Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Dark Side of the Stairs

by Troy Chapman

(published October 06)

Dear Friends,

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything. This is partly because I’ve been working on a group of paintings for a show in southwest Michigan. But it’s also because I’ve been in a place of spiritual reorientation. There’s this big cycle in my life where I go through phases of being sure I know what I’m about, then others where I don’t have a clue. It’s like my spiritual life is a spiral staircase split right down the middle with light and darkness. When I’m on the light side I can see every step clearly and have the reward of knowing I’m ascending slowly. But this heads inevitably to the dark side of the spiral where I go blind and have to grope along not knowing if I’m going up or down. It’s a place where I can only go on by faith. Yet I always come back to the light and find myself a little higher up the stairs.

I’m trying to embrace this knowledge: That the spiritual journey consists of these alternating patches of light and dark, seeing and not-seeing. Still, when I get in the light I inevitably think, “I’ve got it! I’ll never have to deal with blindness again,” which, of course, is a setup. When the blindness comes ’round again I get in a big emotional turmoil about it and end up spending more time there than I need to — most of it sitting on the steps crying “Woe is me.”

This is humorous to me when I manage to watch the process from a place above the staircase and don’t get caught up in the see-saw perspective that comes from seeing things from within the process.

Anyway. I’ve been on the dark side of the stairs for a while and have just remembered that there’s always light up ahead. I can see it now and it makes me think, “Oh yeah. It always happens this way. I remember now.” (With a blush of embarrassment at how easily I’m duped again and again on this point.)

It was something Maryann said recently that snapped me out of my drama and set off a chain reaction in my mind. It was something to the effect that it’s a miracle that anyone at all is trying to be awake in our world when you think about all the baggage we carry and all the stuff we’ve been through. She’s absolutely right. It made me realize that we are often too stingy with our congratulations and gratitude. We tend to focus too much on our failings and downplay our successes.

I beat myself mercilessly for what I am unable to accomplish and I tend to see the world through this same lens. I have become an “abstract optimist” — believing in a positive future out there somewhere but completely overlooking all the good stuff that’s going on right under my nose all the time. I’ve let my vision of what we could be become a curse by causing me to reject or ignore what we are. And there is so much to be thankful for.

You, for instance. You who are on this mailing list are extraordinary people. That you care about the things we discuss here, that you keep hoping, that you keep trying to walk in love and, as Bo Lozoff says, keep “stumbling toward the light,” all speak of this. With all the craziness around and inside us we keep right on dreaming and reaching.

I know that every one of you is struggling mightily with countless things in your own lives, yet you reach out to me: here’s money for your lawyer, here’s prayer and encouragement, here’s a little piece of me if it will make your journey easier. That is a miracle.

But our little network is just a sampling of something much larger. All around the planet good people are striving to serve our higher nature.

It’s like Gandhi said: When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end they always fall — think of it. Always.

But as when I’m on the dark side of my personal staircase and forget, I also forget this truth about us together. I need to remember that the light is always here whether we can see it or not and that many of Gandhi’s “tyrants and murderers,” like me, fall up and come to the light.

At any rate, the truth is that we’re all doing the best we can and that’s enough. It’s also true that what we note with attention and reward with encouragement grows. Let us remember to be kind to ourselves and encourage one another. We are the light of the world and you, my friends, shine on me. Thank you.