Die before you die

I posted this meditation originally on August 14th, 2017. I was recovering from shoulder surgery, two dogs had passed away, and I was pondering the decisions that took me from the life I made in NJ, to the one I have now. I didn’t know what to expect then, but now, looking back, I know the lesson of surrender & acceptance I learned during this difficult passage is what continues to sustain me today.

I hope someone else finds comfort knowing peace is possible, even in the darkest moments, when we’re able to surrender to what IS. We may not be happy about it, but with acceptance,we can know peace.

Sometimes, there may be no answers, but we can let go of the questions.

******

I just read a Zen proverb tonight ‘Die before you die.’

I love this. I think each time we let go of something, we’re preparing for the ultimate letting go when we die. How we die is how we lived. Death & living, like grief & love, are the same thing, just inverse.

Each time we let go something -a relationship, loved one, expectation, addiction – who we were dies. Our world is re-ordered. The perceptual markers which orient us in reality shift and the world is no longer the same. Which is a powerful thought because our perception drives so much of what our world is. We tend to inhabit what we perceive. At least this is true for me. Hell is a state of consciousness. It’s resistance to what it is and my arrogance which insists I know what’s happening.

I never really know what is going to be best for me and I’m always surprised by what lurks right below the surface of what I think I want. I’m often a mystery to myself.

Now, I’m in a passage marked by both loss and expansion. I must let go of what was to make room for what is coming. If we allow it, loss opens room for different energy and growth.

But I can’t talk about loss with new age platitudes. It really sucks. I have no desire to overlay the challenging experiences in life with unicorns. (Like getting a hole drilled in your humerus or losing your best girl, Junie B. Jensen.)

When you think you’re ready to evolve, do something more, change, forge ahead, the Universe somehow expands like a rubber band with you and then, just as you test the farthest limits of your current reach, it snaps back, sends you back a pace or two, puts you in your place, demands your patience, acceptance, surrender and generally, let’s you know that you’re most definitely not really in charge. Then, with time, as you start the trek again, the band stretches with you, instead of against, and you gain more ground.

You can get in alignment but you just don’t know enough to really chart the course for yourself.

How humbling life is. As I get older I find great comfort in humility. I’m fond of saying, “I have no idea what I am doing. None. Right now I’m not a mess but I could be at any moment in the future. I’m just happy I’m packing all my marbles in my pockets today.”

In the past few years, I’ve learned about the uncomfortable process of surrender and acceptance and now I find great solace in the moment I get to turn inward because I’ve realized acceptance is demanded. It is as though I can somehow just wrap my arms around it, pull whatever it is tight, and whole it with presence.

Don’t ever be afraid to just sit with your shit. Once embraced, it’s not really all that scary. Just let go and die a little every day.

We’re all in process

I’m wrapping up a program at Rutgers this week, and I’m writing about Jung’s shadow. I came across this passage in my reading today, and noted how much it resonated.

It’s Carl Jung himself, (though I modified the pronouns):

“It is often tragic to see how blatantly a human bungles their own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in themselves, and how they continually feed it and keep it going. Not consciously, of course – for consciously they are engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil their world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop them.”

Almost ten years ago, I wrote:

1. Most of what goes wrong in your life is going to be your own fault. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You do the best you can with what you have at the time.
2. It’s like your life is a video game – it’s only after you clear a level that you realize there was a shortcut there the whole damn time. Don’t fret. Just remember it next time.
3. From time to time something really awful will happen that won’t be your fault, but through the intricate absurdity of the universe, know that this will be the thing for which you blame yourself. Try not to.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m any Carl Jung, but I think the commonality of the expression makes me really settle into his theory of archetypes and collective consciousness. I arrived at those same conclusions after making such a horrid mess of my life there are no words for it. In the aftermath of the disaster that was me, I had this profound epiphany while sitting outside drinking my coffee one morning. I took a sip, and a voice inside my head, mine, but different, stronger, wiser, said, “If you made this mess, which you did, that means you can fix it.” Somehow my higher cognitive processes got the upper hand on my subconscious shadow impulses and sent a message through. I imagine a great struggle happened to do so, with ships and cannons firing, while one brave neuron and synapse broke through the barrier, crossed the moat, and lobbed the bottle with the message into my conscious mind, over the castle wall. (The battle continued on for a few more years with great intensity, and every now and again, I still hear the occasional burst of gun powder, but most days, I think everyone gave up and went home.)

The greatest work we will ever do in life is with our own shadow. Those impulses we project onto others, and the faults we see in their decisions, beliefs, and actions are our greatest teachers. The messes we make, chaos we spin, and arguments we pick can point the way to our own awakening. And if your life feels messy right now, it’s all good. We do the best we can with what we have and know at the time. We’re mysteries to ourselves. Jung also said that our shadow can’t be truly anticipated, only met, in the world, through our action and continuous commitment to understanding ourselves, each other, and our existence.

Which means we’re all in process, and that really takes the edge off.

Citation: Carl Gustav Jung, The Portable Jung (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 147.