“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”
American Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chödrön. From Maria Popova Brain Pickings
In January 2017 I was enjoying a short charter cruise of the canals of Copenhagen, admiring sites like the Grand Opera House (the top of which is the size of a soccer field), small ports and homes of famous people like Hans Christian Anderson.
Of Two Minds
A fine little cruise except I was literally of two minds. In one mind I was the ultimate adventurer learning facets of a foreign culture and in the other mind I was on the brink of mental collapse. You see for part of my trip I was in contact with a friend back home via text messaging. Somehow our text conversation took a turn during which we found ourselves dragged into a in a serious emotional misunderstanding.
For me it was a terrible experience. For some reason the misunderstanding brought to light sensitive issues hidden deep within my psyche: insecurities, abandonment and rejection—stuff from my childhood I choose not to remember and therefore keep locked away in the secret rooms of my Memory Mansion. (The misunderstanding was exacerbated by the use of text, the stupidest tool of communication to manage conflict!)
I believe it is rare times like these that open “a window to my soul” forcing me to come face-to-face with my deepest pathologies. I have no protection against these discontented demons that generally haunt me subconsciously, but when the window opens, there is no place to hide from their overt malicious intentions.
I was stuck in that place of emotional annihilation.
But, as much as I dislike it, some of my most lasting and impacting growth has resulted from these darkest of times. It’s like a saying I was recently reminded of, “I will make you happy,” says life, “but first I’ll have to make you strong and that might hurt a bit.”
So what does this have to do with hopelessness? Well… everything!
Giving Up on Hope
Pema Chödrön writes, “Without giving up hope — that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be — we will never relax with where we are or who we are.”
Here’s the truth: I find the idea of giving up hope an abominable concept. I have always lived on hope: hope that I can become the person I respect, doing things I respect. Therefore this post is most challenging.
So why am I writing this? Because Pema Chödrön’s ideas strike me as truth, therefore I must come to terms with this definition of hope. Perhaps what Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön is driving at occurs when hope becomes denial.
The Indestructible You
Then hope becomes an impediment to understanding the strengths that often lay untapped in your inner core. You are always stronger than you think. Just consider the dozens (hundreds?) of times you thought you couldn’t take one more crappy thing in your life. It comes and, still, here you are: a survivor.
Pema continues, “To stay with that shakiness — to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge — that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic — this is the spiritual path.”
Let me be honest. I don’t fully understand this. But something about it is truthful. I can feel it. There is something about accepting our most unacceptable situations that we discover in ourselves our greatest core strengths, e.g. resilience, ingenuity, integrity, love, and maybe even forgiveness.
Until we are tested at our very bottoms, we will only know the easy-to-display rituals we have designed for bad (and good) times.
Back in Copenhagen
So there I was in Copenhagen. The “window to my soul” was wide open and exposed. Cast into the “dark night of the soul,” I came out of it a better man with increased understanding of myself at my core. Yes, I have childhood pathologies that will always impact my life but I have a choice: let the pathologies control me or embrace the dark times and learn to observe the resilient core me.
Yes, I was hopeless but because of hopelessness I uncovered a new aspect of my character that will last for a lifetime.
Can Be Insightful
Photo courtesy of XXX at istockphoto