You will go through your life thinking there was a day in second grade that you must have missed, when the grown-ups came in and explained, everything important to other kids. they said, 'Look, you're human, you're going to feel isolated and afraid a lot of the time, nad have bad self-esteem, and feel uniquely ruined, but here is the magic phrase that will take this feeling away. It will be like a feather that will lift you out of that fear and self-consciousness every single time, all through your life.' And then they told the cildren who were there that day the magic phrase that everyone else in the world knows about and uses when feeling blue, which only you don't know, because you were home sick the day the grown-ups told the children the way the whole world works. But there was not such a day in school. No one got the instructions. That is the secret of life. Everyone is flailing around, winging it most of the time, trying to find the way out, or through, or up, without a map. This lack of instruction manual is how most people develop compassion, and how they figure out to show up, care, help and serve, as the only way of filling up and being free. Otherwise you gorw up to be someone who needs to dominate and shame others so no one will know that you weren't there the day the instructions were passed out.
The worst possible thing you can do when you?re down in the dumps, tweaking, vaporous with victimized self-righteousness, or bored, is to take a walk with dying friends. They will ruin everything for you. First of all, friends like this may not even think of themselves as dying, although they clearly are, according to recent scans and gentle doctors? reports. But no, they see themselves as fully alive. They are living and doing as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can. They ruin your multitasking high, the bath of agitation, rumination, and judgment you wallow in, without the decency to come out and just say anything. They bust you by being grateful for the day, while you are obsessed with how thin your lashes have become and how wide your bottom.
They cramp around our wounds?the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliations suffered in both?to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again, to keep foreign substances out. So those wounds never have a chance to heal. Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. In some cases we don?t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us.
Writers show us the glades we'd missed, the trickling voices of streams, the eyes of a barn owl watching us. A writer like my father revealed a shape and movement amid it all, layers, meaning, perspective, joy, because he paid such careful attention, and paying attention is about the biggest redemption there is.
You have to be grateful whenever you get to someplace safe and okay, even if it turns out it wasn?t quite where you were heading. The light you see when people are in the tunnel of deep trouble is domestic flashes of recognition and kitchen comforts, not Blake?s radiance, which would be my preference.
The physical body is acknowledged as dust, the personal drama as delusion. It is as if the world we perceive through our senses, that whole gorgeous and terrible pageant, were the breath-thin surface of a bubble, and everything else, inside and outside, is pure radiance. Both suffering and joy come then like a brief reflection, and death like a pin.
The welcome book would have taught us that power and signs of status can?t save us, that welcome?both offering and receiving?is our source of safety. Various chapters and verses of this book would remind us that we are wanted and even occasionally delighted in, despite the unfortunate truth that we are greedy-grabby, self-referential, indulgent, overly judgmental, and often hysterical. Somehow that book went missing. Or when the editorial board of bishops pored over the canonical lists from Jerusalem and Alexandria, they arbitrarily nixed the book that states unequivocally that you are wanted, even rejoiced in.
They taught me that being of service, an ally to the lonely and suffering, a big-girl helper to underdogs, was my best shot at happiness. They taught me that most of my good ideas were not helpful, and that all of my ideas after ten p.m. were especially unhelpful. They taught me to pay attention, but not so much attention to my tiny princess mind.
When we are stunned to the place beyond words, we?re finally starting to get somewhere. It is so much more comfortable to think that we know what it all means, what to expect and how it all hangs together. When we are stunned to the place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it?s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is Wow, that?s a prayer.
While it is hard to fathom who we are and how we are to live when public chaos shatters our routine, the slow-motion pain of each private death and cataclysm we endure is harder. Each slams us off our feet, yet we have agreed to pretend to be fine again at some point, ideally as soon as possible, so as not to seem self-indulgent or embarrass anybody. Then people can get on with their lives.
Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It?s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can?t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.