The Human Spirit

But, as cries are absorbed into silence, as the sun always rises just
when the night seems it will never end, as the sky holds everything flying
and everything falling, there is something indestructible at the center
of each of us; though the pain of being transformed and rearranged
while still alive often feel unbearable.
~Mark Nepo

Life’s Unwanted Things

I’m trying not to be broken by life’s unwanted things.  I’m trying to accept what too often feels unacceptable, to surrender to what feels too excruciating to bear.  And hoping, trusting really, that in my acceptance, in my surrender, I’ll not be lost.  A favorite author, Linda Hogan, says that, “In real life hearts break, and sometimes remain that way.  Things and people close and never open again.”  I know this is true.  I’ve seen it happen to others and on more than a few occasions, I’ve been to that edge myself… I used to pray to be well again, to be free from the illness that has ravaged so much of my life, laying waste to everything except what’s most essential. Sometimes I still pray for that, for it all to just go away; to steal off into the night and leave just as unannounced as it came. But mostly now I pray simply not to be undone by it.  I pray that if there is something to be learned from this, perhaps even something to be gained, that I be granted the foresight and the wisdom to discern and live these lessons; these gifts?  I also can’t help but wonder if I didn’t somehow, someway call this terrible experience, this illness, into my life?  I worry that perhaps I would have been too weak or maybe even too reckless to look deeply into the way things are, to really see and live what’s authentic without it?  That I somehow needed the suffering and limitations to get to this terrible, beautiful place where I would learn with such a profound intensity to have faith, to trust, and most importantly to love.

There’s a tree that grows just outside my bedroom window.  I spend hours looking at her, measuring the change in seasons by her.  Spring is glorious.  The tree grows nubby with promise, until I wake one day to see her covered in lace – the first signs of new leaves.  With summer comes the berries, and I watch the robins and waxwings squabble for every morsel.  I’ve even seen our local chipmunk brave the heights, ignoring the birds, for his fair share of the bounty.  Fall is my favorite season.  The leaves are on fire, orange and gold, one last hurrah before she sleeps.   Then winter.  The leaves have all gone now and the tree offers up her bones to me, her very soul on display.  Every season seems to teach me something, to offer me something, but it’s in winter that I noticed the tree’s branches, how they reach out into the world, growing thinner and more vulnerable the deeper she stretches.  I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t a metaphor, a life lesson, for how we too should reach out into the world?

Maybe I did need this darkness to realize the light.  Maybe without it, I wouldn’t have found the courage to live from my heart, to follow the example of the tree, and make myself thin so that the mystery of life might enter in, and how in return, I now touch everything with a tenderness before not possessed.  There’s risk involved to be sure, to be this vulnerable, to live this essentially, but I’ve come to see that I no longer have the will to live any other way.

I Did Not Give You a Heart of Fear

For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
~2 Timothy 1:7

For me the spiritual path has always been learning how to die. That involves not just death at the end of this particular life, but all the falling apart that happens continually. The fear of death— which is also the fear of groundlessness, of insecurity, of not having it all together—seems to be the most fundamental thing that we have to work with… We have so much fear of not being in control, of not being able to hold on to things. Yet the true nature of things is that you’re never in control. You’re never in control. You can never hold on to anything. That’s the nature of how things are… So my own path has been training to relax with groundlessness and the panic that accompanies it….training to die continually.
~Pema Chodron
Buddhist Nun

I’ve always known I wasn’t an adventurous person.  I was too concerned with being safe, with being in control. I spent years powering through my life, manipulating my experiences to get that desired outcome.  I was good at it too.  You have to be when you’re that scared.  Of course at the time I didn’t know I was afraid.  It took me years of living with my fear outright before I could see how it had always been there, just beyond my conscious mind.   In that hidden part of who I was, the wolves were always at the door…

When the unthinkable happened, and I became ill, the fear surfaced at last, and I found myself  in an almost constant state of anxiety. Control had finally proven itself to be the grand illusion all the great scholars said it was.  Life had suddenly become precarious and changeable, and I found myself drowning in uncertainty. What Pema Chodron calls groundlessness. I love that word because it so aptly describes that sense of free-fall that comes with truly not knowing.

I’ve spent the last several years now coming to terms with my fear.  Through meditation and prayer, I’m learning to trust in something larger than myself, and to relax and just be with whatever comes next.  Lately I’ve been turning this phrase over and over in my mind: I Did Not Give You a Heart of Fear.  It’s been playing in my head like a melody or a song you suddenly find you can’t stop humming.  And I wonder – Is this what all this has been about?  Is that what all this has been for, to teach me this one simple truth?

Some days it still comes for me, still unsettles me and shakes me to my core, wanting to know have I learned my lesson?  Do I know who I am, and from where I come?  And I can answer now with a hard-earned, deep understanding:  I come from a place of love and light and I was not given a heart of fear…