“I beg you . . . to be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke.
One day last year, I observed myself tell a friend at my coffee shop that, “I’ll get to a certain project as soon as I get caught up.” He said, “You know that’s not a real thing, right? We don’t ever get ‘caught up.’” Right! I forgot. Or maybe I suppressed – or maybe its just plain old denial. And then months later I found myself thinking, “As soon as life settles down and I’m not surrounded by crisis –then I’ll really be able to write and focus on all that is unresolved inside.” Hmmm. That sounds familiar.
I keep needing to be reminded that all this – this life – is about traveling not arriving. And I need to hold lightly words like settled, answers, knowing, certainty, and control.
I want to live in an honest place – but it’s hard, isn’t it? Because reality is painful and uncomfortable and get’s in the way. It’s funny how we would rather choose denial and pretending even though they are false friends. They don’t tell us the truth. And a lot of times we are okay with that because it is a quick “fix.” I can feel good for a little while. I pretend that I have more money than I do – so I keep spending, or pretend I have more time in my day – so I over commit, or pretend I have all the answers because living with questions feels terrifying.
And the crazy thing is that once the denial is exposed – we want to blame someone or something else. Some days I am grumpy and angry at every red light and every other driver on the road that are making me late to every appointment because I am in denial about how time works and that this is a consequence of filling my day too full. Or I am frustrated and angry at the bank, the husband, the children and the dog because I was in denial about how much money I didn’t have, but I spent it anyway. And so I pretend some more. Actually, we can do this our whole life, you know. We can keep the cycle of denial and blame going – not allowing ourselves to stop long enough to see the loss – that we are missing our life. There was a movie about 12 years ago that was very unsettling to me, called “Click.” It was about a guy who was so frustrated about how his life was going and just did not want to deal with the mess of life. He met a “TV repair man” that had a magical TV remote. And instead of fast forwarding through the commercials – this remote actually worked on your life! So, he began fast forwarding through anything that was hard, painful, uncomfortable, annoying, challenging, boring, difficult . . . (spoiler alert) and eventually, he was at the end of his life and realized he had missed it all. He missed living. He missed loving. He had chosen to not be present to his life. And he missed it.
It’s not free. We think there is no cost – or maybe we just choose to bundle the “cost” into the same denial/pretend loan. Like when you re-finance your house, and you bundle up your other debts and put them all into the new loan. There. Fixed. Now, we don’t have to feel the cost of not being present. So, every time we get an inkling of the loss – we quickly re-finance those feelings into the denial bundle. I lived there a lot of years – most of my life. And I can tell you there is a lotof added loss.
It takes courage to slow down and embrace the truth. To realize that the pain, sorrow, uncomfortable, challenging, hard stuff IS life. But that is only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin and companions of sorrow, pain, questions, and the unresolved are love, joy, grace, beauty, mercy and compassion. When we shut out one – we loose both. It’s like a curtain – when you pull the cord to close off part – it closes off both sides. As my mentor, Richard Rohr says, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”
But slowing down and saying yes to the truth of my life is scary – because I am afraid to feel all the devastating experiences and feelings that I have buried. What if I say yes, and I can’t pull out? What if all that I have been running from ruins me?
“Here Annie Dillard names two crucial features of any spiritual journey. One is that it will take us inward and downward, toward the hardest realities of our lives, rather than outward and upward toward abstraction, idealization, and exhortation. The spiritual journey runs counter to the power of positive thinking.
Why must we go in and down? Because as we do so, we will meet the darkness that we carry within ourselves – the ultimate source of the shadow that we project onto other people. If we do not understand the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone “out there”into the enemy. . . But, says Annie, if we ride those monsters all the way down, we break through to something precious – to “the unified field, our complex and inexplicable caring for each other,”to the community we share beneath the broken surface of our lives. . . But why would anybody want to take a journey of that sort, with its multiple difficulties and dangers? Everything in us cries out against it – which is why we externalize everything. It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls. We like to talk about the outer world as if it were infinitely complex and demanding, but it is a cakewalk compared to the labyrinth of our inner lives!” Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speakpage 80, 82.
Ok, after listening to Annie’s thoughts on dealing with our inner world – denial, dissociation and focusing on externals seems inviting.
But all that we have walked through in our lives is already a part of us. We are truly amazingly made – our bodies actually hold it for us. Our bodies hold our trauma and sorrows so we can function. But there comes a time around mid-life that our bodies (or is it God’s invitation to the next phase of our spiritual journey?) invite us to extend our courage and actually explore that labyrinth of hurts and wounds that were long ago stowed away. But again we ask, “Why would any of us want to take this journey into such darkness?”Because this is the path to freedom. Remember “the truth will set you free!”I have been on that journey inward and downward for over 14 years and there has been a lot of dark. But I have discovered many treasures. Treasures that were unknown to me before I began my journey down and in. Poet Gibran says, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.” I found my tears that had been buried for most of my life in the depths of my wounds – my tears were born and have brought comfort and life to me. My level of dissociation from my trauma was extreme – and so I am filled with gratitude that I experience an ever-growing level of presence. Why travel this dark path that you have been avoiding your whole life? Because there are many treasures you will find there:love, joy, grace, beauty, mercy, compassion and presence, to name a few.
Richard Rohr reminds us in Everything Belongs, “Our first job is to see correctly who we are, and then to act on it. That will probably take more courage than to be Mother Teresa. To be really faithful to that truth is utterly difficult and takes immense courage and humility . . . The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality. That is everybody’s greatest cross.” Page 97.