On Being Dumbfounded In The Face Of Life

Today I received the following comment on the blog I wrote about choosing “Interbeing” as my word for the year. I was so touched by it that I found myself writing a long response that’s turned into its own blog entry. Anne M., I am grateful to you.

Anne wrote: Thank you for this lovely inspirational blog post, Lauren, and for all your lovely inspirational posts – I get so much out of them and send little pieces of them to friends. I only came across you 6 months ago via searching for comforting words online after the death of my heart dog Willa and was stunned at the beauty and honesty of your writing. Had never known of your books but have ordered Even So and think I am in for a treat. Then I will have the pleasure of reading all your earlier ones and turning my friends on to them too. I am glad to hear you have had more time with Bailey. Now 6 months out from Willa’s departure I’m realizing that, for me, there is no healing, but there is a capitulation, I realized today that it is not death that is so terrible for me, it is separation. I so miss that very special interbeingness with my little friend, and I don’t know how to have it when I am here and she is not. My word for this year is probably “I don’t know anything at all, not a thing, I stand dumbfounded in the face of life” and trusting that there is a long German word for that. Bless your heart, may it fill with compassion that holds you through the hard days.

My response:

Dear Anne,

Your comment means so much to me, and ‘trusting there is a long German word’ for what you’re experiencing did make me laugh! A very good thing.

Bailey is still with us, although things are changing. (When aren’t things changing?) After a horrific week at Christmas when we thought he was leaving us, the vet put him on quite a few medications, which make him more comfortable, but still… we know where this leads, don’t we?

Dark path of griefI don’t know whether you realize it, but having you share what you’re experiencing on this path of grief is a profound gift to me. You are farther into the woods than I, leaving a trail for me to follow. Others are doing the same, some in private emails, some here on the blog, and some in person. Last April, I said I feared I wouldn’t survive Bailey’s loss, but now, thanks to you and others, I think I will. It will be no less excruciating, but it may just be survivable. You’ve survived it, after all. People do. Just as they survive war and tornadoes and the death of their children, their beloved partners, and their dreams… all the sorrows that make up our lives (along with joys). I am sincerely grateful to you.

I spent some time this morning considering the word, or perhaps more accurately phrased, the ‘state of being’ you have chosen (or that has chosen you) to explore this year. To recognize one knows nothing, to “stand dumbfounded in the face of life,” is a place of the deepest wisdom and grace. Here, we know the wheel/spiral has turned, the season has changed. We have left much behind, and find ourselves in an unexplored land. Nothing looks the same. Nothing feels the same, nor ever will again. How can this be, we cry? Why didn’t I know? How do I keep walking? How do I keep breathing?

We do what you are doing, I think. We capitulate. We surrender. We no longer fight it. The battle is over. We wave the white flag. We accept.

The Fool, Rider-Waite Tarot

In the Tarot, this makes me think of the Fool, the first card, the card that shows the young man, who symbolizes the soul, stepping blithely off the side of a cliff into the abyss, the unknown, with that wonky smile on his face. But if we look closer, we realize he carries a bundle tied to a staff (reminding us of the suit of wands and of the wand carried by the Magician – the penultimate creative symbol) which contains all he needs for the journey ahead, the journey that will inevitably, eventually, lead him to wholeness (symbolized by the final card in the Major Arcana, the World) and that state of interbeing Thich Nhat Hanh talks about. We also see he is not alone, for a small white dog is prancing beside him, smiling and encouraging and full of joy. How appropriate for people like us, Anne! The little dog is the spark of life, our soul companion, our “aman cara” as the Irish call it, our “daimon” as Jungian psychologist James Hillman calls it. There’s a lot of other symbolism in the card, of course, but these symbols speak to me today.

This wee pup is so important. The little dog is there whether we know it or not, whether we sense it or not. When I talk about ‘interbeing’ I mean a connection that transcends all things, all space, and all time. Einstein, in a letter to the widow of a friend, said he couldn’t really mourn his friend’s death, since he understood his friend merely to be in the next room. Wonderful. Comforting. But don’t we want to be in that room with our beloved? Don’t we want our beloved to come back into this room? Sometimes, though, just sometimes, when I’m in meditation, I experience a moment of oneness in which I am released from the bondage of self. In this state, I AM the tree, the star, the earth, the trout, and yes, I AM those I have lost as well. They ARE me. Does any of that make sense? Science tells us we are not solid at all; we are energy and light and space, all woven together; time does not exist as we experience it, nor does space… it’s all something so much greater, so much more. The Ground of All Being, as theologian Paul Tillich called it/us.

All that to say, I wonder if you sat very still, and called to Willa with your heart if you might not find you aren’t separated in the way you think. Is that possible? I have done this with humans I have lost, and honestly, after a wee bit the room sometimes feels crowded with them. I feel them with me still, if only temporarily, until an email comes in or dinner must be cooked or someone comes to the door, or a million other things.

How grief works.

Does this stop the grief? No, it does not, since that isn’t how grief works, is it? But such practice, which I will certainly do when Bailey transitions, does expand something in me, makes it less cramped, less constricted. It creates space for the non-duality of life/not-life, here/not-here. I don’t believe grief gets smaller over time. Grief, in my experience, is always the same size, the same weight. We learn, hopefully to accommodate it, and to learn to carry it without it crushing us. We change, over time, if we allow grief to work through us. We get bigger.

