“Have you cut the tip of your finger?” she asked. “What?” I replied. “What’s that got to do with it? How many fingers do I have to cut?” She paused, thinking. “At least four,” she said, somewhat hesitantly, as though there could be more. “Four!” I said. “Why four?” I ask all the right questions. I should get credit for that. But, it seems that she thinks I’m putting off the inevitable, that I should just cut four fingertips and get it over with. Easy enough for her, seeing, as she does, from her point of view. Take a peek from mine, I say. If I’m going to cut four of MY fingertips, I want to know the ins and outs. I want to know why and how that’s going to help and what’s the point. Surely, by now, she has to understand what she’s up against in me, and would gently explain how it is. Seems to me, I hold the trump cards. All of them. I don’t want to swim in icy water anyway. Why cut four fingertips to do it? What does one thing possibly have to do with the other? All I can imagine is that the pain of the finger slicing would take my mind off the pain of the cold water. Which is completely stupid, and much less wisdom than I would expect from the Wisdom of the Ages. I think she is making fun of me, laughing. I’m shrinking back from the cold water, and she is making fun of me, laughing. I HATE cold water. And she knows it. And she’s laughing.
We have to go where we don’t want to be and do what we don’t want to do. If we can make our peace with that, we have it made. Which is to say that what we want has nothing to do with it. What needs to be done is the question. Where do we need to be is the other question. Forget wanting. Wanting got us in the mess we’re in. We see what wanting will do for us. We create a good many of our problems by choosing to have what we want at the expense of what is right for us.
What is right for us has nothing to do with what we want for us. If you are ever going to hear me, hear me here. Learning to listen within in order to know what we know, in order to know what is right for us, past all want-ing it to be otherwise, and to have what it takes to do it, to live in the service of what is right for us, no matter what, day in and day out for the rest of our lives, ah, there be the nature and scope of the spiritual journey.
The way to wholeness, to integrity of being, is awareness, paying attention, waking up. It’s the way of knowing how things are and how things also are (which includes the truth of how we feel about how things are, and also are—the truth of how we wish things were). It is the way of putting truth on the table, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, the truth in all its conflicting, mutually exclusive, cacophonic glory. And letting truth trans-form truth, and wake us up, so that we live in light of all the truth that is true. That is the way of integration. It is not exactly what you would call pain-free. But it is exactly what you would call life lived to the core.
One of the truths that goes on the table is fundamental, foundational: We are at odds with ourselves. We relax (ignore) the tension within ourselves at high cost to ourselves. We have to live consciously within the tension of the opposites within, and choose what we will do each time a choice is to be made. No dismissing. No discounting. No denying. No Ignoring. No running, hiding, escaping, pretending. We bear the pain of our own contrariness as we carry out the business of life on the boundary between Yin and Yang.
Of course it is hard. We’re here to ride the bull. If it were easy they would call it riding the hen. We are here to do what is hard: Face ourselves and our lives and bring to life in ourselves and our lives that which is deepest, best, and truest about us—that which is truly right for us and the time and place of our living.
There are no black foot prints on the spiritual path. We find our way alone, but in the company of those who are finding their way, alone. There is no substitute for personal experience, yet, experience has to be experienced, and it cannot be experienced without being expressed. We have to talk about our experience with those who can receive well what we have to say. In so doing, we see better what is to be seen, become increasingly awake, and find our own way, the way that is truly our way, the way with our name on it. We could not find the way that is our way apart from those who listen to us, enabling realization, discovery, understanding, enlightenment—enabling us to know the truth of who we are (and also are) and how it is with us (and how it also it with us). But, once we find the way that is our way, we discover that it has a cross attached.
The cross was the price Jesus paid for living the life he lived. We all pay a price for living the life we live. The trick is to realize that, and bear consciously the cross and the responsibility for living the life that called it forth—and to know that if we choose to live differently we will bear the cross of living differently. We can’t get away from the crosses with our name on them. The best we can do is bear them consciously, responsibly, smiling along the way, because we get to live the life we are living for the one low price of cross bearing. Of course, that means we better feel right about the life we are living, else the cross will be a bear to bear.
