Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Outgoing and The Return II

In my last post, I imagine I irritated more than a few of you by suggesting that the death of our spouse is a gift. If you're within the first year or two, you probably use far different words, like tragedy, catastrophe, disaster, or robbery! Yet, I am in no way intending to cause indignation. Keep in mind that I too am a widower, and that I too have experienced the pain, anguish, anxiety, and suffering that goes with bereavement. But I have come through grief to the other side, and my days are now filled with peace and happiness. And excitement! ;-)

My last post gave Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose account of our life being one of expansion and contraction. It is within the contraction that we are given the gift, and personal loss and tragedy are often the catalyst:


The return movement in a person's life, the weakening or dissolution of form, whether through old age, illness, disability, loss, or some kind of personal tragedy, carries great potential for spiritual awakening — the dis-identification of consciousness from form. Since there is very little spiritual truth in our contemporary culture, not many people recognize this as an opportunity, and so when it happens to them or to someone close to them, they think there is something dreadfully wrong, something that should not be happening.

There is in our civilization a great deal of ignorance about the human condition, and the more spiritually ignorant you are, the more you suffer. For many people, particularly in the West, death is no more than an abstract concept, and so they have no idea what happens to the human form when it approaches dissolution. Most decrepit and old people are shut away in nursing homes. Dead bodies, which in some older cultures are on open display for all to see, are hidden away. Try to see a dead body, and you will find that it is virtually illegal, except if the deceased is a close family member. In funeral homes, they even apply makeup to the face. You are only allowed to see a sanitized version of death.

Since death is only an abstract concept to them, most people are totally unprepared for the dissolution of form that awaits them. When it approaches, there is shock, incomprehension, despair, and great fear. Nothing makes sense anymore, because all the meaning and purpose that life had for them was associated with accumulating, succeeding, building, protecting, and sense gratification. It was associated with the outward movement and identification with form, that is to say, ego. Most people cannot conceive of any meaning when their life, their world, is being demolished. And yet, potentially, there is even deeper meaning here than in the outward movement.

It is precisely through the onset of old age, through loss or personal tragedy, that the spiritual dimension would traditionally come into people's lives. This is to say, their inner purpose would emerge only as their outer purpose collapsed and the shell of the ego would begin to crack open...

The disruption of the outward movement at a time when it is "not meant to be happening" can also potentially bring forth an early spiritual awakening in a person. Ultimately, nothing happens that is not meant to happen, which is to say, nothing happens that is not part of the greater whole and its purpose. Thus, destruction or disruption of outer purpose can lead to finding your inner purpose and subsequently the arising of a deeper outer purpose that is aligned with the inner...

What is lost on the level of form is gained on the level of essence. In the traditional figure of the "blind seer" or the "wounded healer" of ancient cultures and legend, some great loss or disability on the level of form has become an opening into spirit. When you have had a direct experience of the unstable nature of all forms, you will likely never overvalue form again and thus lose yourself by blindly pursuing it or attaching yourself to it. [emphasis mine]

The opportunity that the dissolution of form, and in particular, old age, represents is only just beginning to be recognized in our contemporary culture. In the majority of people, that opportunity is still tragically missed, because the ego identifies with the return movement just as it identified with the outward movement. This results in a hardening of the egoic shell, a contraction rather than an opening. The diminished ego then spends the rest of its days whining or complaining, trapped in fear or anger, self pity, guilt, blame, or other negative mental-emotional states or avoidance strategies, such as attachment to memories and thinking and talking about the past.

If you read that last paragraph and thought, "Hey! I resemble that comment!" know that there is a way out. The vast majority of our suffering is caused by our cravings and clingings to the trappings of this world. Now that our spouse is dead, our memories of our past married life constitute a substantial part of those trappings. As we let go of those memories, we find that our suffering eases and we can find more contentment within the present moment. Being at peace is only possible in the present; we cannot be at peace when we hold fast to the shards of the past.

May you find peace.

No comments: