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The Uses of Sorrow

The Uses of Sorrow by Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift


This week during The Deep Study, Elesa gave me this poem to read aloud to the group in celebration of the life and work of the great poet, Mary Oliver. What Elesa didn’t know, at the time, was that I already knew this poem.

This verse was floating around Facebook many months ago and the words haunted me for days. You see, I had just recently opened such a box in my romantic life and was struggling to make sense of it, though I never did.

Now, months later, the same person who gave me that box — someone I thought was long gone — has resurfaced, reopening that dark place within me, touching tender points so deep and painful, I barely recognize them as mine.

The Buddhist teachings say that sometimes difficult people appear in our lives to help us work through some of our own karma, and that they may KEEP popping up until we are finally ready and able to resolve it. Or, they can be a mirror reflecting the truth about where we are in our spiritual development, offering the opportunity for clarity and growth.

In my own meditation on this sorrowful relationship, the word “forgiveness” kept coming up. At first, I thought I was to forgive him for the way he treated me, and so I did. Then I thought, I was to forgive myself for my own inability to set healthy boundaries, and so I did. But something still didn’t feel complete.

Could it be that I actually needed to ask HIM to forgive ME? But what had I done? Wasn’t HE the one who hurt ME? And so, in my meditation, I tried asking him to forgive me, for the role I played in our little drama, for my habitual desire to hurt him back, for responding with anger instead of compassion.

THAT was difficult. And I am still working on it.


Posted by Andrea Klunder, a long-time student of Elesa Commerse.
To contact Andrea, e-mail
Posted March 2, 2013

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