One minute, you are meandering down the lane. In the next, everything changes, leaving what was your life -- or the life of someone you love -- in shambles. What we believed was our life gets turned upside down.
No one asks for turbulent times. And yet, it is something that comes, despite our resistence, our attempts to shore up from the unknown. Some forms of upheaval leave you time to run to higher ground. Others don't. If the confrontation is large enough, it will take you and yours to your knees. When disaster strikes a culture, we are reminded we are "in the soup," together --as Carl Jung used to put it so well.
The greater the devastation, the deeper the shock. Our "monkey mind" leaves us staring at road-kill, be it an unfortunate kitten that wanders out on the freeway this morning and now is "toast," or international coverage of villages swept away in 30 seconds, raging fires and threats of nuclear contamination. As you gaze into the eyes of the now, displaced, the suffering is overwhelming. Why must such things happen? Shocked, most find themselves swept into the repeating barrage of photography in order to assimilate what seems surreal. While it is tempting to perseverate with questions of "why" and "unfairness," this tendency can delay you from saving what still has life. We must not tarry in our heads when there is ground to clear, rescues to handle.
Regardless how high we build our towers of success, arrange our props against the wall of achievements to prove we are OK, regardless how much energy you devote to self- protection against catastropic, in the end, Mother Nature wins. When Big Mama's under too much pressure, something's got to blow. You know this in your own home, don't you? Remember the adage: "When mother's unhappy, nobody's happy!"
We are connected after, all. You and I are intertwined with natural elemental forces, as part of Creation's tapestry. We are interwoven with one another. If I neglect you, I break faith with all that is most essential to the heart. I sever connection with the advance of humankind toward its own best unfolding. If I break faith with you, this pretending we are not brothers and sisters brings devastation to our greater family. Yes, Carl, we are in the soup together.
Perhaps this is what makes photographs and footage of times like these so compelling. As we see strangers helping strangers, a baby found beneath the rubble, grown-ups securing the remnants of life for children they do not know, troups from different cultures coming together in an Army for Life, rather than for war and destruction, we remember who we are at our best. We remember that "our finest hour" seems to emerge from the compost of the worst. Ironic, isn't it?
A Natural Teacher
I was reminded of this before dawn. Many branches from the forest's evergreens lay strewn across our road, following some of the most intense storms I've ever witnessed. But it is these greatest storms, the wildest weather, and unrelenting winds, which help us sort. Aftermath makes abundantly clear what's alive and what's dead. Turbulent times help you separate what still holds life, what matters, from what is gone. Now, hours later, birch, oak and pine stand tall, in the noon day sun, despite the reality that poorly-attached branches have been stripped away. The fact that they are well-rooted makes this possible.
Where are your deepest roots when tough times come? When you've been stripped by adversity, to what do you cleave? Think back. What has sustained you when all seemed dark, and you felt despair? I'd like to know. We are here to learn from one another, to hold hands walking down the hallway into the Unknown, where surprise dwells.
What gift awaits you? Many years ago, I heard an amazing man by the name of Howard Thurman tell a true story that stayed with me in my own stormy times. Thurman described a desert, where a man placed a lantern along the path each night, along with a note for exhausted travelors who might need comfort. The desert dweller's message contained instructions for how to reach his shelter, in case the stranger might be in need. His lantern left an open invitation for those who would come this way.
A few years later, in Japan, while teaching hours away from Tokyo, I traveled an unknown path during a break from the retreat I was leading. There, in the heart of the glade, I came across a little tree stump with a small white bowl atop it, which held five fresh, vibrant persimmons from the tree nearby. Beside the fruit was a blue pitcher of cool water with cups, for those who might pass by and require refreshment. As I stood there in the shade of the tree, sipping from the cup, I recalled another time in Switzerland, when, on a walk the first week I was there, I came across a table in the foothills of "Heidi" country. On it were a tiny basket with three purple plums, a fresh loaf of pumpernickle bread and honey, and water for hikers passing by. Beside it was a tiny glass jelly jar filled with mountain wildflowers to enjoy. It sounds like a fairy tale, I know, because we tell ourselves the story THAT we "don't have time" to prepare the Way for others. Those who do, sense that we, too, are in the soup together.
We are hard-wired for love. When someone takes the time to remember connection, everyone awakening benefits. Those who remember to leave behind their offering have learned to cultivate a gentle heart culled from turbulent times. More on this in weeks to come.
The One Essential Thing To Remember During Difficult Days
You, too, have a lantern. Maybe it is not yet concrete. Maybe it is but a wish to make a bigger difference in the lives of those you meet today, or those across the sea. The truth is that you are a lantern. The work you have done to awaken what matters -- the openness of your heart; your capacity for outreach, even when it is inconvenient; for gentle care towards those who suffer; your contributions to causes of relief -- all indicator lights of this most beautiful nature of yours. Your love is the lantern which lights the way through the Darkness. You are the best Love Project around.
Your turn: I'm listening, and learning from you, my teachers. Where are your deepest roots when tough times come? When you've been stripped clean by adversity, to what do you cleave? Think back. What has sustained you when all seemed dark, and you felt despair? I'd like to know. I trust I am not alone, for others could learn from your truth telling.
To be continued April 6th, after I return from being with those whose soup is boiling. In the meantime, I offer today's piece in the memory of my son, Matt, killed 20 years ago, March 21st.