You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the animal of your body
Love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
Are moving across the landscapes,
Over the prairies and the deep trees,
The mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
Are heading home again
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,
Over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.
By Mary Oliver
The further reaches of the Buddhist path is called tantra. Buddhist tantra proclaims that wherever we find ourselves, no matter what the circumstances, we don't have to make an effort to escape the apparent limitations of our immediate situation. Truth, goodness, or beauty can be found in the living energy of life, on the street level of worldly desires, conflicts and turbulent emotions. A luminous energy sparkles through everyday experiences to reveal that there's no corner of life that doesn't radiate Buddha essence.
Yet, in this COVID era our hopes and dreams collide with the sobering reality of our actual lives. We’re continually reminded of our vulnerability, as our feelings of safety and security may be challenged with every bodily symptom, every change of condition or capacity. We may find ourselves reevaluating our most intimate relationships with our spouses and our friends, as well as our commitments to various projects, and question whether our work (if we're fortunate to have a job) is meaningful or alienating.
Since COVID punctuated our busy lives, there might be an unnameable sense of incompleteness or dissatisfaction, an irritating unrest or edge to our daily existence. We may have lost the sense of a meaningful destination, a purpose-driven life, as we find ourselves just getting through another week. It's not uncommon to experience a subtle shift in our interior world, a change in personal atmosphere, as we wonder whether our “best days” have gone by. Perhaps we’ve become overly self-preoccupied, feeling alienated from our community of friends. We might gradually begin to feel misunderstood by our dearest friends and relatives, gripped by the realization that we’re no longer looking forward to anything.
It can sometimes feel that life has betrayed us, as we struggle with sorrow and despair and suffer the many disappointments that are inevitable during this time. The effect of this global pandemic has caused dramatic changes in our lives, changes that we’re yet to fully understand. Somewhere along the way, our daily life could feel like a burden, as we silently wonder, "Is this all there is?” or “When will it all end?” We might find ourselves at a loss for how to go forward, other than repeating what we did yesterday. This sense of burden is a wound and it can make our everyday life feel like a trial by fire.
The need for a new story
In wounding, our psyche or soul is opened up and we are dropped into our depths. If we can envision our lives as an evolving journey, then stagnation, ambivalence, and dissatisfaction may be a wake up call. We are being provoked to open to the largest possible conversation we can have with our life. What does this mean?
Crisis and hardship can be a profound catalyst that rivets our attention so that we take notice of what we’ve overlooked or ignored. For instance, if you made the time to verbalize what it's like to feel like a stranger in a strange land, what would you say? When what you were counting on no longer seems possible, could you imagine how that might actually serve you? When you feel that social isolation has put you at your edge, could this be a fork in the road, inviting you to step into unfamiliar territory? Such unfamiliar passageways are our unlived life, and they want us to participate. But to meet the life that awaits us, it’s necessary to wade through uncharted waters. Even though we can’t see what lies ahead, paradoxically, it’s our wounds that guide us for how to step deeper into our lives, while moving forward on our spiritual path. This is the invitation to the larger story. Discovering the voice to speak your story can mean the difference between a life of ambivalence and stagnation, and one of endless exploration and creative expression.
Our culture has not acknowledged the need for meaningful rites of passage, that would honor the unfolding of our lives as we transition through the many stages of our human life cycle. We do have rites of passage in the form of baptism, bar mitzvah, graduations from public school and university, ceremonies for marriage, the birth of children, retirements and memorialization at funerals. But the birthing of a new story that heralds a change of heart remains an ignored and overlooked passage.
Telling your story may be one such rite of passage that honors the unique and particular way that life has incarnated through you. Birthing a new story can be the sacred portal through which you’re challenged by the life you’ve yet to live, and opened to dimensions of experience you’ve denied or ignored. These forgotten or denied possibilities of experience hold the key to our return to feeling whole once again. They represent the “roads not taken” that can re-spark our connection with the lost depths of our soul. This present moment in our lives is sacred because as Mary Oliver says, “The world offers itself to your imagination”. It is what we are given to shape and refine into a unique expression of how our life speaks through us.
“How do I begin telling my story?”
From the silence and stillness of the meditative state of mind, we can take something quite ordinary and explore that thing from multiple perspectives, seeing, feeling, and sensing it from new angles, so that we get to know that thing like never before. When we bring all of us into our writing, we’re informed by a deeper kind of knowing than intellectual.
When we write from the deep place that a meditative state of mind invites us into, we touch something that may be larger than our autobiographical self. Perhaps here, the world speaks it's meaning through us, and realizes itself from within our mind and heart, especially when we bring to our writing—our intuition and intellect, our imagination and instincts, and our feelings and sensations. This is the magical juncture where the hidden side of life reveals it's secrets.