As spiritual seekers and practitioners, we hear the adages of “everything happens for a reason”, “there is good in every struggle”, “some things fall apart so better things can fall together”, “remove the negativity to make space for the positive”. Such words inspire us to make change. But sometimes, when we face change, we quickly find ourselves standing over the abyss. Unexpectedly, all of those phrases and sayings lose their impact. They lose their inspirational value like a balloon that has been abruptly popped.
What if it was all a load of hype and feel good slogans to sell books and fill up seminars, or to make us feel warm and fuzzy about the chaos that is life? These slogans gave me false hope that making change would be easy once I made the decision, because the Universe was on my side, waiting to help me move effortlessly through the changes. Easy words preyed on my gullibility, in good faith or not. Perhaps they did help bolster me in times of temperate weather, the occasional rain cloud, slight, rough winds that shook me. When I was in the glow of these words of wisdom, I felt inspired. But when that mask of hope fell from my life with harsh absoluteness, the glow of wisdom became dim, and the words became hollow. And I suddenly found myself strikingly alone.
What if instead of sailing across the abyss to the Promised Land on the good graces of the universe, I fell headlong into its dark, cold, fathomless depths, I wondered? Suddenly, I was paralyzed, longing to run back to the familiarity of the shore, despite that the shore was littered with barbs and broken glass, pain and blood, and wounds so bottomless that my pain oozed endlessly from their depths. So where would I go? How would I proceed? How was I to survive this truly dark night of my soul, which was so much darker than I could have imagined?
I began to look for God and panicked because I could feel no evidence of the Divine in any aspect of my present. I had been abandoned. And the more I frantically searched, the further away I felt. My sense of the Divine had been right there with me when I started this journey, propelling me forward, urging me, and seducing me with a promise of peace and purpose. But now the deafening stillness and void began to consume me. I stood at one moment in time in a spiritual wasteland, with pits of emotional despair marking my only path forward. And my faith, the wind that had been so present in my sails, died, leaving me without the ability to move with any surety in any direction.
The Tao says that those who do not know how to suffer, suffer the worst. But I felt that I understood Tao. I practised Tao. Why couldn’t I feel it? Knowing Tao is to know that life will be difficult, and that sorrow will not last forever. Is there a glimmer of hope in that? I’m not certain. The Tao also says that braving your fate is to accept when you are down but to get back up. With enough practice, it becomes easier to get back up. Little comfort when I don’t have the energy or resolve to get back up.
As I flipped through my copy of the Tao de Ching, I began to feel even more anxious as I could find no words to comfort me. I had to escape the walls that closed in on me as my doubts and fears reverberate like the screech of tires on a deserted street. I could find no solace, in either the comfort of home, my beliefs, or what I thought was a certainty about the world.
And so I sat, paralyzed into inertia. What now? My existence had now been boiled down to its most basic, raw essence, and all that I had held onto had drifted away from me as if taken by the ebb of a strong, unforgiving, impersonal tide. I silenced my mind and waited for the right action, some indication of direction, to present itself. Able to do little else, I sat and simply stared out the window. As the soft winter sun moved lazily upward and through burnished silhouettes of bare branches, I came to terms with the fact that I was lost, and I surrendered to it. The sky was a chromatic palette of pewter, white and blue, and I felt something ever so slight move in me. It was an everyday, common sky, but somehow…more. I sat. I watched. The sun glanced the branches, peeking through and hitting me squarely in the eye. I noticed the delicate, platinum clouds, with silver highlights, drift languidly across the sky.
As my mind wandered along with the clouds, contemplating them and absorbing the light, I felt the gentle nudge of spirit, stronger now. The light pierced my eyes, and I was overcome with its intelligent beauty. I absorbed it, awash in sensation. Tears began to flow down my cheeks, not because of the pain and suffering I had been so enmeshed in, but because I was suddenly overcome with love. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the scene before me, but then there was. I was moved. Profoundly. It wasn’t anything as flashy or obvious as a lightning strike, booming thunder or even a rainbow. Just a quiet stillness, and the white light that filled me. I was curiously sensitive and filled with awe for the span of time that I sat there, still, observing, noticing.
This moment of grace didn’t solve my problems, but it did puff a brief, much-needed wind into my sails, which propelled me slightly forward, and it was moving in a new direction. It was a sigh of hope, a glimmer of light in the pitch blackness that was my frame of mind.
Simplicity. Patience. Stillness. Yes. That is where it was, in the stillness, and not in the books, not in the speeches, not on the internet. I made a promise to myself, that when I felt my world teetering and threatening to spin off its axis into the dark unknown, that I would stop. I would look out the window and observe the beauty and simplicity of the sky, of tree silhouettes, of the light that fills the world. I would wait and wait some more if needed until that gentle nudge found me. I would wait until I was quiet enough for God to remind me, and for spirit to relax within me again. And above all, I would remember to breathe.
Be still. “Muddy waters, let stand, become clear.” Lao Tzu
Author Bio – Deb Link is a mother, grandmother, writer, ex-wife twice over, teacher, wanderer, wise woman and nature lover.