This brings me to your hope that my heart may be filled with compassion – this, too, is a profound prayer. What I’m learning is that grief places us inside the family of all beings, since grief is a universal experience in a way no other emotion is. Feeling this grief allows us to recognize it when we see it in others, and to be able to respond, to hold space for it, in a way we can’t if we haven’t experienced it ourselves. I have a dear friend, Sr. Rita, who talks about seeing the world as God sees it and feeling the pain God feels. Surely, this is the invitation grief offers us: come in, join us, sit by the shared fire, take this cup of tea, let us wrap a blanket around you, and care for you. While you learn to carry this new stone of pain, while you learn to grow new space around it, rather than calcify around it, let us assure you that you are not alone; you are still beloved.

A seat by the fire for us, while we grieve.

Thank you, again, Anne. You’ve taken me on quite a journey, and you’ve taught me much.

With love, Lauren


  1. Rachel W on January 17, 2023 at 12:13 pm

    Wow! I’m a fan of your writing, having read all of your books since I fell in love with The Stubborn Season many years ago. But wow! This blog is so touching, so real, so insightful and so understanding. I can see why Anne M. wrote to you about your earlier blog(s) and I share her sentiments. With great appreciation and admiration, please keep writing for us, Rachel W

    • Lauren on January 17, 2023 at 12:53 pm

      Thanks, Rachel. I’m so glad something on this blog was useful.

  2. Anne Moore on January 17, 2023 at 6:48 pm

    Wow, Lauren, your response is very precious to me – I will print it out and reflect on it – I love how you have expanded these concepts. I have been hesitant to post so much about my experience of losing Willa on your public blog and so have held back tips and insights that helped me after her death, wanting to respect this space for you and others. But in case you would welcome the more in-depth sharing of info to put on your reference “shelf” to use or not use as you see fit, rather than me overusing this space you can let me know; I believe you have my email address on this blog site.
    Your post as usual is rich and deep and so relevant to life, and mine personally; I am really grateful for you!
    Yes, I’ve been having an ongoing relationship with Willa since she passed – it’s been so strange and unknown and new that I don’t know the territory or how to engage with it fully when she is not embodied, but I’m learning – every time I do a self-care task now I dedicate it to her, which inspires me to do even more, just so I can send that energy and feel connected for a brief moment. I am touched deeply that she has remained my loyal friend, model, and “Familiar” as I always thought of her, though I like “aman cara” better – and she was a little white dog too! So this resonates like a message from the beyond, and you the articulate messenger – what a gift you have, thank you for it! As for “capitulation” , as I slowly gave up resistance, a thought popped up wondering – is it possible that capitulation can become “I bow down” to this? I think you answered that. And finally, thank you for your wonderful enrichment of my instinctual choice – I think “dumbfounded ” could be a very fertile word for me this year – I notice that when I am dumbfounded, all my habitual thought and reaction patterns stop in their tracks, and suddenly there is nothing but stunned openness, maybe a bit like the moment before the world was created.

  3. Lauren B. Davis on January 17, 2023 at 9:34 pm

    Anne, I am so, so, very glad. And how it fills me with hope to hear you and Willa are still in relationship!

    Now, seriously, “I bow down to this” is the most perfect phrase, the most perfect posture for what you (and I, and so many others) are feeling. Thank you.

    I do indeed have your email, and will be in touch. xo

  4. Kevin Davidson on January 18, 2023 at 7:56 am

    Lauren and Anne Moore, I’m grateful for your exchange, thank you for sharing with us. There are many aspects that really strike a chord with me. It was also so interesting to read how Lauren interpreted the tarot “Fool Card”. Much more to it than I had previously understood.
    It seems like tarot analysis can bring comfort, but I’m curious about whether it can also portend bad things?
    Thanks, Kevin

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 18, 2023 at 10:01 am

      Hi Kevin, thanks for your comment.

      As for whether or not the Tarot can foretell the future… well, it’s complicated. I use the cards more for spiritual reflection than divination, and I don’t believe the future is fixed, so I don’t use the cards to ‘predict’ exactly. However, the Tarot provides me with a spiritual snapshot of the present moment, and then, based on my intuitive reaction to the images and symbols on the cards, I get a sense of what will happen if I continue down a certain path. I gain information about what’s going on in the same way I might through dream analysis. Tarot is a way to access my subconscious. Now, is that subconscious connected to my soul, to spirits, to ancestors, to energies I can’t quite explain? My experience tells me it is.

      You ask specifically about bad things. Again… maybe. Let’s imagine I’m drinking too much, or involved in a dodgy relationship, or working at a job that demands I compromise my ethics for a whack of cash. I do a reading asking for clarity and the Devil card turns up. The Devil in tarot represents seduction by the material world and physical pleasures, living in fear, domination and bondage, being caged by an overabundance of luxury, addiction — well, it’s not difficult to conclude that if I continue along the path I’m presently on bad things will happen. This insight gives me a chance to correct course. It’s an invitation to take a different path.

      Hope that makes sense.

      Here are a couple of good articles on the subject, the second one specifically about Tarot and divination in the Black community.



      • Kevin Davidson on January 24, 2023 at 12:00 pm

        Lauren, that is fascinating, many thanks for taking the time to share more insight on tarot. I also appreciate the links you provided. regards, Kevin

  5. Joan Robb on January 20, 2023 at 6:32 am

    I am in awe and very much appreciate your insights Lauren.
    I will bow down on my travels today.

    • Lauren on January 20, 2023 at 8:56 am

      Aw… (pun intended!) thanks so much, Joan. We bow down together.

Leave a Comment