Bearing the pain of our own choices, the weight of our own lives, means paying the price of living the way we live or changing the way we live, but then we have to pay the price of that choice. We have to take what comes from doing what we do the way we do it. If we run up a bill, we pay the tab. But we only pay our tab. We refuse to bear the pain of other people’s choices, the weight of other people’s lives. It’s the Robert Frost line about “good fences making good neighbors.” We have to know where we stop and other people start. We take care of our business and they take care of theirs. And, when we help one another, we help one another help themselves. When we help one another, we help one another bear the pain of their own choices, the weight of their own lives. If we won’t bear the pain of our own choices, the weight of our own lives, we can’t be helped, we can only be carried, mothered, babied, and live as a burden upon others all our lives long.
We have to bear the pain of our own choices, the weight of our own lives. When we do not, we neglect our duty to the tribe and pass on to others the responsibility of carrying us along. Then, we become an excessive bur-den on the social structure and undermine the good of the whole. Compare this to our calling to live as a boon to the world, a blessing unto all who come our way, and you quickly see the scope of the damage we bring to life by refusing to bear the pain that is ours to bear. Not only are we not a source of good in the lives of others, but we also deplete what little good there is by requiring them to do what is ours to do in taking care of us. When we grow up and shoulder our own cross, bear the weight of our own life, everyone is relieved and released to live the lives that are theirs to live, and joy comes to life in the world.
We have to do our part. And, we have to prop one another up. No one does it alone, yet we all have to help the others help us. This is called community building. We encourage one another in the tasks of life. We are a compassionate, abiding, presence. Urging each other along. Cheering each other on. Just being with someone who has the right spirit about her, about him, makes all the difference. Joseph Campbell says, “The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” Our individual task is to cultivate the right spirit within, to be vital, alive, and to live as a compassionate presence in the lives of others.
To be connected at the level of truth is the essential connection. To see truth truthfully together is to create a “weness” that forms a lasting bond between us, among us. This is the basis of the community we seek, and must have, to make it. It is not enough to say the truth, to say what is true, we also have to be heard, we have to say the truth to those who can hear us with understanding, who can stand with us as witnesses of the truth we know to be true because we experienced it. The truth must be told, but not only told. It must be told until it is heard, until it is received with understanding, until it is recognized as the truth that it is, by someone, anyone.
The most abusing thing about child abuse is not the abuse itself but the silence that surrounds it. The secrecy. The "explanations." The dismissals. The denials. "Oh, you know your Daddy, Uncle, Brother really loves you, really wouldn't do anything to hurt you," etc. The displacements. "It's your fault." The most abusing thing about child abuse is the refusal to hear the truth of the child, the refusal to stand with the child, and bear the truth with the child, knowing what the child knows, knowing that the child knows we know, refusing to look away, but bear-ing the truth with the child, bearing the child’s truth, the truth of the child, the child, all the way to the heart of truth, and saying, “Yes. That’s the truth. That’s how it is. And it is very wrong for that to have happened, for that to be the way it is. And I am very sorry, and I am with you to bear witness to the truth, and to help you bear the pain of the truth, because two sets of shoulders are much better than one.”
To bear the truth alone, when the world is saying, "That isn't true. That couldn't be true. You know it isn't true," is to risk losing our bearings, to split off from that part of us that knows, and to deny ourselves what we know to be true as a way of surviving in a world that does not believe us. To hold on to the truth and to know what we know and to know that we know what we know in the face of the constant refusal to hear/believe/know is the hardest thing. We need help bearing the truth of our lives. We need those who can witness the truth of our lives with us, to corroborate the truth, affirm it, and thus ground us in the reality of that which cannot be real but is, and provide us with a reference point for navigating through the madness of the world, reminding us that the world is mad, but we are not.
The more truthful we are, the crazier we sound in a world that is not geared to the expression of truth. And so, the need to create communities of truthfulness where we can say who we are (and also are) and how it is with us (and how it also is), to those who can hear us and serve as reference points for the long journey home.