Friday, February 7, 2014

The Educational Beauty in What We Avoid

"Everyone chooses a suffering that will change him or her to a well-baked loaf."

Each of us has our own story of ourselves. If yours is anything like mine, then it's mildly heroic, in an appropriately humble way I hope. I'd like to think about myself in a positive way, so I suppose I've consciously (and subconsciously) fashioned a fairly favorable version of my personal history. It's full of challenges, disappointments, and properly scaled victories, like a good movie – without the final act.
 My story of myself is undoubtedly different than the story you have of me, and vice versa. Your story of me may even be more favorable than the one I've been working on for myself (which would be nice of you), or it may possibly be less favorable. But one thing is certain: I've been working much harder on my story than on yours. I have a lot at stake in the carefully crafted picture of myself that I've created.

It never really occurred to me that the areas where I was not entirely honest in my self-account were exactly the same areas where my life seemed to hurt the worst. It was as if I had hand-crafted some protective finish to conceal a painful wound or blemish in the smoothed-out story of who I am – often without even noticing that I'd gone to all the trouble of leaving many of the difficult parts out. Imagine that. So something had to happen to open my eyes to the uncomfortable truths I'd hidden in my story. This is where the stuff we usually avoid becomes just the stuff we really need.

Eventually, like a phony showing off his bullwhip tricks, I experienced severe and sobering self-induced pain. A shock to the pride that could have been predicted. Then I had to walk around with my nasty injury exposed, whether others noticed it or not, I sure did. I couldn't not notice it – it hurt. And it hurt because 1) It's supposed to hurt, in order to capture my attention; and 2) Because I was afraid everybody else would see the truth I'd been concealing (I'm really no good with a bullwhip). Something was kicking up again, and I couldn't smooth it over, or ignore it anymore.

   "Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."
                                                    Pema Chodron

That pain and fear made me realize that there was something (or somebody) at work in here. An anonymous, invisible editor, obscuring my uncomfortable truths in a very sneaky, and very effective way. Me, and my shadow, strollin' down the avenue. My shadow editor, my ego, tells me that I have to cover up my hurt – that I'll lose something that I can't afford to lose, or fail to get something that I "really need" if I don't. Of course, by now I hope that we've established that he can always be relied upon to make trouble, but maybe he's doing something beneficial too. All that activity obscuring the truth and securing a delusion happens around something. It's within the pathology of the perpetrator to lead us back to the scene of the crime.

So, while it may seem that you have to be a little crazy to focus on instances of fear and pain, on causes and conditions of discomfort, in order to reveal the blemished reality of your self, maybe you have to be a little crazy not to. A little pathological, as it were. But since pathology isn't really a choice, but more of a geography, then it isn't something to avoid, but something to explore.

"Yeshua said:  If you bring forth that which is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."
                                       Logion 70, The Gospel of Thomas

Fear and pain are inevitable in Life – so what if they're really showing me something about myself that if I got to work on, I'd be less pathological, and much happier? Something very specific to my ongoing story, some old subconscious editing, inserted to self-enhance, or hide a hurt I'd caused. What if the subtle lies of omission point to what's missing, to the source of my suffering, and the bleeding heart of my selfishly low self-esteem? 

When I can step outside of myself with that objectivity, I may finally start to escape the self-centered importance of my story, and begin to think more about everyone else in my life, and in the world. Maybe I can help them write a more successful story of themselves. That would be a better way to spend my time. Maybe my fear and pain can free me to help ease someone else's fear and pain, and help them realize that we can all be one, that we all are one – unified by our shared experience. Now the story really starts getting better for everyone.
In Buddhism, this is called bodhicitta, and your hardcore Buddhist monks really go a little overboard on this idea, this path to self-realization and transcendence. Listen to this:

"Adverse conditions are spiritual friends. Devils and demons are emanations of the victorious ones. Illness is the broom for evil and obscurations. Suffering is the dance of what is."
                                                                Lord Serlingpa

That's probably why I'll never be a hardcore Buddhist monk. But it is kind of an amazing, selfless approach, isn't it? A radical way to defuse and redefine our typical view of fear and pain. A kind of revolutionary attitude that reveals the beautiful underlying purpose of all the stuff I usually want to avoid. "Suffering is the dance of what is." I mean, I hate to suffer, but I love to dance...perhaps being injured can help me to hear God's music.

So I guess I'll put the bullwhip down, for now. I think the best trick I ever learned with it was snapping my own ass, after all. Anyways, no one ever called me a bullwhip artist.  

"There is only one thing I dread – not to be worthy of my sufferings."

The latest book: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor from Llewellyn Worldwide can be ordered direct on this page or online; and the first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is available the same ways – but ask for them it at your local bookstore!