Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Being Content on a Dreary Day

by Troy Chapman

(published February 04)

I used to think it would be a good thing to get rid of my own suffering. That was my goal in life. I used drugs, distraction, and various other means, but still I suffered. The frustration of not being able to overcome it was an added pain. Why couldn't I succeed even in this personal task?

One day it occurred to me that suffering is spiritual weather. I often have plans and desires that are disrupted by weather outside — I want to walk and it rains all day; I want to play music outside but it's too cold. I wondered, if I had the power to control the weather, would that be a good thing?

Human beings are seeking ways to do this now, ways to disrupt the formation of tornadoes or defuse destructive thunderstorms. But what if we succeed some day in this task? Are we wise enough to possess that power? Doesn't the earth need tornadoes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, floods, and fires — no matter how much they might derail our various plans?

There are certain seeds that can only open after they've been subjected to the extreme heat of wildfires. They lay dormant for many years, then, out of the blackened, charred remains of a meadow or forest after a fire, beautiful life suddenly blooms.

In the same way, there are certain seeds in the human spirit that can only be opened by fire, by suffering. Our idea that we should be "happy" all the time and that all other inner experience is somehow a failure or a disease, is akin to thinking thunderstorms, tornadoes, and wildfires are "evil."

I suffer all manner of inner pain on a daily basis — fears, sadness, hopelessness, anger, impotence, self-loathing, shame, and perhaps worst of all, a general "colorlessness" — just a gray feeling that nothing matters. But I also experience little bits of joy, like the sun peeking through the clouds. I catch glimpses of well-being and hope, like unexpected bits of blossoming clover. They come and go — like weather. But I've found that there is wisdom in simply letting them be; in being fully present with that shaft of sunlight rather than missing it by worrying about the fact that it's not going to last.

I've learned that pain doesn't hurt nearly as much as resistance and frustrated expectations. When I give up my ideas of what ought to be going on inside me and stop trying to control it according to some preconceived notion of what's "right," the "weather" still might not be what I prefer, but… so what? It, like rain on a day I wish were sunny, has its own gifts to give if I can learn to receive.

I no longer want to get rid of my suffering. Now I'm working on being happy while it's raining and being content on a dreary day. The only thing in my way is my own expectations.