(Originally posted in Huffington Post, February 2, 2012)
This past week, I have been living life with tears just behind the layer of daily functioning, joys and busyness. The troubles of this world, the craziness of our humanity and the suffering we inflict and experience have felt so close, also the contortions, confusion and tangled webs we weave… It has felt as if my soul were getting cracked open a bit more.
Such times — when my skin feels thinner, and the darkness beckons more intensely — happen every once in a while. It is tempting to turn away. To distract myself. To give up and get cynical. Or angry, even allow a moment of “f*** it all.” Despair calling from just behind my ear, reaching with deliberate grasp, pulling on my coat sleeve, and yanking down.
What to do? As we grow up (as in “waking up”), our awareness increases. We become more and more conscious. We see more, and we feel more. Not just the good, beautiful and true, but also the deepest grief, suffering and ugliness. The illusions are stripped down. What’s on the other side is not always pretty.
Ken Wilber aptly points out that awakening does not mean reaching a state of constant bliss (as is often put forward as a “promise” of enlightenment). Waking up means feeling more of… everything.
However — and this is a key distinction Wilber makes — waking up also means that our capacity to bear the content of our increased awareness, to hold space for It all, also grows. As I become aware of more, as I see and feel more, the container that I am also grows, and I can be present to “It All” with courage, clarity and compassion. That’s fair. A saving grace, really.
The first time I heard that and put it together with my own experience, it made so much sense. And then I started noticing that the two — the “feeling/seeing more” and the “bearing more” — didn’t always show up at exactly the same time.
In fact, I noticed a distinct pattern: The awareness would first grow, my circle of care and seeing would widen and deepen and my capacity to steadily hold space for this increased awareness would take a while to follow, sometimes limping behind by a few months.
That “gap” time was and is uncomfortable every time it shows up. I’m feeling more, yet I’m not quite ready to handle it. I can easily get thrown off and despair at the state of self, other and the world.
Do you ever feel like that? Plunged into a heightened vulnerability and sensitivity, and tempted to cover it up or push it away quickly?
But what if you don’t? What if you stay present with the “gap” until, over time, the capacity to solidly bear catches up, and with it, you grow — you, the container for “all that is,” expanded. What if you stay present during this “gap,” this “interim time,” until you become a strong and healthy container for the increased awareness?
I have come to greatly appreciate the gesture and work of presence in the face of this uncomfortable interim time. It’s not a fancy thing. By no means glamorous. It is not about simply putting up with something uncomfortable. It has a quietly committed, even fierce energy to it.
Such presence neither indulges not represses. It has attributes of a dear, dignified and patient friend. It enables me to be with, to be in touch, to turn toward and breath, to allow both the light and the dark to nudge and tear at my soul. It brings me to the stillness in the eye of the storm. It points to the possibility of “learning to dance in the rain, rather than waiting for the storm to pass.”
I learn to trust that, much like the growth that takes place beneath the earth before a new shoot appears, movement and evolution may rumble below the surface before making an obvious appearance. Simultaneously, I learn to pay attention for the beckoning of a sudden shift: It doesn’t have to take forever. (“Forever” can easily become a trap into passivity; anything can become the ego’s next identity, even the seemingly virtuous quality of “being present in the interim time.”)
I stay patient with the real time the journey takes, and I welcome the eternal possibility that it could all happen in a second, container vastly expanded, present to witness ever-deeper and wider content in the blink of eye.
Thus, staying present in the interim time also enables and ennobles me to discern when to do something, when to move into action for change from a place of presence and choice, rather than out of resistance or fear.
While we are feeling more, and perhaps not yet equally able to bear it, we can do a number of things to bridge our selves and one another across the chasm. Here some invitations:
- May we remember that we don’t have to journey alone. This passage from Matthew 11:28-29, well-known through Handel’s “Messiah,” speaks beautifully to the possibility of being held as we learn to hold: “Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
- May we gratefully receive and be held in the positive, the laughter, delight and humor showing up in others around us and across the planet. This also helps keep things in perspective.
- May we sleep enough, eat well, exercise and do good unto ourselves and others.
- May we pay attention to when our fellow humans are in a period of growth and stretching, and extend a hand, saying, “I am here to hold space for the validity and meaningfulness of this interim time. I am here with you.”
- May we know that there is a greater purpose to the unease: It is through waking up, feeling more and learning to bear more that we become a living prayer, present to that which is hollow, desperate, fearful, and offering it a breathing body to pass through.
In this way we can keep stretching to become healthy, courageous containers, and a powerful presence for all of life. Allowing it to flow through us like a river, neither damming the “water” nor rushing it forward artificially. Offering a gesture of solidarity by not turning away, neither from the greatest joy, nor the most sorrowful moments life brings. And so we grow up for the sake of the whole.
“What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.”