The real gift and the crux of our difficulty is our constant and entirely natural experience of vulnerability. Trying to live without feeling vulnerable means we do not understand the fierce nature of the reality we inhabit. In closing off our vulnerability, we close off the authentic exchanges that tell us we are actually having a real conversation. Vulnerability is the door through which we walk into self-understanding and compassion for others. Being enlightened does not mean we assume supernatural powers of find a perfection that exalts us above the daily losses other human being are subject to; enlightenment means we have accepted thoroughly our transience, our vulnerability and our imperfections and live just as robustly with them as without them. David Whyte from The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship.
Attending my youngest daughter’s school awards ceremony (where the girls very quaintly still have to curtsy on stage when receiving awards, and she’ll not forgive me for the disclosure….!) a week ago or so, I was starkly reminded at how easily we can live our lives in denial. How easily we shut down the authentic exchanges that allow any real conversation. Denial of this moment, the only moment we have to live. Denial of the many life affirming wonders that surround us each day even as we may be enclosed by continually difficult conversations. Denial of the anxiety that there may be no better moment than this now. Denial of the courage that it takes to meet this moment openly and with compassion, and in the moment that this courage is denied, the real struggle and suffering arises.
We continuously crave the next moment of ‘better’ that may never come. Even as we hope and long for it. A moment different from this uncomfortable now. A moment more bearable than that which we turn away from. We had, like many parents, attended the annual award ceremony. Commiserating with our daughter that she’d missed her desired number of A’s by one percentage point, we were immensely proud of her for having found her way through a very difficult year of teenage turbulence, and pleased for some of the other girls we have known since they were little toddlers gain the recognition for their immense talent and achievements, despite their own very difficult circumstances. One of the mother’s point of view on the day was “life starts when school is over”. The pain and denial of this moment, of teenage angst, of confusion and uncertainty that would surely pass, and hopefully be done with. Once school was out. And real life started. I felt the blooming of surprise, slowly unfolding horror, and then sadness for the teenager involved whom I know to be struggling on many fronts. Are these difficulties to be denied and belittled and to wait for all to be better, of course, once school is out? The choice made not to engage with how this moment unfolds. And in that choice the opportunity to meet life with courage, beauty, and grace is missed. A moment of denial met in a similar way by a family I met with this morning. A teenager, with much the same angst, dreams, and confusion, dying of a terminal bone cancer, with parents who time and again refuse the offer of engagement to meet this difficult moment. The most difficult, that of facing a child’s certain death. How else but to long for a different, a better tomorrow. But as we deny this moment the voices of these children become only ever quieter.
Meeting this moment of difficulty without denial demands the courage to allow our vulnerability to show. As per David Whyte, to allow our vulnerability to be the ‘door through which we walk into self-understanding’, and perhaps more importantly ‘compassion for others’. For me opening the door of compassion for others allows a window to be opened on my own heart, on my own need for courage to sit with my moments of vulnerability and acceptance of anything and everything that may show up. All may never be well again, a better tomorrow may never come, and all we may have is the engagement with this moment in all it’s complicated, confusing, and painful glory.
Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us – ‘it’s never about some other time”. Do not seek for a future that may not happen. This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again this past year. As I strive to have my life be different to how it is, I paradoxically find my reserves and capacity for unconditional love and patience for my children and their individual needs expand beyond measure. In other areas I am not so sure and there are plenty who feel the edge of my irritation, impatience and impulsivity. Yet through all of this I strive to accept my life just as it is, even as the actuality of how that presents in my day is variable. Life does not start when all is well. When school is done. When the kids are grown. When we retire. When everything is perfect. Life is happening now, good, bad, easy, difficult, and all the gradients in between. There is only one chance to experience this moment fully. This moment, happening right now. Don’t miss it. Live it fully. Be open, passionate, and vulnerable with all that shows up. In loving this life now, and all around us through whom we engage with it, we are truly and robustly alive.