‘Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring’
– Karlfried Gras von Durkheim
… a favorite quote from my IIT days (around 1983-84):
Often separation is seen as opposed to love, to connection. Death is seen as being opposed to Life. And Relationship opposed to being Alone.
And yet, the truth is that without embracing separation, love is reduced to a needy attachment; until we see the beauty of aloneness, relationship is merely an entanglement and without learning to die, life becomes a burden.
By and large, Separation is experienced as painful. Whether it is the separation during the birth of the child from her mother, the separation between a husband and a wife, between lovers, professional separation after partnership in business; Or, for that matter, separation from our dearly held beliefs and indeed the separation that death brings from our near and dear ones.
Separation is death. Death of the past and birth of the present. Of something new, fresh, alive and pulsating. A newness we sometimes avoid for a lifetime. The comfort of familiarity is too alluring for us to embark on the adventure of aliveness. The pain is because we resist dying. Dying to the past, dying to our beliefs and stories, dying to what is so that what might be is born.
And yes, the deeper truth is that Separation is never painful. It is the story we believe about ‘separation’, it is the wanting to hold on to something that has died, it is the trying to bring something that has lived its time, back to life. Am reminded of the wisdom of the Tao..
‘When you let go of what you have, you receive what you need;
when you let go of who you are, you become who you might be’
It is one thing to understand this wisdom, quite another to see its depth and then again, to realize it existentially, is an ever deepening journey. And also something about awakening irreversibly to the truth of this.
Separation can deepen Love
I have seen and have been told that the greatest strength that is expressed through me is ‘Connection’ – in my experience of life, I find that what I spontaneously and effortlessly do is connect people to other people (a dear friend-mentor, GD calls me the ‘cosmic traffic cop’, directing the traffic of people in the right direction ;-)). I also enjoy connecting ideas, visions and paradigms with other possibilities and openings; connecting paradoxes and polarities; books and people. Above all, I love connecting people to the beauty that sings inside them.
When I started making a story of this great gift of connection, life had to bring to me the pain and gift of separation. Separation seemed truly painful at times and not so painful at other times, depending on the intensity of the belief in stories.
And then came a loving relationship, which invited me to die again and again to any attachment of how it ‘must’ be! It provoked, cajoled, invoked me to see the beauty of what is .. every day. It made me make friends with uncertainty. And amidst the many deaths, it seems, there was something that kept coming alive more and more. Inside me, in the relationship and inside one of the dearest friends I have had.
Some separations I have walked through
Some separations in my life are worth mentioning. To see how they brought forth a new life. A greater aliveness. A certain lightness of being. As I lived through the pain. Sat in the fire. And I still do. A bit subtler perhaps. A little easier, maybe. But it seems very real.
An early separation was when I moved out of home to join IIT Bombay. I was all of 17 years old. There was an excitement of living in a hostel. A certain innocence. And I remember I felt quite home-sick in the early days. Today, I can look at those days with fond nostalgia.
Another significant separation I remember was very painful. I remember being in love with a girl, we had exchanged many letters- in those days the internet was not quite there, several intimate conversations- I particularly remember the endless flow of deep sharing we had when we were travelling in a bus one night. And then I remember that when I expressed my love to her, she said, I was a day too late! A close friend of hers had proposed to her and she had said Yes. Such a close shave. I was broken. And tried to put a brave front. Interestingly, I met her again after a few years on the eve of her engagement with another man- she had also broken up with her first friend! And then just a few months back (2012) I reconnected with her and discovered she was divorced and had remarried. Recounting this still evokes in me a bitter-sweet feeling of the tenderness of human life.
Separation in Nature births New life
The separation from the corporate world happened when it became clear to me that I was being called to join this world of learning and human transformation, personal evolution. A new life beckoned me. I joined Pragati Learning in 1996. And when I began, it was like coming home to what I was born to do and be. Fulfillment, contribution, discovery and more. And then a day came when I had to let go of that. As I discovered that my vision was different. Eternale Learning was born. In 2000.
Recently, I discovered a photograph of the Pragati team at the Pune university under a grand banyan tree. I think it must have been 1998. That one team and one organization has become 5 organizations. Much like the banyan tree from which many trees are born and connected with the parent tree. The only difference being that in nature separation is celebrated. The human mind has yet to learn to celebrate separation. It can be a source of joy to the parent tree to give birth to so many trees and create a forest.
‘The Alchemist Ark’ inspired by Paulo Coelho’s book, ‘The Alchemist’ was born first. Today it is very successful company designing e-learning solutions. This tree branched very soon and the ‘World School of Creative Learning’, was born- friends who have been doing amazing work in the field of enabling learning using the various arts. ‘Eternale Learning’, now. ‘CoEvolve’, is an ecosystem that is enabling facilitators and through them the emerging communities like ChittaSangha and Learning Societies. Eternale Learning enabled the birth of ‘Seven Eighths’, an Organization Development initiative and ‘Athanor’, a business that builds mentors and leaders. ‘Tatva Leadership’, the most recent bird that has flown (‘separated’) from the nest, is blazing a trail in developing leaders in the business world. It can be a matter of such pride that a parent has given birth to so many radiant children who in turn are giving birth to more. Ah! The painful joy of separation.
Letting go, Letting God
Separation from my parents brought numbing anguish. My mother died a very painful death- not only physically but also emotionally. In and out of hospitals. One day, she called me and literally begged of me, ‘Please let me go. I have suffered enough.’ And I realize today that we were forcibly extending her life by taking her to the hospital. Until the time we actually put her on a ventilator! We knew no other way. We were confused, I can now say. She wanted to die peacefully at home. My marriage was going thru a very deep churning and profound pain which got accentuated due to this extremely stressful situation. She had been the one to enable, even orchestrate the alliance. And I had just gone along, not listening to my intuition. All hind sight. That creates insight. And perhaps foresight!
