The Vale Of Tears…Where did that phrase come from? I don’t know but I’ve seen it crop up in so many places and I get the feeling it’s been around for a long, long time. It is a timeless description of the world that we live in. If we could amass all of the tears that have been shed by human beings we would fill all of the world’s oceans several times over.
I am humbled and awed at the sheer magnitude of human suffering, at our ability to inflict and withstand it and our capacity to transcend it or become embittered by it. Buddha said that all life is suffering and then explained why and laid out a roadmap to overcoming it. Jesus said ‘In this world you will find trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world’. Some few have managed to escape the inescapable and the potential surely lies within us all but the cost is high, or would seem so, and it requires facing things that most of us spend a lifetime running from. There is a reason for our massive addiction to distraction, our aversion to being alone with our thoughts, our obsessive need to be occupied by something – anything – no matter how trivial or harmful. We run but can never quite seem to get away. The underlying fear prevails and… “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation”.
All too often and no matter who you are, life hurts. Physical pain is one thing and much easier dealt with. It’s easier to recognize what causes it and what to do to avoid or minimize it. Emotional pain is another animal. So much of it is self-inflicted and we are slower to learn; sometimes we refuse to learn. Our mind becomes imprinted and patterns of behavior and reaction develop. We end up doing the same things over and over again and getting the same bad results. Seldom do we question ourselves and explore the possibility of our own responsibility in the matter. Seldom are we even aware of what we are doing and are therefore confused as to why things are the way they are when they turn out the way that they do. Follow? (ha)
This life is (among other things) a classroom. It is much to our benefit to pay attention in class. Who/what is the teacher? Everything. It’s the entire range of experience from the devastating heartbreaks to the sublime moments of joy and happiness to the minutes and hours spent in boredom and monotony, an infinite number of opportunities to learn the interplay of cause and effect and the utter impermanence of everything around us. Ah yes…impermanence. It all fades away and so do we. We struggle with this one. Conditions are changing the moment we recognize and become comfortable with them, like a deck of cards that is being re-shuffled after every hand.
There are a wide variety of lessons available to us in each obstacle that we encounter along our way but the primary lesson is always the same and has something to do with accepting and letting go. We cannot bend the universe to our will but we can cooperate and become one with the will of the universe. After all, how could we ever be separate from it anywhere but in our own imagination?
By now we’ve all heard about the importance of letting go. We’ve probably also heard about the importance of living in the present moment. The present moment is a razors edge and anytime we are there, letting go comes naturally. The demons of our own creation that reside solely in our head become powerless when we wake up to find ourselves smack in the middle of eternity…which is now. We each have a certain amount of battle to do with these entities but they cease to exist when we withdraw attention from them.
In the meantime, the loss and suffering that we encounter can be shaping and molding us like heat melts and forms steel and we can let go over and over again; sometimes of our own accord and sometimes out of desperation. Either way we eventually get the point. Gradually we learn to love without attaching, work without obsessing about the end result, enjoy the fullness of the present moment and appreciate the ebb and flow of life. It’s a beautiful and terrifying dance but the song changes constantly and so do we. Each moment is a moment we can die to our past and cast off all of the misguided ideas we have formed about ourselves and feel the reality of the larger and eternal presence that is experiencing life through us right now.