It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.
Long stretches of life pass in boredom and stupidity, and then you find yourself under water, or in the fire, backed into a corner, the rug pulled out from under you. Shake your head and look around new at the sharp, bright corners, familiar things become strange. The green jagged line of a tree against a hot blue sky. This table now furnishing an alternate universe. What are your most shameful weaknesses and paralyzing fears? Life is coming for them, coming for you. You can’t hide. Is this true, or does it just seem to be? Doesn’t matter.
Imagine you have a sage guide, because we all want a sage guide, and imagine you’re the hero of the story, because we all want that, too. Your sage guide says, ‘Yours is a great destiny to fulfill. But you must endure these trials.’ These trials were created by you. Instinctively, over time, you programmed them into existence, like your own self-designed video game. Because something in you knows what you lack and therefore what you need. Babies and children learn like it’s their job, because it is, and they are non-stop, committed. Have you tried getting a kid to shift gears lately? That baby force is still inside you, and it’s dedicated to your education and betterment, like it or not.
This is the program running in the background, front brain caught up as it is in the day-to-day, concerned mainly with safety and stasis. Get here, text back, trash, dishes, what was I doing? recycling, laundry, check the calendar, eat. But deep in there, the baby force is at work, identifying obstacles, problem areas. It’s directing you, forcing you to confront them. (Interesting question: which one is the autopilot and which is the real pilot?) Suddenly or slowly you find yourself outside your routine of maintenance and plunged into surreality. ‘How can this be happening?’ you ask. ‘I’ve spent my whole life working to to avoid this.’
And that’s how the person desperately afraid of heights finds themselves up on a rock wall, toe in a crack, hanging on by a finger. To use an obvious example. Unconscious, subconscious, however you want to name it, the mechanism has to stay hidden because you would prevent it if you could. Adrenaline junkies, warriors, extreme athletes might seek out discomfort and welcome challenges, but would they choose an injury for the experience of living through it? Or a restriction on their freedom to move, to see how they might adapt? No. No one chooses what’s truly, personally scary.
It doesn’t work if you apply it elsewhere, outside of yourself. It’s an inside job. We don’t think a mudslide buries half a Bangladeshi city because the people there feared or needed a mudslide. When the tragically distracted parent forgets their sleeping toddler in the backseat and returns hours later to a nightmare, we don’t say, ‘what an excellent lesson in mindfulness.’
The baby force is yours alone. It’s the tiny divinity that makes sure that you get what you need, until life leaves us. And contrary to some scriptural interpretation, it might actually be more than you can handle. So we look for tools and patterns. Who cares if it’s determinism or free will? What matters is finding a way forward. When you feel helpless and victimized, what greater agency than to interpret everything that happens as a plot device? When you are the writer as well as the protagonist? There is no loser in this story, if it is the story of the hero doing whatever is necessary to become heroic.
You’ll know it by your suffering, and ultimately by your stillness. There you are, at the cliff’s edge, or even plummeting through space. At this moment, there is no possible action to prevent or escape what is happening. There is nothing you can think of to do. Your normal avenues are cut off. No grand gesture will save you. Whatever the situation you have found yourself in, you can only experience it, allow it. Life has sat you down. Buried you in mud. There is nothing to do but be in it.