This Magic Moment
There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Perhaps my best years are gone…
But I wouldn’t want them back.
Not with the fire in me now.
Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape
The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.
Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan
Devote today to something so daring even you can’t believe you’re doing it.
“I’ll bet it’s a warrant for my arrest. Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to jail. Merry Christmas! Reporters? Where’s Mary? Mary! Oh, look at this wonderful old drafty house. Mary! Mary! Mary! Have you…Have you seen my wife?”
It’s a Wonderful Life, screenplay by Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett and Frank Capra
There is nothing more insidiously destructive to the attainment of liberation than self-doubt and cynicism. Doubt is a movement of the conditioned mind that always claims that “it’s not possible … that freedom is not possible for me.” Doubt always knows; it “knows” that nothing is possible. And in this knowing, doubt robs you of the possibility of anything truly new or transformative from happening. Furthermore, doubt is always accompanied by a pervasive cynicism that unconsciously puts a negative spin on whatever it touches. Cynicism is a world view which protects the ego from scrutiny by maintaining a negative stance in relationship to what it does not know, does not want to know, or cannot know. Many spiritual seekers have no idea how cynical and doubt-laden they actually are. It is this blindness and denial of the presence of doubt and cynicism that makes the birth of a profound trust impossible. A trust without which final liberation will always remain simply a dream.
There is an important idea in Nietzche, of Amor fati, the “love of your fate,” which is in fact your life. As he says, if you say no to a single factor in your life, you have unraveled the whole thing. Furthermore, the more challenging or threatening the situation or context to be assimilated and affirmed, the greater the stature of the person who can achieve it. The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply… The problem is not to blame or explain, but to handle the life that arises… The best advice is to take it all as if it had been of your intention—with that, you evoke the participation of your will…”
Joseph Campbell, Power of Myth
Blessing vs. Cursing
To bless is to say yes to. Serge Kahili King contrasts blessings versus cursing as:
– to admire instead of criticize
– to affirm instead of doubt
– to appreciate instead of blame
– to anticipate with trust instead of worrying
There is a tendency to divide life into good and bad—blessing and cursing. We separate our life into the “good,” what we accept and say yes to, and the “bad,” what we reject and say no to. We may bless God or someone or something for the “good,” and curse God or someone or something for the “bad.” We may pray for those we care for and exclude those we don’t.
But saying yes to our life would mean including everyone that has come into the fabric of our entire life tapestry—though it may mean loving those we can and asking for assistance to love and forgive those we cannot. To say yes is to eliminate divisions of “good” and “bad,” of “success” and “failure,” of blessing and cursing. It is to embrace life in its entirety, to become whole. Today’s fields of manure are the same incredibly fertile fields of tomorrow’s wildflowers.
What we curse is our Call to Action. What we reject in our life, what we say no to, is what we can learn from, the challenge that will make us whole. This is true not only for ourselves, but for communities and countries. If they reject some minority or majority, that is a Call to Action. If they curse their neighboring country, that is a Call to Action. If they curse an Other’s home or habitat, thinking of the profits that could be made by its destruction or exploitation, that is a Call to Action.
Note: If you have a fear of change and beginnings, or a need to please and not “rock the boat,” or a lack self-courage and self-esteem, don’t use King’s blessing points as an excuse to not stand up for yourself. If your partner came stumbling through the door at one a.m. blind drunk, having just returned from a sexual fling with the babysitter, you would not be expected to stand there with admiration or even understanding—that would be enabling your partner and dishonoring yourself. It would certainly be a Call to Action.
He may go to hell on a hard-trotting horse and a porcupine saddle.
Timothy Shay Arthur, Ten Nights in a Barroom. Night III (1854)
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
Engraved on William Shakespeare’s tomb
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
Hamlet, stageplay by William Shakespeare
In every person who comes near you look for what is good and strong, honor that; try to imitate it, and your faults will drop off like dead leaves when their time comes.
The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.
But listen to me: for one moment,
Quit being sad. Hear blessings
Dropping their blossoms
Around you. God.
Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
I cursed the rain for
Pounding upon my roof and
Driving away sleep.
I cursed the wind
For ravaging my garden.
Then you entered; and I gave thanks
To the rain because you must put off
Your wet dress; and I gave thanks
To the wind
That he came and blew out my lamp.
Chang Wu-chien, The Wind and Rain Bring Love, translated by Alan Simms Lee
Saying Yes to Your Life
In explaining the beginning stages of the Hero’s journey in his book, The Hero With Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell speaks of the Call to Action—when the Hero is given an opportunity to grow by some challenging situation. It is inherent in the heroic nature to accept this challenge and then to face whatever arises, to learn and grow through succeeding events. Sometimes we aren’t given the choice of whether to accept some challenge or crisis or change—it happens, and our only choice is how we will face it—with an expanded or contracted heart. (Note: When wounds are fresh or fear is high, the idea of saying yes to a situation may be annoying, aggravating and impossible. Just reading things like this may piss you off. You may need to allow yourself time for grieving, anger or even denial, before you are ready to move on. And this is never about saying yes to an abusive situation, but more saying yes to your strength and worth and ability to leave and ultimately transcend that situation.)
To face the challenge with expansion is to say yes to your life, starting right where you are at this moment and honoring who you are, where you are and everything that has brought you to this point. It is the martial artist who bows before his teacher and his opponent. It is this acceptance that begins the expanded journey, versus the contraction and entrenchment of refusal, resistance and denial. Saying yes moves you beyond the immediate contraction of judgement which saps your energy at the start, moves you beyond the brick wall of “This is bad” or “I don’t deserve this” or “I can’t deal with this” or “Why me?” It moves you beyond warring motivations of anger, bitterness, judgement or self-righteousness.
Acceptance means dynamically accepting the Call to Action—not passively accepting the situation and doing nothing or giving up.
It doesn’t mean saying yes to anyone or anything that makes you feel less than or what your gut says no to. Maybe you don’t like some aspect of your life, but you choose to work from a starting point of dynamic acceptance. Instead of contracting into a rut, saying I hate myself, I hate my life, I hate my body, I hate whatever or whomever—it’s saying yes, this is what it is now, but it won’t or doesn’t have to be this way tomorrow or five minutes from now. Instead of saying I am a victim of oppression and there is nothing I can do—it’s saying I can choose to rise above this, to deal with it, to seek help and learn self-love and self-assertion. It’s saying I accept my own Call to Action—I am the creator of my own life, and I will begin to take steps in a more perceptive, responsible, conscious, courageous, compassionate, expanded direction.
This does not mean that you must always be happy or that you would even try to be or want to be—but that when you are feeling discouraged or depressed or stuck, you are conscious of a Bigger Picture. You know you can expand beyond it when you are ready to do so or when you choose to do so. If, for example, you are feeling sad, then recognize and honor that sadness instead of feeling guilty or stuck in it, victimized or repressed by it.
It is not to say don’t ever be angry, but a first step is to be conscious that you are angry. Be conscious that it is a choice you’ve made. Not that it is a “wrong” choice—it may or may not be entirely appropriate in the moment—but when prolonged, it may be a resistance, a contracted attempt to make up for a perceived lack of internal power by forced external power. At some point, you will need to release that anger in order to expand beyond the situation. You may need to disagree with someone in the sense of standing up for your own opinions with courage, but when you add the emotion of anger to it, it contracts the energy, perhaps implying your own feelings of frustration, inferiority or superiority, or expectations of obedience. Perhaps you are angry because another person is not treating you in the way you wish to be treated, and you are upset because you are dependent on the person or in love with that person or in some way have given that person power over your emotions and actions—or you are angry because you do not have power over them.