My father also died of a galloping cancer within 3 months of its discovery. But it seems it was less painful for him. He was in the US and was put in hospice care and also morphine as a pain killer. He wanted to be taken to the hospital, wanted to live, unlike my mother. But it was not India and hence we could not take him to a hospital once they decided it was over. Such irony. Mother did not want to go to the hospital and she had to. Dad wanted to and could not. Strange are the ways of life.. even in death.
The End of my 17 year marriage
In some ways, the most significant separation perhaps was the end of my marriage. Today I feel so grateful to my former wife, a dear friend who walked with me and in some ways continues to in our journey with our daughter. Our relationship had many beautiful moments but largely it was a pretty difficult marriage. Hardly any marriage is easy and yet, to me, to us this seemed particularly challenging. The most precious gift of the marriage has been Sufii, our now-not-so-little angel. She is 9 years old as I write this (2012). A divorce can be very painful especially after having been married for 17 years. And I can tell you, it can also be liberating. Fortunately for us, it happened largely in a peaceful way.
I had a lot of help from dear friends who helped me to stand in a place of responsibility. It is so easy to blame at such times. They showed me the big picture. And also there were many messages from Shirdi Sai that made the journey simpler. And smoother. Specific instructions about the division of property. About who should Sufii be with. Often the conflict in a separation is about division of assets. The last message from Sai that brought profound peace and clarity was: ‘You are my channel of gifts for her. Give her what she wants. I am there to take care of you, why worry?’ Perhaps it was my higher self. Who knows. But I listened. And in the midst of deep inner conflict of the mind, something in me relaxed, and said ‘Yes’ to the new life that beckoned me.
All along my family was not able to see or understand why I was acting the way I did. Especially with regard to finances. I had to hold my ground and see what was true for me. And not get swayed by the values of my family- though they were the ones who were holding my energy and supporting me in the best way they knew. It was painful. And something helped me walk through the tunnel with grace and grit. To me what was most important was the relationship. Even in separation, to remain friends.
One day in a learning conversation with my dear friend GD, I was genuinely wondering with him, ‘Why doesn’t my family understand?’ Aware of the ‘turnaround’ that there was something I was resisting to understand. Effortlessly, he said, they are aspects of you screaming at you, what certain parts of you believe and hence not letting go of. I could see that the day I stopped believing those stories and investing in them, either they will stop saying what they are or I will be able to smile from inside as I notice how the human being is caught up in fascinating and frustrating stories.
The key lessons that I learnt from this huge separation – and I need to mention them here – are:
– To gracefully and gratefully exit from a chapter of life that is over without prolonging and stretching something that has lived its life. I am reminded of this beautiful wisdom:
GRACEFUL EXIT- Ellen Goodman
“There’s a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognise when a job, a life-stage, a relationship is over -–and to let go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or it’s past importance in our lives.
It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on, rather than out. The trick of retiring well may be the trick of living well. Its hard to recognise that life isn’t a holding action, but a process. Its hard to learn. Its hard to learn that we don’t leave the best part of ourselves behind, back in the sports field or the office. We own what we learnt back there. The experience and the growth are grafted onto our lives. And when we exit we can take ourselves along quite gracefully”.
– To see how the moving on is serving each of us.. and the whole. Life is indeed wise, even if the mind cannot quite wrap itself around it and see what is.
– To be very vigilant about the tendency to blame. The outer very faithfully mirrors the inner. And to be able to see that is precious at such times.
– To be willing to reach out for help to people and friends, even professionals who will not take sides and will make you see in the mirror- both your patterns and your essence, the greatness and love from which you can respond and even create/generate the future!
– Being true to what one is feeling and being kind to what the other is wanting. e.g. My value was no conflict and keeping the relationship as healthy as possible was a non-negotiable. I was willing to compromise or let go of the money. In the long run, I feel money can be recovered but relationships broken are much more difficult, often impossible to repair.
– Discovering what the inner voice is saying, and for that I needed to stand in a place that seemed ‘opposed’ to what many near and dear ones – esp. the family were saying and advising. Ultimately no one, I repeat NO ONE can ever know another’s truth or pain. Ultimately, I saw that only I will be facing the consequences of my stand and decision and that also applies to all. And today I am at peace. Yes, struggling financially but that’s nothing in comparison to have had to struggle with the relationship having ‘broken’, with my truth and with and yet for someone else the money may be more important. And that’s fine too.
There have been more separations. Especially one from a client which was very painful. A dear friend asked me: What is it that you really want from this? What are you attached to? I could see intellectually but the pain seemed very real and even today, though it has largely healed. And it seems some residues remain.
< Updating the blog with this status update from Sangeeta Bhagwat today- 16 Jul 13- exactly a year after this blog post:
Having received several messages sharing a general anxiety over travel and separation, I wonder if these are reflections of our fundamental sense of separation from Source, from One?
What if you recognised and honoured the call to reconnect within – now, no longer postponing it for a ‘more convenient time’?
I have seen that I cannot wish away the pain. To be nakedly honest with myself at least is vital. And being willing to see the illusion, the story .. the only thing that can ever make one sad, hurt and cause pain. Reality is kind. It knows no other way.
When we see the inter-connectedness of separation and love, life and death, relationship & aloneness, apparent opposites, we also are shown that separation can deepen love, learning to die can enhance life and being alone brings the true dance to relationships.
What can die but that which is not real.