feelings our social media feeds tell us are unacceptable. And weak. What is acceptable is all the positive and happy emotions—joy and gratitude and equanimity and patience, to name a few.
But the human experience is nuanced, filled with ups and downs. And some of us (like me!) have particularly melancholy dispositions. We cry when we hear a song that takes us back to that summer before our freshman year of college, or when we smell homemade bread, like the kind Mom used to bake, or when we think of lost loved ones. Or when we worry about the world situation.
This depth of emotion is not bad. As Susan Cain writes in her new book “Bittersweet”, We live in a culture that only wants to talk about what’s going well. Anything that’s not going well is positioned as a detour from the main road. The truth is that pain is not a detour from the main road. Pain is part of the road we walk as human beings.
We shouldn’t avoid our navel! It’s what helps us stay fully engaged with all parts of life. With all parts of ourselves. I echo what Melissa Febos writes in the first essay, entitled “In Praise of Navel-Gazing” of her new book, that writing about or sharing vulnerability, pain, trauma is a subversive act. It takes courage. And support. And permission—that only we can give ourselves. Permission to be all of ourselves. To feel all of our feelings. To be sad. And happy. To be confused and wise. To be hopeful and utterly lost. And to remember that The Divine is with us, through the light and through the dark. As Rumi reminds us, When I brood like a raincloud, laughter flashes through me. It’s the habit of lightning to flash through a storm