Sunday, November 6, 2022

This Living Is Quite A Ride!

Life can be buzzing along quite nicely, thank you very much, when out of the blue—WHAM!!!—something comes crashing through. A meteor hits, unexpected and unwelcomed, and there is no choice but to figure out how to respond. 

It is in the fashioning of that response, though, that we take our stand and have our say. It is also in that response that the spiritual practices we've been nurturing come off the cushion, out of the pew, and down from the mountaintop, right into the messiness of a lived life. 

The first step is to acknowledge that messiness and the truth of how we feel. We are, after all, feeling creatures. To deny the full range of emotional reactions is to do a violence to ourselves. It is also dishonest, and an authentic spiritual life requires honesty above all else. 

So we start by simply telling the truth about how it all feels, and expressing that truth to those we trust. Not only is a burden shared easier to carry, but the act of sharing can keep us from drowning in our pain or coming to believe pain is all there is. Depending on the length of our season of crisis, this simple truth-telling may not be a one-time thing. Whenever emotions rise up, whatever they are, we need to receive and attend to them with kindness.

But then what? Other than finding the courage to feel our emotions—because it does, indeed, take courage—what do we do? We ask for guidance. Depending on our personal theology, this can take many forms. All spiritual traditions, though, promise that assistance is ever available, particularly in times of heartache and strife. And whether we believe in guidance from beyond or not, we all have a wealth of inner wisdom to draw upon. 

So after the tears and the gnashing of teeth—or between rounds of each—we access wisdom about the next right step on our path. We then move forward, stopping periodically to reassess our chosen direction and make adjustments as wisdom urges. And we take a realistic view. Depending on the particulars, we accept that we may be in for a long haul. We eschew a Pollyannaish, Hallmarky belief in quick fixes, a belief that will tempt us to give up should the outcome we want not arrive as soon as we would like. 

A good friend of ours had a wilderness camping experience decades ago that illustrates this process. While he was taking a walk after setting up his tent, a freak snowstorm blew in and changed the look of the terrain so profoundly that he was unable to find his campsite. Luckily he knew how to reach his car, which was parked on the highway at the top of a steep incline. He proceeded to spend three nights there, unsuccessfully searching for his tent by day, walking a grid pattern so as not to miss it, yet miss it he did. Discouragement mounted. 

In the dark hours of the third night, though, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a flush of confidence that he would find his site that day. Yet after traipsing through a different set of grid patterns all morning and into early afternoon, his site was still lost to him. 

Despite feeling about as low as possible, intuition flashed a second time. He realized he'd come to the Shenandoah Valley to enjoy nature, and yet was blinded to its beauty by ceaselessly searching while spinning storylines about the personal flaws exposed by this situation. So he found a place to sit. He looked out over a valley awash in sunlight shimmering upon freshly fallen snow. He ate a nearly frozen peanut butter and honey sandwich. And he came fully into the moment. And for a third time, intuition arrived. Even though he could not see the tent from where he sat, he said with absolute certainty "It's right there." And sure enough, his tent was just a short walk away. 

This story speaks many truths. First, while intuitive guidance can be trusted, we still need to do the work. In those wee hours of the previous night, our friend knew he'd find his tent that day, but it was not magic. He still had to walk the grid. Many times. And while he walked it, he needed to acknowledge the emotions that consumed him, not brushing them off or pretending them away. But he also couldn't live in them. He needed to find ways to calm himself, to be with what was. 

And he did. As he sat on that boulder eating a cold sandwich, he moved beyond his discouragement and tapped into something much larger. Regardless of whether his guidance originated from an inner wisdom or friendly help from beyond, he'd found an inner state capable of receiving it. 

There are no short cuts in life, few Disney endings in this world. Our intuition may be right, but it doesn't always play out exactly the way we might like and certainly not as quickly. We still have to walk the grid, step by step, discovering where it leads. 

Challenges come to us all, and they require much from us. How we meet them is ours and ours alone to decide. Such is the artistry of a human life, developing the skill to craft our own unique response to meet what comes. 

Wherever these words find you, whatever is going on in your life, I trust your strength to feel your emotions, your wisdom to open to support and guidance, and your skill to fashion your own unique and precious response. And please, cut yourself some slack. You're doing your very best. 

This living is quite a ride, isn't it? I wish you well with the journey.

With love,