Life is a terrible experience. We get by on the strength of our wit, courage, resiliency and luck. We have the happy fantasy of “rainbows, roses, and white picket fences,” but the reality is that “living will take the life right out of you.” Now, what are we going to do about that? Take it right back! How do we take it right back? By understanding that being alive is not accidental or automatic. It is deliberate. It is conscious. It is the work of our lives to be alive. To be alive within the framework of life as it is.
We think living is about arranging our circumstances to suit ourselves. “This is really living,” we say, when we have things like we want them. We think the work of our lives is getting and keeping things like we want them. So, we wrestle our lives into accord with our ideas for them, for how life ought to be. But the beast will not be charmed.
Just about the time we get things right, the Vikings sail into the harbor, the Huns pour over the hill, the stock market crashes, the polar ice caps melt, the doctor says “I want to have a closer look at this spot on your lungs,” and it all goes to hell. Our life is a dance with hell’s angels, and our best hope is soon reduced to a long break between songs.
We cannot count on our circumstances being what we want them to be. Our circumstances are not on our side. If the quality of our lives depends upon the quality of our circumstances, we are, of all people, most to be pitied. Our circumstances, they are a-changing.
This is the one thing we have in common with all people of every epoch since the beginning of people. We cannot count on our circumstances. We do not know what the next minute will bring. That is the deal, and, in response to the deal, we have done one of three things as a species. We have said, “NO!” We have said, “Yes!” Or, we have said, “Battle!”
“NO!” is the great negation. Life is suffering, it’s awful, it isn’t worth living, I won’t have anything to do with it, I am much too good to waste myself on something as wrong as life on its terms. Just read the newspaper. Good-bye, cruel world. And, we walk away to be a bitter recluse or we kill ourselves because we just will not have it. Life ends in death and we hurry up our dying because we just can’t take it.
“YES!” is the great embrace. We take the good and the bad, just as it is, and see perfection in every bite. It’s all cyclical, seasonal, bad is going over into good, good into bad, don’t take it so seriously, in any moment the next moment may be better, so why spend this one moaning about how bad it is, or the next moment may be worse, so why waste the good that is in this one moaning about how bad it is? No matter how bad it gets, the good is always good, enjoy what can be enjoyed and live the life that is yours to live. Life comes from death, so trust yourself to the moment and see what comes next.
“Battle!” is, you might say, a technological innovation. If you don’t like something, change it! Build a dam, or a dike, or a levy. Bulldoze the mountain chain. Erect paradise, complete with central air and heat. Develop! Alter! Transform! Defeat disease, and poverty, and hunger! Eradicate misery and suffering! A chicken in every pot and a pot in every house and a house for every person! Don’t let your circumstances ruin your happiness! Find a way to have what you want! Make the world over to suit yourself!
These are the three fundamental, you might say essential, orientations of the species to the world we wake up in every day. We assume one of these postures in relation to our lives, and our living takes on the tone of our basic presumption about this life we are born into.
Our orientation toward life is one of the most important things about us, and governs, to a large extent, the over-all quality and character of our lives. That being the case, you would think we would think about it, be conscious of it, aware of what we are doing, but not! We say, “NO!” to life, or “Yes!”, or “Battle!” without thinking of it. So, we better think of it, and we better say, “Yes!”
This is so critical, I should say it slowly and loudly for the proper emphasis. But it hurts my throat to speak that loudly, and to go slow softly puts people to sleep. So you’re going to have to pretend that this is coming at you slowly and loudly. Our lives are to life as a river is to its channel.
Our lives constitute our interests, aptitudes, aspirations, desires, concerns, fears, needs and the like. Each of us has our own personal integrity, call it “integrity of being,” just as we have our own finger prints and DNA. And, we have to live out of that integrity and be who we are in relation to the conditions and circumstances of our lives. Life constitutes those conditions and circumstances. We live our lives in relation to life. Our lives are what we are able to negotiate in relation to the conditions and circumstances of our living. Our life’s work is to enter consciously, regularly, continually into that negotiation.
