By John Thompson
Sometimes these days I find myself so full of joy and gratitude that I feel like I might just explode. That’s not hyperbole: I really am beside myself, wondering what to do with so much overwhelming energy. I still have my sorrows and grief, mind you, and my discontents, but even when I am sinking into them, that overall gratitude is still there, still accessible, and even in the darkest days, I have come not to believe, but to know with certainty that I am a being of Light and Grace, and that I am loved beyond measure and welcome in the Cosmos. My pain is not affliction; it is the very pinnacle of that Grace.
Someone posted on the “Art of Living Foundation” page on Facebook these lines from the great poet/mystic of our time, Leonard Cohen, and when I read them I burst into sobbing tears of ecstasy:
“So ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the Light gets in.”
I have been on a quest to know God for three quarters of my life. It hasn’t always been pretty. Within months of my first spiritual calling at the age of 15, I got drunk on New Year’s Eve and slipped into a dark and miserable seven-year enslavement to alcohol. I have fallen back to it a few times afterward over the years when faced with some particularly traumatic experiences. (I am now grateful for 18 years of continuous sobriety). Even when I was adhering to my path, which in many ways was more like a labyrinth, my ineptitude and lack of social grace and understanding were, at times, appalling, even to me.
A beautiful woman I call Little Sister said to me not long ago, as she was beginning on a new spiritual adventure in her life:
“The day you get your calling is the day every demon learns your name.”
I still get chills whenever I repeat that. And indeed, I have faced many demons over the years, but none so great as the one inside my head, telling me how incompetent, unworthy, and just plain clueless I am. Now, two months from my 70th birthday, I can say that, while that “demon” is still there, he has become increasingly like a noisome echo that I can only hear if I stop and tune my ears to it. And I still do from time to time, in spite of myself. The thing I can declare, unequivocally, is that, when I turn my attention back away from him, I bow my head before him and say, “Thank you for being my companion and my challenge for all these years.”
I am grateful for my life, ALL of it. All the shit, all the pain, all the ways I was injured, and all the injuries I have inflicted. I have sought and continue to seek to make amends for the latter when I become aware, but I am still much more grateful than regretful for it, because, whether they’ve realized it or not, the pain I caused is a part of that person’s own treasure. Some will misinterpret my meaning here, so let me clarify: I am not saying that it’s okay to go around hurting people under some deluded notion that you’re actually blessing them, or to brush it off when you do. I want to do the best I can toward other people, lifting them up rather than tearing them down, and when I err, I need to own it and make those amends. It still remains, however, that both parties have been blessed whether they perceive it that way or not.
What I have discovered in my elder years is, when I feel grateful for and love my life in its entirety, all of it, including the pain, the agony, and the fuckups, then suddenly I find I’m already swimming in that Great Sea of God’s Grace. The seeking ends, because I find that the object of my search has been with me, and indeed IS me, all along.
Tecumseh said, “Love your life, perfect your life, and beautify all things in your life.” Don’t hate what you find imperfect; it’s not your life that’s imperfect, but your vision of what an “ideal” life should be. Keep growing, learning and experiencing, but don’t cringe at the sight of pain. Like the Thorn Bird, let that spike go into your heart to release the celestial song that only you can sing.