Short Essays - And Brief Thoughts
Suffering as Grace?
If I could have bypassed suffering but had give back the resulting gifts, would I make that trade?
With the leaves changing and summer drawing to a close, I was reflecting on endings this morning. Doors closing, painful change, really 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 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 had the realization ‘the leaves are dying but the trees aren’t’.. And, suddenly the thought came - would I really have been better off without suffering? As I reflected on the presence of pain in my life, I had to ask, “was I really 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 really make that trade? It suddenly seemed like heartbreaking beauty from that perspective. Maybe the heart has to 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, in the midst of 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, the same 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 promise - so much lay ahead. But then I remembered the closing ceremonies with the story lines, the triumphant victories, the trials, the heartache, and 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. In fact, I could sense an almost perfect symmetry between pain and richness - suffering and joy, I guess. In retrospect, the relationship seems almost lawful in terms of the degree of suffering and the resulting depth and capacity for joy.. Like it's all built in to the system somehow, or at least allowed, as a fuel for the soul's transformation.
Is suffering, then, really just a form of grace, in disguise, and in time?
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 a more authentic part of our being – a reality that lies beyond the personality and individual identity. Surrendering into these depths then leads one on a journey of healing and transformation, with the intellect acting as servant rather than ruler.
My experience is that this process also occurs in unison with the awakening of a greater creativity, which flows spontaneously from this inner fountain. The death of the limited 'self', then leading to a fuller and more abundant life. The irony is that for many of us, the catalyst for this rebirth is a great tragedy, or loss, which shakes us to the very core. It seems that the old foundation must be rattled for something greater to pierce through the cracks. Or as the 13th century poet Rumi said, “the wound is the place where the light enters”
To me, nature is a great example of this unfolding process - and, a flower is a perfect illustration of the transformation. A single seed placed beneath the surface without sustenance of its own. How it must die as a seed, its shell dissolving, so that it can become part of a greater, unfolding life. And how it doesn’t try to become a flower, it just grows, naturally, into that which it already is.
I wrote the poem years ago, thinking, metaphorically, how dark things must look to the seed that gets buried in the cold, damp dirt. Especially, if 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, there is deeper work that 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. It seems that there is some work that can only be done beneath the surface, & in a protective solitude.
I guess the whole spiritual journey for me, then, 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 that we are 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, & 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
When Chaos is Kind & Tension an Ally.
I was talking with a friend today about creativity being born from chaos and how tension is a necessary state for bringing novelty into existence. One of the earliest science quotes I remember hearing is that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” - at least at a certain physical level. And, I also learned that there are polarities underlying energetic structures i.e. negative vs. positive forces, matter and antimatter etc. It seems that the entire universe exists within a balancing act of opposites and that material and social phenomenon likewise tend towards duality i.e. God/Devil, light/dark, man/woman, democrat/republican. It seems like the natural progress of a system is towards two contrasting states, which then feed its evolution. So, does this also play out psychologically and spiritually, or with artistic creativity?
I remember hearing that, in Complexity Theory, the chaos itself is necessary for creation. That tension gives birth to adaptive novelty. So, if this is a necessary ingredient in evolutionary systems, is it also healthy and generative in the psyche, or soul. I know, personally, as a poet and lyricist, that most of my creative works have come during difficult periods or times of ‘searching.’ I think by definition, searching is about trying to find meaning when polarities or contrasting truths/beliefs exist. Where conflicting beliefs are being weighed, balanced and examined deep in the psyche. And, some very creative works, at least for me, emerged from these states of tension. So, were these times really personal ‘dilemmas’, or just an evolutionary condition that my soul entered into as part of a greater creative process?
Yet, if the universe was only about the balancing of opposites, would there be any real novel, forward creativity? So, what is it in the universe, or the human psyche, that brings adaptive beauty into being. Random mutation, selective pressure, and the duality of life and death - at some level, I suppose - but is that it? Or is the tension not really a fundamental state but rather a condition that simply holds open the space for creation to flow into and through. From a higher plane, perhaps? Like a tense canvass for a greater artist?
And, what about the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parts of our being? In evolution, maladaptive traits are weeded out over time, so if polarity still exists in the universe, or within me, is it really maladaptive or ‘bad’ in the traditional sense. Or is it, perhaps, necessary tension for the soul’s growth? A personal Chaos Theory, of sorts?
I think of the brilliant psychologist Carl Jung, who stressed the peril of avoiding or repressing the ‘shadow’ content of the subconscious. To him, both the light and dark elements were necessary raw material for the evolution of the soul. Likewise, the ancients speak of the Nekyia or necessary ‘night journey’ on the path to psychological and spiritual wholeness. And, mythology is also littered with healing journeys into the ‘underworld’ of the human psyche. History seems to have spoken. There is light within the darkness.
Consistent with these theories, I saw that my own soul was trying to lead me to wholeness and healing, but that the path inevitably led me into this dark night. I had always pushed away the painful emotional debris and this simply increased the psychic polarity, otherwise known as neurosis. Jung believed that psychological pathology was driven largely by the avoidance of legitimate suffering, and I became a living example. However, when I allowed my soul to naturally take me into, and through, this terrain, the tension and darkness did in fact give birth to healing. It was indeed my raw material of soul. My pain was my path.
So maybe, instead of cursing the dark or objectionable sides that still exists within, I should see them as creative. I should recognize that this inner polarity is holding a space, and sustaining the necessary tension, for something new to emerge through - spiritually or artistically. Maybe the labeled “good” or “bad” parts of myself are just polar opposites, both necessary at this moment to lead me to higher levels of truth. Maybe it’s not as much about wrestling with the ‘bad’, which can just create more polarity, and instead aligning with what wants to emerge this state.
Upheaval as a balancing, corrective force?
