Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Never Mind

I have a little index card (folded at the bottom so it stands up) on my office desk with the following written on it:

Everything Is In Flow
I am letting go of all resistance to life

It has sat there in my peripheral vision for over two years. I didn't realize what a profound effect it was having until one of my co-workers recently said to me, "man, you are so Zen." I just smiled, mostly because I don't know a thing about Zen ;-)

But I did understand what he meant. It takes a lot to ruffle my feathers these days. Of course, now that my spouse is dead, my bar for life challenges has been raised substantially, so the little things (what we affectionately called chickenshit in the army ;-) don't really bother me anymore. But I'm finding more and more that the big things don't really bother me anymore either.

Perhaps you're familiar with the story of the farmer who experienced a variety of experiences that most of his neighbors were quick to label "good" or "bad:"

There is an ancient Chinese story of a farmer who owned an old horse that till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off. Once again, the farmer's only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

There are no misfortunes in life. There are only missed fortunes… missed only because we fail to recognise and appreciate them as they truly are… fortunes, experiences, learning opportunities, seeds of wisdom…

From our limited vantage point, it is often fruitless to attempt to figure out why something happened and unhelpful to label it as good or bad. I often find myself saying, "it is what it is." In bereavement, of course, we need to confront this issue head-on. Almost anyone would say that having your spouse die is bad, terrible, a catastrophe. Is that so? Death is what it is. Nobody gets out of this life alive.

I'm not asking you to logically accept this, right now or ever. I am suggesting that you not think about it. If there are some things in life that we are not destined to understand, why waste time thinking about them?

Ah, you say, but what about the pain? The agony of grief hurts beyond imagination and lasts far longer that what we think we can tolerate. Surely that is bad?

Is that so?

The pain we experience in bereavement is what it is. And that is the key — we need to experience it, fully and completely. Not run away from it, avoid it, bargain with it, or anesthetize it. We need to feel it, experience it, welcome it. A great question we can ask ourselves which comes from The Sedona Method:

Can you just allow whatever you are experiencing right now to be here?

There's a scene near the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia where Peter O'Toole lights a match and watches it burn down to his fingertips. When his co-worker tries it, he flings the match away and exclaims, "it bloody hurts!" To which the young Lawrence replies, "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts." And despite having watched that film over ten times, I've never understood that quote until today ;-)

When we begin to accept that grief hurts, when we welcome the pain, we can fully experience bereavement, and we can begin to heal. And instead of asking ourselves why this terrible thing has happened to us, we can ponder this instead:

See the perfection where the seeming imperfection seems to be
-- Lester Levenson

And yes, that snapped me out the first time I read it too ;-)

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