I'm reading an excellent book right now called "Instinct for Freedom" by Alan Clements. As I read I'm struck (again) by something I often encounter - how pervasive the avoidance of anything painful, dark, or difficult is in so much of contemporary western 'spirituality.'
Perhaps I should simply say "the contemporary new age movement," but I don't really have any idea what that is. Of course, I don't really have any idea what "contemporary western spirituality" is, either. So I suppose I'll say this:
I'm a vivacious kind of guy. I'm a poet, a dancer, and a creative individual, who, at my best, embraces life wholeheartedly. This includes the full spectrum, I aspire to embracing all the unpleasant stuff as well. So when I'm out and about, as opposed to in the alone-zone, I often meet and strike up relationships with other people who are creative, vivacious, and seem to possess a similar zeal and zest for life. While plenty of folks I've met along my journey share my enthusiasm for an unfiltered experience of themselves, a large number of them seem to want to 'fix' me when I'm down.
In speaking to them about my depression, my feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, grief, or anger, oftentimes the very same people who have joyfully shared a dance or a poem with me - without for a second judging me or telling me my joy or my enthusiasm was "wrong" or somehow "invalid" - will suddenly transform from friend to guru and start spouting flow-and-glow dogma about how abundance will come to me as soon as I allow it, and in reality life is nothing but joy.
This confounds me. In my experience, life is nothing but... life. Labeling it "joy," or "pain," or even "love" limits us and inevitably leads to invalidating one aspect of our experience or another. My grief is precious to me, and I cultivate it and tend to it, as I do my joy. The weather of my being is ever-changing, and I feel intuitively that if I am ever to meet another in a place of true, heartfelt compassion I must care strongly for all of my being.
I aspire to much more than a life of "abundance..." especially because I'm not really sure what that means. I have a life of abundance, right now. I'm abundantly broke, abundantly musical, abundantly homeless and abundantly thankful. Ultimately, I aspire to meeting others in their places of deepest pain and sharing that space with them. It has been through others sharing their heartfelt presence with me in my agony that I have known I'm not alone and thus ultimately ok, and I would like to offer others the same.
I believe that as I evolve in my ability to simply offer my loving, heartfelt presence to others, as I grow in my ability to truly BE with them, where they are, then I will encounter deeper and deeper opportunities to practice this. Life has reflected this to me so far, and I trust it will continue to do so.
The miraculous thing about about this heartfelt presence is that as I cultivate this practice, "I" am less and less present during these precious moments. In the hand-holding of grief and the sharing of tears, my heart opens spontaneously and there is a kind of dissolving of me, a dissolving which frees me. This dissolution is simultaneously a coming-to-be, an emerging of some sort of self-realization I do not understand, and perhaps never will. It is something I cannot will, at best I can simply create the conditions for it to happen and strive to be present to it if and when it does.
I feel I am life itself in those moments... similarly to truly sharing space and meeting someone in the midst of a contact improv jam, although perhaps richer for the stillness and sanctity of grief.
I suppose this article is an entreaty to so many westerners swimming along the river of flow-and-glow, love-and-light mythology: friends, do not turn away from your pain. In turning away from our darkness it is inevitable that you turn away from wholeness, inevitable that you turn away from so many of us (humans) who are struggling. Pain, grief, struggle, weariness, confusion, heartache, despair... these are valid. They are true, and worthy, and right, and good, just as good as joy and laughter. Indeed, on some level, (as if there were levels, as if reality was stacked upon itself like some enormous 12-tiered cheesecake... oh, english, how limited you are sometimes) ...indeed, on some level, they are not other than joy and laughter.
They are part of the dynamic weather patterns of our experience, and it is only by going into them that we are able to learn and grow from them. So if I am courageous enough to share my tears with you, do not seek to turn off the tap. If I let myself be vulnerable, and rest against you when I feel heavy, please do not try to lighten me.
Be with me. Love me. Meet me where I am. Practice this sacred art, one we all must practice if we are to weave our spiritual life into our political life, if we are to bravely confront the injustices of this world and be willing to look, and REALLY look, and not shut our eyes to what we see.
I hope to someday be present for a human being who has truly suffered. I would someday stand with those who are confronting real injustice, I would side with them, I would risk my so-called privilege, my security, and my comfort, I would step squarely into the truth that as long as any one of us is oppressed, not a single one of us is free.
I have not suffered in the way so many have, yet I grieve. My heart aches to the breaking point, and often it breaks. And often when it does I feel as if I cannot take it, as if I cannot possibly feel so much... it feels like I will break, like I am breaking. And I am. I am breaking as a seed breaks, as the life inside of me, bit by bit, year by year, stirs and grows upwards and outwards.
To any and all who would seek to fix my grief, to re-orient me along your preferred track of "always choose light, always choose love," I tell you that I AM always choosing love, god dammit And sometimes, (quite often in my experience) choosing love hurts like hell.
So if I open myself to you and share my growing pains with you, don't tell me I'm wrong to grow that way. Just be with me. Listen to me say whatever I need to say in that moment, bear witness as I struggle to navigate the precarious switchbacks of self-realization. Hold my hand. And if at any point you have the urge to fix me, or to do anything other than simply just be with me... don't. Just notice that urge, and be curious about the possibility that my pain is stirring up something inside of you that you would rather not deal with.
So, so, so many people in my life HAVE done this for me. I have been held by more people than I can remember, certainly more than enough for me to have a sense of how powerful such heartfelt presence is, certainly more than enough to inspire me to want to do the same.
To all of you who have held me - thank you for your grace, thank you for your friendship, thank you for your compassion. I am blessed to know you. I will pay it forward.