I saw a story about the latest mass shooting and was thinking about the increasing unrest across the country. For some reason, an image of lightning came to mind and I was reflecting on how it is an inevitable, corrective phenomenon resulting from an imbalance – energetic in this case.
Across Facebook, the discussion about the shootings and general unrest rages on but it seems like the emphasis is gradually moving towards honestly examining the roots of the collective strife, as well as the deeper complexities of evil itself. I think we are waking up to the fact that we are in serious trouble and it doesn’t just have to do with the availability of guns, or religious fanaticism. The roots go much deeper.
I was also reflecting on my personal journey which parallels the path that the country seems to be headed down. The more I ignored and neglected an inner life, the more the dis-ease grew, and this seemed to be a magnet for chaos and conflict on an individual level. As I chased happiness and fulfillment externally, the thirstier I actually became. In truth, I had directed a hunger of soul in the wrong direction. I had pointed this appetite at the wrong things, the wrong sources, the hollow but glittering treasures which would never fully satisfy and whose possession was completely beyond my control. The harder I grasped, the more selfish I became, and I was increasingly thrown into conflict with others who were after the same illusory gold. Disconnected from any true source of inner stability or happiness, I was prey to the next external rush. I was running faster and faster and had to live in a state of distraction and busyness to deal with the gnawing emptiness. In my case, I finally had to collapse completely in order to reexamine the foundation that my life was built upon.
I now stand back and watch the same thing playing out at a societal level. I see the parallels and the destination looks familiar to me. The roots appear strikingly similar. It seems like, collectively, we have also lost the balance with respect to intelligence and wisdom, science and soul. The rational mind and scientific method have propelled us to great achievement, externally, but how much inner peace and fulfillment have we actually found?
I believe that a dis-ease of neglected soul is what we are seeing today, and that technology is actually fueling the self-correcting process currently underway. Unrest has always existed though, now, technology is connecting and empowering it as never before. It is speeding up the evolutionary process. Technology and automation have also hollowed out the middle class, which was largely inevitable, and the stratification of society has increased dramatically with a growing sense of haves and have-nots. The collective soul seems to be calling out for attention.
The result, I believe, is what is now playing out on our national stage with increasing frequency. More and more hollow people screaming out against an unnatural condition of being. I look at the violence erupting in our country, the political turmoil, and, also, at the opioid crisis, as our youth thirsts for authentic experience and rails against the barren recipe that it has been handed. And, I look at a nation where over 20% of the adult population is on psychiatric medications at any one time. The collective unrest is simply staggering to me.
It all seems inevitable though, given the current recipe. It is just not a natural one. I found, personally, that the inner and outer worlds simply have to be balanced or it all comes crumbling down eventually. Science without soul, mind without heart, intelligence without wisdom, is simply not natural, not sustainable. And, as in a lightning strike, nature works to correct this. Balance must be restored – sometimes quietly, sometimes with striking ferocity. The good news is that life is incredibly adaptive, after all we came out of water onto land once, so maybe there is hope. Maybe there is another way, when we are ready.
Secrets of the Night
A landscape flowing with shadows is symbolic of the soul’s winding, paradoxical path. Light and darkness mingling together in a contrasting embrace. The two emerging from polar worlds where the triumph of one means the death of the other. And yet, neither can exist without the contrast of its opposite.
For a time, they dance harmoniously, celebrating the duality of truth. The tender, haunting beauty of darkness. The helplessness. The searching. The pain calling out to its healer. The loss of control with distant, mocking echoes of silence. The guttural cries accompanying the birth of truth as morning bears the secrets of the night. The rising sun, illuminating lush fields of higher awareness. And finally, a calming, humbling uncertainty that nourishes the ultimate certainty. All this painted by the hand of the great provider who takes before he gives, that we may know truth.
A Kiss Too Soon
'The Kiss' is about the need to become whole as individuals, at the soul level, before trying to find a partner. Then enriching, rather than completing, each other.
We can sense the night only because it is contrasted by the day. We sense beauty because we are also surrounded by ugliness. We sense truth amongst the error and ourselves only by that which we cannot control. Separateness and contrast are necessary if we are to experience the world in its true state. Being overly dependent upon people, romantically or otherwise, is ultimately a barrier to wholeness.
First and foremost, we are spiritual beings with a source of great inner potential. Unfortunately, we are often blind to this truth and thus seek our inner needs from the external world. Since we cannot consistently control the external world, we live with continual fear and anxiety. Relationships built upon such a foundation eventually lead to disillusionment and we commonly move from person to person in search of that which is meant to come from within.
The symbolism of a kiss under a glorious sunset exemplifies this encompassing truth. Night and day melt onto a brilliant canvas as lovers, independently whole but joined, complete the perfect compromise.
I did not initiate my entrance into this world and I shall not control my exit. I didn’t choose the color of my hair nor the shape of my mouth. I didn’t create the mechanism of voice nor the words that I speak. A beating heart has sustained me long before I was conscious of life. The air so necessary for my survival was awaiting my first breath. The nourishment of the land predicting the exact form of my hunger. Yet, somewhere along the way, the reigns of control have found my hands. Suddenly, I alone must steer myself and others to prosperity, to safety, to harmony. And, if the outcomes will not submit themselves to me, then at least the understanding must be mine. How did I go from being the wild, free colt to grasping these reigns with such clenched desperation?
Shadows softly flowing
Dancing with the light
Content in truly knowing
The secrets of the night
He knows that two should be as one
As he sees himself within her eyes
Yet the night would die, but for the sun
Still, what a blissful compromise
The loss of control, the gains of the soul
The terror of the fall, to the heart of it all
The bluest of skies, the purest of cries
The darkest of nights, the heavenly sights
The birth of a soul in the death of control