It’s like this: I should have said that to you slowly and loudly, but it would have hurt my throat. See? We have to be true to ourselves within the conditions and circumstances of our lives. That is the spiritual task. We have to come to life, and live as those who are fully alive, within conditions and circumstances that govern our living, and restrict our choices, and limit our possibilities.
The meandering of the river is shaped by the possibilities of its channel. A river can’t go just anywhere, I don’t care how big and mean it is. In fact, the bigger and meaner it is, the more limited are its possibilities. Forcing your way can be very restrictive. Short is long, don’t you know? And soft is hard. And easy is difficult. And we have to work it out, who, and how, we will be, in relation to our possibilities.
That’s the spiritual task. It’s spiritual because we are bringing our invisibility, our latent potentiality, our innermost integrity of being, into physical shape and form. We are birthing ourselves into this world where there is no room for us in the inn. And, wa-la! Just like that, we are at the manger—we are IN the manger! We are Mary the Virgin, birthing the Christ in us, into the conditions and circumstances and possibilities of life in the world.
The problem with all of this is that you have to know what I mean before you can understand what I’m saying. You have to help me help you. I am speaking to you as much through your imagination as through your ears. If you don’t get it, you must not easily assume that there is nothing to be gotten. Revisit the idea. Sit with it. Play with it. It may yet come to life in you and for you and through you into the world—like the baby born of the virgin.
Think of me as the angel and of yourself as Mary. I’m telling you that you are going to have a baby through a spiritual conception and it will be born in the world and in your life, actually, tangibly, physically, really, and that the baby is you. And the work of birth is the work being you within the possibilities, and conditions, and circumstances of your life.
To live like this is to say, “Yes!” to life just as it is, and to realize that in every condition and situation of life, our task is to find our way to our heart and the Heart of Creation, which is, of course, the same heart, and to live out of our identification with that heart/Heart in the midst of our present life-situation.
We bring life to life in life. This is the birth of the Christ (The Anointed One of God), the birth of what we might call True Life or Our True Self, within the ordinary conditions of life in the world. “He was without form or comeliness.” There was nothing about him that would draw attention to him. His appearance was such that no one would ever notice him. And, yet, in him was the light that was the true life of all people.
That is the mystery of the incarnation. When we bring to life the True Life that is within us, no one notices, nothing changes, everything is just as it was, yet the world is transformed, and the host of heaven joins in a great chorus of Halleluiah, and the shepherds and those who are wise gather at our manger-side to offer their gratitude. Even those who don’t know and don’t see seem to sense that something is going on.
But, it is wrong for us to take any credit, or seek any gain. It’s a Virgin Birth, remember. We don’t have anything much to do with it. We are just along for the ride. Our part is to not get in the way, and to just remain open to the realness of our heart and the Heart of Creation and to the reality of the possibilities and limitations of the conditions and circumstances of our lives. Anything that comes to us, is like that which comes to the ox treading grain. The ox is not elected king or queen, but gets to eat what comes his, or her, way. No big deal. Nothing special. That’s True Life in the real world.
And, it is essential to everything that happens there. “The influence of a vital person vitalizes,” says Joseph Campbell. All of life is enhanced by the authenticity of the life of a True Human Being—the life of a person living in accord with her heart, with his heart, and the Heart of Creation, within the conditions and circumstances of her, of his, life. This the miracle, that we live here and now in ways that incarnate, reveal, disclose, unveil and make plain that which is more than we can say. And, when we do it, people can’t decide if they heard the voice of angles, or only thunder. And, can’t decide if they had seen a child of God or a child of Satan. And, we can’t try to clarify things for anyone because we are too engaged in the work of bringing life to life within life. To talk about what we are doing, or prove what we are doing, is to stop doing it.
So, the need to explain, defend, justify, excuse becomes just another tangle in the web of circumstances we have to work with in being true to ourselves within the conditions of life.
If they don’t believe what they see with their eyes, they won’t believe what they hear with their ears, so we can’t spend too much time with them trying to get them on our side. “Those who are with us are with us, and those who are against us are against us.” And, “there are miles to go before we sleep,” so we can’t wait for everyone to get on board before we leave the station.