A friend of mine, James Ford, is both a Unitarian Universalist minister and a Zen master. James has a new book out. I haven't read it yet. I love the title: If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break. For in that breaking is the chance to find yourself and your light. That’s the blessed affliction.
Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, had a stroke in 1997, at age 65. The stroke left him with expressive aphasia -- he lost the ability to speak fluently. He also became wheel-chair bound. He called the stroke fierce grace. He wrote:
“For me to see the stroke as grace required a perceptual shift. I used to be afraid of things like strokes, but I’ve discovered that the fear of the stroke was worse than the stroke itself....Since the stroke I can say to you with an assurance I couldn’t have felt before, that faith and love are stronger than any changes, stronger than aging, and, I am very sure, stronger than death.”Ram Dass also said:
“The ego is like my wheelchair. It’s a beautiful wheelchair. Use it. Enjoy it. Just don’t think it is you. Don’t take yourself so, so personally.”Don’t take yourself so personally.
That's easier said than done.
It's not easy to maintain a helpful and functional ego while at the same time not identifying with it. Moreover, "don't take yourself so personally" easily becomes one more "should" in life, which undermines the point.
Accepting yourself means accepting even the parts of you that aren't self-accepting.
If I hadn’t been cracked, if I hadn’t failed, if things had gone as I was once so sure they “should,” I might still be teaching philosophy, still living in my head, still assessing everything other people said as either something I agreed with or something I had an argument against, rarely simply present to the beauty and fascination of another person – concerned only with whether they were right, rather than with understanding where they were coming from. I might still be with Evelyn. Boy, would that be awful!
In fact, as I play that “what if” game in my head, I realize that: no way. There's no way that old life could have lasted. If those "shoulds" hadn’t failed me when they did, they would have soon after. They were unsustainable “shoulds.” The question though is: am I learning what life is trying to show me about the ground of what is, or am I jumping from one delusion to another? Or clinging miserably to the same one?
As Pema Chodron says:
“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.”The blessing of affliction is offered. May our hearts receive it.
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This is part 4 of 4 of "Blessed Affliction"
Previous: Part 3: "Failure and 'Should'"
Beginning: Part 1: "Nobody's Perfect?"