When I look back on the most difficult and desperate times in my life, they have always been when something happened that was other than expected. When I had a vision of the way things would be, ought to be, and that didn’t work out. It sounds so obvious as I write this, of course that is a source of stress.

And yet, the thread of desire that has motivated me and spurred me on, providing the momentum to act, has been so important. I can’t imagine how life would be without those longings, dreams and desires giving me direction and lighting the way.

When life answers back

What happens when life answers back, letting you know something else is in store for you?  The unwelcome illness, loss, misunderstanding, failure, rejection. When this happens, there’s little we can do. It’s as if some other force has taken the reigns and all we can do is respond in the best way possible. Perhaps we were never in control in the first place, but at least we had the illusion that we were. It felt like we were.

The serenity prayer comes to mind:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.

The little thing

There’s always that little thing that we are left to do, but it’s like we’re really not in charge. Whereas once we were striding ahead leading the way in our lives, suddenly we are reduced to much smaller, less bold movements. I believe these experiences herald the way for us to discover a much more refined response to what I’m calling the ‘dance of life’. It’s as if life has grabbed our attention. When we recognise that we’re not in control; all that bravado, self-righteousness, and I-know-ness begins to diminish. Transformation is at work.

The irony is that it is times like these when we question whether there is a God. How could a merciful God allow this to happen? The irony, is that it’s our wake-up call to realise that we’re not God! We’re not in control. All our efforts to redirect the course, to get our lives back to the track we had decided on, lead to disappointment.

Our least favourite move

To surrender to the unwanted thing, the malady, is our least favourite move. But, when life is leading the dance, what else is there to do? It feels like failing, like dying. Of course there are times that giving up is not what is required but to welcome life like a dance move that has swept us off our feet may be our most harmonious move. Can we discover the gift, the blessing when life has taken the lead?

Your conflicts, all the difficult things, the problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They are actually yours. They are specifically yours, designed specifically for you by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself. You are not going in the right direction unless there is something pricking you in the side, telling you, “Look here! This way!” That part of you loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance. It will go to extreme measures to wake you up, it will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen. What else can it do? That is its purpose – A.H. Almaas

The gentle work of grief

What is it that is left when life has ravaged away the faulty image of who I thought I was? I’m still here right? Living, breathing, being, existing. I’m just not who I thought I was. For me, the slow and gradual erosion of my self image has been full of grief. Or perhaps it is the grief that has done the work, gently encouraging the drifting away of the illusion of a separate self, despite my resistance. I really liked the image I had constructed, it gave me a lot of joy, I was proud of it.

And, I could not deny that on many occasions and in many ways it kept me separate. This was the quiet call I heard to let it go. I knew it wasn’t sustainable, that I couldn’t stay with that desperate method of self-definition. The subtle comparisons, competitiveness. But, how on earth to define myself if not in opposition to something, or someone else? I’m not sure I really know how to operate in the world without some sort of self-image yet.

Landing on solid ground

In a way I feel like I’ve landed. I still feel fear, and there is a solidity growing beneath it that supports me no matter what. A growing sense of trust that it is enough that I simply am. That I have no need to prove anything, that for each moment the perfect response will arise. And, if it doesn’t, if my response or action feels off in some way, that is information for me. I’m beginning to trust that I can meet and bring an authentic response to whatever life brings.

An internal voluminous text

Previously, I needed a preconceived plan – a detailed guidebook already prepared about the best way to respond to any situation that may arise. I spent untold hours, and extensive energy working on this voluminous internal text to cover every conceivable scenario that life may present me with. That was the exhausting way I tried to manage any hint of anxiety or discomfort that arose. How quiet it is when I’m not busy writing that text, when I just accept that I don’t know, and let life take the lead. Trust, is a big word. I don’t even know what I’m trusting really, just feeling into that sense of being held and that everything is ok just as it is. It just feels better not to leave the moment, even if it is hard and cold.

The purpose of suffering?

I find it really hard to reconcile the suffering that I see. I find myself asking, do people really need to suffer so very much? Another one of those useless questions. They just do, they are, I am. When suffering arrives, always unbidden, what else can we do but meet it, feel the disappointment, the loss, the tragedy and let it whisper its message. The mind rails, it shouldn’t be this way, it’s wrong (taking us right back into that inner struggle). A relentless struggle to find peace with what life has dealt us that we didn’t ask for. We thrash about, arguing with reality, shaking our fist at the sky, asking why, why why?

And life’s response is just steady, unyielding, things are as they are and our attempts to change things are futile. This is indeed a practice, and I’m hoping I’ll get better at it, taking less time to arrive at that point of surrender. Surrender without giving up. Surrender to what life is presenting me with so that I can come back to quiet, to the absence of struggle, to the acceptance of what is, so that I can simply respond. Not from my self-concieved guidebook, my meagre attempt to work it all out, but from that part of me that really has no preference. That simply knows and trusts that everything is as it should be and ‘no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should’.

Loving what is

It’s a dance, a conversation. My own ideas, visions, dreams, the way I imagine they will unfold, meeting life’s response. An ongoing process of responding to the next thing, reassessing, redirecting. There is peace in that, my vision, my dreams, constantly responding to what life comes back to me with. My volition meeting those unnamed, unpredictable responses from life. Recognising the limits of my control, constantly responding, letting go of the illusion of control and flowing with the currents of life. Whatever our experience is, our best response is always to bring it to love, as Herman Hesse reminds us.

“You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation… and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.” — Herman Hesse