Relinquishing Difficulty

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Christ / Course Ideas

Recent events in my life served the function of popping the vacuum sealed lid of a small glass jar of fear I had been carrying around in my coat pocket.  I smacked dab into some real world events—moments of indeterminate outcome surrounded by a steadily gathering mob of foreboding consequences—and you could hear the audible inrush of air as the jar was pried open.  Out spilled vestiges of a future I had sworn to abandon, puzzle pieces of a compromised self, and a lackluster world absent of meaning—a world without a floor populated by people whose faces had been replaced by magazine clippings.

Feeling caught between two unfortunate choices, each inhabited by its own particular breed of inner kryptonite, my difficulties metastasized until even the pauses at the poles of my breath had been taken from me.  Each end of my being had become a dull ache.  You try to reason your way through these quaggy mires, but the biggest shortfall of the mind is its inability to recognize when the situation has eclipsed reason altogether.  It’s like being a man standing in the midst of the Great Fire of London with a half-filled canteen in one hand and a brochure about safe-making campfires in the other, unable to stop trying to mentally rearrange the canteen, the piece of paper, and the water in such a way as to put things right.

That doesn’t sound all that bad really—just kind of foolish.  That’s not me, we say.  That guy with the brochure’s just an idiot.  But to keep shuffling the canteen and the paper around while being slowly burnt, and to feel the intense pain of it but to still be unable or unwilling to turn and make a run for it… what is that?  What keeps a man rooted in such a place?  Is it bad to want to extinguish the fire?  What’s wrong with wanting to wave the wand of peace?  Is it bad to keep hoping an answer will come?  Is it fearful to retreat?  Is it a failure?  A regression?

What if the people you love were in a structure swallowed by the flames two blocks away?  What if they might still be alive, and it’s impossible to tear yourself away from your spot, despite such pain?  What if the journal that contained every important thought you ever had was also in that house?  Pain is precisely this sort of conflict.

A burning face.  Tear-filled eyes.  An inaccessible heart.  A heart filled with bitterness.

This is the quaggy mire from which I have emerged.  I’ve reached the other side, but I’m not the same as I was, for the dissolution of this particular entangled state brought home to me the distinction made in A Course of Love (ACOL) between the time of learning and the time of discovery.  My experience also revealed the importance of the passages contained in ACOL related to the release of bitterness and the desire for reward.

Bitterness is inescapable when we’re confronted by those circumstances from which we can neither run nor hide, situations where it seems that our losses and our love are seemingly intertwined, where justice and compassion seem unable to co-exist.  It’s so easy to forget that any such experience is rooted in false premises, particularly when something we view as necessary or vital to us is threatened.  When our visceral feeling is that something is wrong—when that little jar of fear has been pried open—it’s nearly impossible to bring the mind out of its recurring analysis of the situation, to keep it from continuously retracing its steps through a situation utterly devoid of answers.

This class of situation is the way we’ve brought ourselves the gift of learning.  We use these intractable difficulties as both the motivation and the means of revealing to ourselves our deepest lessons.  But what if we don’t need lessons anymore?  What if that age old instinct is over-applied?  What if you’ve looked yourself in the mirror, seen the worst you have to offer, blessed it, and now it’s time to let it go?  How do we stand in the freedom and power that resonates at the core of our being if every situation is a reminder of what we’re missing?

On the day this fever broke, I spent some time in seated meditation focusing on forgiveness.  Inexplicably, a few hours later, without any reasons as to how or why, the difficulties lifted.  The weather shifted.  In place of a shaken sense of self I possessed a brewing confidence—a confidence without reasons or evidence, a confidence I could not possess while perpetually learning my lessons…  The thing about this particular departure of weightiness was that it was devoid of reasons, events, and histories.  It was devoid of clarity about how and why.  It was simply forgiveness.  An acceptance, and a friend who helped me to see that standing in the fire was not a defeat.  Maybe that’s just who I am right now.  If you need to stay close to the place you once lived, stay close to it.  Without the bitterness, it’s simply a choice.  Without the sensation we won’t be complete until we learn what needs to be learned, it’s a moment of revelation.

In the few brief days since the cooling of my proverbial jets, it has been a joy to confront situations that just a few weeks ago would have put me on my heels.  It has been a relief to know they aren’t signaling me to take a look at something that needs adjustment—to feel that twinge of self-doubt and let it fly along, to know the perfection within me and within all of us is already complete, and that the encounter is simply a moment with which to work.  I’m not going to say I’ve conquered fear, for I’m not sure that you can, but it has become clear that fear results, at least in part, from viewing circumstances as some type of evidence about who we are.  When we realize that no event, no circumstance, no action of those around us has any ability to define us, we are free of them.  This is the type of fearlessness I’m closest to mustering.

Burrowing through difficulty requires a certain mindset—the mindset of learning.  Learning isn’t bad, but learning ends.  Recognizing there are no right choices to be made, no outcomes that offer accomplishment, no victory to be had either in avoiding the fire or in enduring it, then we are finally free to speak with it.  Our power is no longer forsaken.  We can stand in the fire and be burned, and it won’t mean a thing.  This is simply what we have chosen to be, and we are free to choose again.

Free in every moment to choose anew.

18 Comments

  1. This reads like an exercise in catharsis Michael. There is no temptation here to say anything beyond that, other than that I hope you know we all love and admire you, with or without this report. Facile offerings are not for the day I think, nor sombre affectations of understanding.

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    • Thank you, Hariod. I am grateful for your presence and support as ever. Difficulties can one moment seem overwhelming, and the next, in clarity, be reduced to stale, passing states. When in the midst of it, however, one feels how one feels, and pulling on the thread can lead to wandering in circles it seems. There is an interesting question I was once asked, “Are you willing to give up suffering?” And while the answer seems obvious, (and I may have mentioned this before), so long as we are carriers of thoughts that would compete with one another, or wishes that would compete with who we are, it takes a moment or two of suffering sometimes– an awareness of inner conflict– to unearth these harbored tendencies and set them loose… I am, at the end of the day, grateful to have been brought to (and through) such an encounter.

      Michael

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    • Thank you, Brad. I think the breakthroughs are not so much the achievement, as they are moments of realizing what was always achieved and but waiting for our recognition. Because it is already done, such moments await all of us. I am still in the deepening awareness of it. Grateful and tentative, but curious, if you know what I mean.

      Michael

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  2. I love the way you’ve described this, Michael.

    I’ve had something similar and I never know how to get back there. Chasing it and looking for it (for me) never works. Then something shifts and I’m in the fire but it’s all alright. Everything has changed but from the outside it looks the same to others. You portrayed this beautifully.

    I’d be happy for you if you like but not everyone finds this rearrangement of attachment a “happy” experience. I’m glad you blogged about it because I find it helpful.

    In peace,
    Sarah

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    • I love your phrase “rearrangement of attachment,” for that is indeed part of these inner walls that come crumbling down… to finally reveal new openings to fullness. Be happy, though not perhaps because it was a happy experience in every moment, but because something dross has boiled off, and left us all that much closer to weightlessness.

      I’m glad it was helpful to you. Your second Convergence video was insightful in understanding some of this, and I found time to watch it just as my experience of conflict was beginning to evaporate. It helped to reinforce the realizations that were peeking through… 🙂

      Michael

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  3. Beautiful post Michael. I resonate with it deeply. Releasing the old allows room for the new. Deep respect for your courage and vulnerability here.
    Peace, Amanda

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    • Thank you, Amanda. Your deep respect is deeply appreciated. You’re right about releasing the old to make room for the new. Part of what “hit home” was the discovery of the link between bitterness I had held, and being pulled into cycles of learning. Learning is like utilizing experience to become aware of who we are– like having experiences from the starting point of being incomplete. When that is the starting point, the experiences naturally pull us into experiences of incompleteness. It sets up its own dynamic. How do we stop repeating these cycles unnecessarily? It does change one’s experience to have experiences from the starting point of completeness– not completeness in the sense of there being no room for creative lives or for exploration of the mystery at the heart of our being, but completeness in the sense that nothing occurring ever need be interpreted as a referendum on the nature of our being…

      Michael

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  4. You capture something that I cannot begin to get near with words,Michael, but I share a similar lifting and dropping off, with you. I have a sense of baking in a casserole with you, with others. The oven temperature, the mix of ingredients, the timing, have all been up to the invisible chef all along, and as the liquid parts heat and evaporate, helping the trueness of flavors blend and become more and more delicious, the expertise of the recipe becomes apparent – I wonder if we are starring on some inter(inner)-galatic cooking show? Thank you so much for allowing the experiences to bubble up and cook off for all to see 🙂

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    • Marga,

      I love your description here and share your sense of our being in the casserole together. You capture the essence of something that I think is important and that is made apparent to me in these conversations, which is that none of us realize freedom in isolation. It is not an individual task, but a process of discovering who we are together. I tried to find this sentiment within A Course of Love, because it comes up a few times, but I couldn’t put my hands on it quickly. I did find this, which I think captures the essence of the casserole: “The light of heaven shines not down upon you but is given and received in equal exchange by all who in creation exist together in oneness eternal.”

      I’ve never much been a fan of cooking shows, but you’re turning me around on that front. There are definitely some wonderful flavors emerging. 🙂

      Michael

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  5. I am sorry that you went through such a difficult time and sense of loss..I really love your writing and your image..I am going through similar thing right now…and I am praying 5 times a day for comfort.

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    • Hi Steffie,

      Thanks for your note. I hope you find comfort quickly. Part of my purpose in sharing this is to share my experience that the most difficult times can somehow be gifts, and that they as they ripen as experiences within us, they are never quite what they once seemed to be. We judge them too soon, when in the midst of them. It is like eating a fruit too soon. It is tart, and there is little sweetness… Within our hearts, these things ripen.

      Much Love to you-
      Michael

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  6. You know, this is so resonant with me. I have been in similar ‘feeling’, although perhaps altogether different circumstances, where the one inside who needs to be ‘victorious’ hits absolute rock bottom, and there is nothing left to do but see her, hug her, forgive all of myself, and let go of everything but my own excellent being. My situation leading to these types of feelings has manifested in a few different areas of my life, but most potently with my son, whom I have tried numerous times to heal from chronic illness. When things get very bad, and I realize that epilepsy is still ‘winning’, I have gotten deep into this quaggy mire. Other events have also happened to me where the inner is also manifested in another person outside me. Again, the forgiveness is the only liberation. I also love what you say about being where you are. “Without the bitterness, its just a choice.” You are so, so right. Without the polar bitterness or reward, its all just a choice. That relieves so much of the pain and pressure, clears the fog, and allows intuition to blossom. I feel the sincerity and intimacy of this post, and I very deeply appreciate such a share.

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    • Thank you, Andrea. Your sharing in return is like a holy gift that I am humbled to receive. It’s a gift you have to put it inside of your heart to see its facets, to see it come alive. It does no good on the mantle, or the coffee table, or the side table in the foyer. It has to get into a quiet place where it can put down roots, find refuge, a place without boundaries, a place between worlds, between selves, where holiness is the only content of the atmosphere.

      It is those circumstances where love and pain are seemingly indissolubly bound that momentarily cripple us, I think. Not in a permanent way. Not even in a bad or undesirable way. Just in a way that brings us to our knees once in a while, cuts us to the quick– in a way that won’t allow fantasies or daydreams or false ideas of ourselves to hold any sway. I can sense in your writing how much you love and give to your children, and how sometimes you probably find yourself at the ragged edge of things.

      Being deep in the quaggy mire for me is like being in quicksand. If I thrash around, it only gets worse. Forgiveness has a way of turning the softest muck into solid ground somehow. When we give ourselves to it, we somehow find the grace to see the images that torment us without any of the pain, with only the love. And then the bitterness retreats. And who we truly are is still left standing, in ourselves and in everyone around us.

      Much Love
      Michael

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  7. Your heart so beautiful and mysterious Michael … Your writing like a blossoming flower … Your courage a glowing light …thank you …xx

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    • Thank you, Meg. Much appreciated. It is indeed beautiful and mysterious to gather with a few friends and infuse the world with the transformative meaning of our shared seeing. 🙂

      Michael

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  8. Dear Michael,

    Two years ago, I experienced some family difficulty that stirred up a huge hornets nest in the life of my immediate family. Impossibly difficult things festering for years culminated in a situation that required action on my part (with my sister’s help), but were met with resistance and hostility and accusations of selfishness by third parties whose motivations were troubling.

    The dust has now settled, and I so agree with you that without a deep experience of forgiveness and loving the unlovable, I would probsbly still be licking a wound. This experience touches the core of who we are, but at the same time connects us to others in ways that are deeply personal and life-changing.

    Thank you for reminding me about the power of forgiveness. It’s a reminder that continues to be necessary for me. It brings love and compassion along with it, even for the seeming unlovable people and situations we encounter.

    Hugs,
    Debra

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    • Hi Debra,

      What you describe sounds like a particularly weighty or challenging evolution– one of those timelines we just hope to do our best and live through, hanging on for the ride. I forget too often the power of forgiveness. I wonder why I didn’t start there, but the answer, of course, is that I thought I knew what the situation was and how it should be resolved. Our minds are expert at identifying the causes of difficulties, and it’s rarely us, or if it is, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner of blame and guilt. Forgiveness has a way of inducing acknowledgment of how little we know about what is arising, and this relinquishment of being in charge of what everything means has a way of creating space for things to be seen anew. Somehow, with just a little shift, there is room for everything and everyone to be in the room comfortably again…

      Much Love
      Michael

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