Think of rescue workers confronted with a local tragedy or firefighters trying to save lives in a burning building, or ecoworkers in the midst of an environmental crisis. They may believe that Henny Penny was understating the issue in her agitated assessment that the sky was falling. They may want to throw up their hands and run around screaming at the atrocities of life, cursing and crying over their own plight or those around them. It might be perfectly understandable if they did. But it would hardly be an effective way of working. They might face the impulse at times to turn and run—to say no to their lives and what they are faced with. But they accept the situation or crisis before them and get to work. They care deeply—but they let it show through their calm and centered work, not in a negative, emotional resistance and denial. That’s not to say they have never felt or expressed those emotions, or that they wouldn’t be valid—but to work effectively they move past them, continually strengthening and expanding. These are people who have faced the deep humility of realizing there have been people or animals or habitats they could not help, the hope and responsibility and courage of continuing to try to help those they could, the understanding and non-judgement it takes to care for the Other, the compassion to continue to care and see all life as valuable and unique with unique needs—day in and day out.
At times, our challenges may seem overwhelming. We might use them as an excuse not to accept the Call. We may need to take it one step at the time—even micro-mini steps. Where ever you may find yourself right now—accept it, and keep walking, whether through fields of wildflowers or fields of manure… especially if it’s through fields of manure!
A single day may be filled with these Calls to Action. You may label them positive or negative—the celebration or the crisis that impels you on your journey or impels you to integrate a lesson more fully. If the fields you are currently walking through have an extraordinary amount of manure—you don’t have to sit down in it or think this is all there is and refuse to go on. You don’t have to think that you are manure just because you are walking through it. You don’t have to think the entire world is full of manure just because you are currently passing through a patch of it. Keep walking—your humility, passion, compassion and self-courage will make a good insulating pair of rubber boots. Maybe you’ll put all that manure to good use to fertilize your field of wildflowers, or rise above it enough to see the best way out and leave at a gallop.
Some people have quite devastating experiences to expand beyond. For them, taking that first step of saying yes to their life may be a monumental struggle and a supreme victory all on its own. To continue may take boundless courage and determination, but there will be the possibility of equally boundless gifts. No one may ever know or understand or appreciate what you have been through, but it won’t matter to you if they don’t, because it was never about that. You will know. “The more challenging or threatening the situation or context to be assimilated and affirmed, the greater the stature of the person who can achieve it.” This is the life of everyday heroes. This is who you are.
Saying No to Your Life
Consider how much you say no to expanded thoughts, to your instincts or intuition. Each no is like a brick in the wall…
The thought arises—speak up, stand up for yourself, for your beliefs, for the Other. But a response might come—no—sit down. Be silent. Be safe.
The thought arises—ask that question. But a response might come—no—that question is stupid or they will think it is stupid, or that question is not necessary.
The thought arises—get up and sing, get up and dance. A response might come—no—I’ll look foolish, or who would dance with me?
The thought arises—I would like to try this. A response might come—no—I don’t have the time, talent, money, knowledge or courage.
The thought arises—I would like to ask them. A response might come—no—what if they refuse?
The thought arises—try it this way, explore this new idea. A response might come—no—what if I make a mistake?
The thought arises—I could make a difference, I could help an Other. A response might come—no, there is nothing you can do, you should save your money and your time for yourself.
Sometimes it happens in just this way—moment to moment to moment—with our no’s we build the walls that block intuitive thoughts and expanded instincts, that block our authentic self, our expanded path.
Sometimes we build a wall with the “no’s” of others. We put ourselves, our self-expression out there, try to do something, only to be told no. Perhaps they echo our own no’s to life, our own self-doubt, and we give them a foothold in our psyche. Yet these only have power over us if we accept them as final. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” And never confuse a single no with a final no.
We might try a different direction, and find that things do not happen according to our logic of how they “should” have happened. Then we or others might label this a “failure.” You can believe it and quit, heaping self-loathing on yourself, and anger at others or the universe. OR… you can think of what you learned, congratulate yourself on trying, and consider your next best step.
Here’s Jack Kerouac in On the Road, opening his heart to whatever will be, in the midst of betwixt and between:
I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with that miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.
Become the Sky
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now…
Your old life was a frantic running from silence.
The speechless full moon
Comes out now.
Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks