Short Essays -
Suffering and Grace
If I could have bypassed suffering but had to give back the resulting gifts, would I make that trade?
With the leaves changing and summer drawing close, I reflected on endings this morning. Doors closing, painful change, just the presence of suffering in general. Though immensely beautiful and lawful, it seems like the universe is a dark and unfriendly place at times. That the bad outweighs the good. That, maybe, it’s all just a cold and random dance.
So, I was sitting by the river today with some of these lingering doubts, and my attention was drawn to the beauty of the fall scene combined with the incredible intelligence permeating all of nature. I had a deep sense that something had to give.
As I took in the amazing colors coming from the very death of the leaves, I realized that ‘the leaves are dying, but the trees aren’t.’ And, suddenly, the thought came, would I have been better off without suffering? As I reflected on the pain in my life, I had to ask, “Was I worse off because of these events?” If I look at the change that occurred as a result, the connection to a deeper part of my being, the compassion and empathy for others, the relationships that formed or increased in depth. Was I worse off? If I could have skipped the suffering but had to give all this back, would I make that trade? It suddenly seemed like heartbreaking beauty from that perspective. Maybe the heart must be broken open. Perhaps there is no other way.
I was looking at the amazing color in the leaves and thought about how spring and fall were both bookends to the barren winter and how spring had always seemed preferable to me. But now, amid all this color, the birth of spring seemed to pale somewhat in terms of richness.
There was promise and joy in spring, and certainly color, but I don’t know if there is the same richness or depth of emotion. For some reason, I also remembered seeing the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, and again, my first instinct was that the former was more enjoyable. After all, there were beginnings and promises, and so much lay ahead. But then I remembered the closing ceremonies with the storylines, the triumphant victories, the trials, the heartache, and the resulting bonds among teammates and, sometimes, foes. Again, the beginning seemed to pale somewhat in that light. Or at least lose some of its comparative luster.
So, as I looked at the changing leaves this morning, the line between good and bad began to blur further for me. The universe just seems too intelligent for suffering to be a mistake. I could sense an almost perfect symmetry between pain and richness, suffering and joy.
In retrospect, the relationship seems almost lawful regarding the degree of suffering and the resulting depth and capacity for joy, like it's all built into the system somehow, or at least allowed, as a fuel for the Soul's transformation.
Seeds of Hope
I was talking with a friend about spirituality becoming less about belief and behavior and more about a change in our being. For me, it involves a core-level transformation at the level of consciousness and the unleashing of deeper energies of the psyche. A transition from the rational mind to a much more authentic part of our being, a reality that lies beyond the personality and individual identity. Surrendering into these depths, one is led on a journey of healing and transformation, with the intellect acting as a servant rather than a ruler.
My experience is that this process occurs in unison with the awakening of greater creativity, which can flow spontaneously from this inner fountain. The death of the limited 'self’ leading to a fuller and more abundant life. The irony is that for many of us, the catalyst for this rebirth is often a great tragedy, or loss, which shakes us to the core. It’s like the old foundation must be rattled for something greater to pierce through the cracks.
To me, nature is a great example of this unfolding process, and a flower perfectly illustrates the transformation. A single seed placed beneath the surface without sustenance of its own. It must die as a seed, its shell dissolving, to become part of a greater, unfolding life. And how it doesn’t try to become a flower; it just grows naturally into what it already is.
I wrote this simple poem years ago, metaphorically thinking how dark things must look to the seed buried in the cold, damp dirt. Especially if it knows, at some level, that it is meant to be a blooming flower in the bright sunshine. It must seem like a cruel twist of fate, a mockery of its very flower-ness. But, of course, deeper work must occur first, a dying and rebirth of sorts. And roots that must be anchored before it can grow upwards and outward into the world. Some work can only be done beneath the surface and in a protective solitude.
I guess the whole spiritual journey for me is a mirror of this process. To surrender into, and to trust, a greater, unfolding plan. Or, as a seed, surrounded by dirt and darkness at times, to imagine the flower I am naturally becoming.
Seeds of Hope
If prayers seem to fail and faith has grown weak,
Remember God comes to all those who seek-
His timing and methods are not ours to know,
The seed can’t envision what’s needed to grow.
The trials of living, with all of their pain,
Are really like darkness accompanying the rain.
The blooming spring flower speaks of a fate
That’s well worth the struggle, and much needed wait.
The depths of its beauty shall be a surprise,
To the unsightly soil from which it must rise.
It first must grow deep, before it grows tall;
It finds its true source, then gives to us all.
Would our Father not place as lovely a plan
In the seed of our life, from which we began?
Can we hold to this promise in our darkest hour,
Asking the seed to imagine the flower?