I know I am done working my way through something when I get to a place of feeling grateful for it. That’s when I know that I have assimilated the events, and am open to life again. Sometimes it takes years (some things I may not finish while alive, I am quite sure of that), and sometimes it takes only moments. This morning I went from acute helplessness to gratitude in less than an hour, and I want to share what I learned in the process.
I had a conference call scheduled with members of a community I created – the Consciousness Transformation Community. Several things combined to result in my not being present at the beginning of the call, and a number of people calling in and not getting through. In the end, 10 minutes late, I came back from the errand I was going to run, the technical problem was fixed, and the call materialized. By then most people had given up, and only 5 people participated. It soon became clear that while I had taken the steps to ask for the technical support with the call, the people who were going to offer the support that would have prevented this from happening didn’t do it.
I am sure this kind of dilemma is familiar to many. We each have our own peculiar ways of responding in such moments. My own habitual response became clearer to me than before this call. Simply put, I have been putting attention and energy, mind and heart, on understanding how the unwelcome result happened, and what can be learned to prevent it in the future. This kind of focus is one of the deepest sources of stress for me: always working on eliminating possibilities for error, forgetfulness, or inattention. It’s as if I have been trying to make something go away that cannot: the irreducible uncertainty of life and human interaction. I don’t think I am alone in this. In fact, I imagine us all to have a collective illusion about our limitations. If only everyone paid attention fully, if only everyone took responsibility, if only … then there would be no unwelcome outcomes. From here it becomes so easy to blame – others or ourselves as the case may be.
With the help of others on the call, I found an alternative to my habitual response. I saw that I could open up for real, not just in concept, to the irreducible uncertainty of life. There is never going to be anything definitive that I or anyone else can learn, integrate, or put in place that would take away this uncertainty. The very attempt to do so feeds my sense of helplessness and creates the stress. I am only beginning to imagine what life could be like. Instead of helplessness, I can see simply mourning what happened, being with the sadness of the results and their effect on me and others. In this case, I am still feeling waves of it in relation to all the people who were looking forward to the call and couldn’t get on it.
The difference between the two emotional states is immense. Helplessness is full of tension and contraction, and is about moving away from life and what is happening. There is no peace in it. Mourning, even when intensely painful, flows with life. My heart opens, and I know and accept the consequences. The shift from helplessness to mourning is not about having no pain; it’s about how I relate to life. Am I opening to acceptance, or am I in some fundamental way fighting life?
Opening to What Is
Then, and only then, can I notice what is happening instead of being entirely with what didn’t happen or what should happen or what I can do to make it never happen again. One of the people on the call brought to my attention that I said, several times, that the call wasn’t happening, when, in fact, we were on the call, connecting, learning together, and even having fun and laughing. I found my way to gratitude. I could see that this depth of learning, in community, with support, came about precisely because this mishap happened and I was in acute helplessness at a time I could receive support. Whenever something doesn’t happen, something else does. Life continues, and we have only so much say about what it will look like. I can fight life, or I can join the ride, with the mourning and the laughter, the pain and the joy.