By: Jack Adam Weber, Art by Andrea Smith
Many view love as a purely positive force. It is positive, but for love to live up to its advertising as the most powerful energy on the planet, it must be bigger than the feel-good experience we claim it to be. Love must embrace everything from euphoria to devastation, selflessness to utter selfishness, on both the personal and collective level. For love to be the all-encompassing force we intuit it to be, love must also be able to fully embrace and reconcile the darkness and suffering of the world. The transformation of pain and suffering into positivity, deep compassion, and healing service is the way that love achieves this and grows into its own heart to embrace all of life. This way, seeming opposites are united—Yin and Yang become one dynamic whole, and life flows deeply, courageously and robustly through and from us.
Because life is full of loss, grief must be part and parcel of love. Grief must allow us to love more, not less. When we conceal grief, we stymie the transformation of love from pain and suffering into pleasure, deeper beauty and genuine compassion. Reciprocally, love must allow us to grieve more. And it does, for the more we care for and love this world the more it breaks our hearts. Ultimately then, a sure measure of our integrated love is the degree to which our hearts have broken open and recapitulated that breaking by staying profoundly open. In this, paradoxically, we can find both a concrete and ineffable wholeness, beauty, appreciation, and an abiding care for the welfare and fulfillment for all of life.
When we grieve something we realize how much we love it, how much it has meant to us. This experience opens us to value other things that we love; that is, if we are not afraid of grief and its attendant heartache. In one way, religious notions of salvation can be a seen as another way to stave off feeling badly, as can the idea of romantic love—that someone else is going to make us happy and whole and disappear our problems.
I do not advocate seeking out heartache, but it is amazing the lengths to which humanity will go to stave off psychological pain, to the point of pervasively denying reality. Perhaps this is because pain is a taste of literal death, as are illness and trauma. We intuit that nothing will feel as bad as to die, literally. I go so far as to say that our fear of pain, as a taste of final death, is at the root of personal and planetary suffering. For we equate feeling badly with suffering. But, pain is not suffering. Suffering is, in fact, the refusal to risk or to deal with pain. Ironically, suffering is what happens when we see things non-poetically, one-sidedly, rather than paradoxically, more wholly, as the interdependence and inter-promoting properties of dark and light, Yin and Yang.
Yin-Yang theory is one of the few practical, non-dual gems of ancient wisdom we have to illuminates spirituality in everyday life. Yin and Yang are integral to Taoism, the pragmatic philosophy of living in harmony with nature, and to the practice of Chinese medicine. I am grateful for my training in Chinese medicine, to be been versed in this dynamic, profound and ultimately practical model of living that allows us to richly appreciate healing, spirituality, sustainability, ecology, economics, and all aspects of life. The key to Yin and Yang theory, and its stamp of validity for me, is both its poetic and literal embrace of dark and light, good and bad, visible and invisible, happy and sad, positive and negative. These are the paradoxical, dialectical truisms that comprise the ever-changing, ever-diminishing and simultaneously regenerative flow of life.
The unity of Yin and Yang, as depicted in the Ying-Yang symbol, can be summed up as the fundamental interplay and unity of dark and light. Only when dark and light transform into and promote one another do we achieve true wholeness. This is the law of nature to which we are all subject. All of reality a we know it follows the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. When we can celebrate this cycle in our daily lives, we live a taste of the great fear at the end of our lives for which we invent our religious beliefs and unduly protect our attachments—to avoid facing the inevitability of death.
Daily disappointments and losses cut our attachments, exposing our fears and vulnerability, challenging our instincts for survival on all levels. Yet, if we can breathe deeply and allow our hearts to engage their transformational nature, of turning pain into positivity, then we can find more peace, freedom, and wholeness. The bonus of embracing and being transformed by our daily declines—our small deaths—is that we get to live more fully while still alive. Is it any wonder then that the French word for orgasm, petit mort, translates literally as “small death?”
Figurative death, when it is transformative, (as all declines potentially are) is ultimately an ecstasy, an orgasm of the heart. At our literal death, we do not get the opportunity to transform our lives; all we really know is that our physical bodies decay. Ironically, when we unilaterally deny and try to avoid death via our rejection of embracing the relatively smaller daily heartaches, our lives become a kind of sleepwalk. This happens when we do not have the courage to embrace the inherently transformative nature of our own hearts to allow pain to transform us into a generous and integral spirituality. When we do not embrace our petit morts, we perpetuate the horror we supposedly fear so much in the future. The antidote is to die, figuratively, today, so that we can truly come to life while we are still alive.
Emotional transformation is a radically creative effort. Transformation is the key to unite the polarities, the paradoxes as seeming contradictions, of life—dark Yin with light of Yang, as the circle of life. Staying close to paradox is to stay to the path of courgaeous spirituality, wholehearted love. The key to living with a heart of transformation is courage, the courage to honestly and frankly face and embrace the painful aspects of life at face value, yet to deal with this pain in an utterly creative way. After all, happiness is not the opposite of suffering. Transformation is. The great irony, the pitfall in the unilateral pursuit of pleasure, is that suffering results as the attempt to avoid feeling bad. The more we avoid inevitable or extant pain, the more deeply our suffering becomes entrenched in our hearts and the farther we arrive from freedom, deep love, and connecting with —especially giving to—the world in a meaningful way. Indeed, when we avoid the beauty of paradox we live out the horror of its irony.
When we can embrace the difficulties and pains of love and transform them into the feel-good qualities of compassion, depth, richness, gratitude, appreciation, beauty and wonder, we make love more all-encompassing, holistic in the deepest sense. This way, we allow love to be as powerful, as big, as whole, as unifying as what we bill it to be. We transform our hearts into the strongest emitters of energy on the planet, figuratively speaking anyway!
As part of humanity’s long history of denial and attempt to stave off feeling badly, we invented a heaven where everything is perfect. We believe in reincarnation so that death becomes not as terrifying as it really is. We abdicate our sensibilities to a distant, invented God, or an imagined perfect “light,” instead of discovering the inherent nature of morality and compassion in our own hearts via the embrace of darkness for light. We have invented millions of rituals to stave off anxiety. We have created fairy-tales of resurrection to justify a belief in our own immortality. We pray to make ourselves feel better, as wishful thinking to avoid facing the difficult and tragic realities we cannot control. These same challenges, ironically enough, free, deepen, and honestly spiritualize us. At some point we discover first-hand that a hellish life is what we live for having invented a hell and heaven in the first place.
When we take away the magical props of religion we are left with the cold hard facts of life. If we take away our addictions, obsessions and compulsions we are more apt to encounter more cold hard facts of life. If we dare to abandon, even temporarily, our compulsion to pursue the less benign assuagers of anxiety and disappointment, such as excess sex and culinary indulgences, we are also left with more of the same facts of life.
But the hard facts of life are really not so bad. To the sincere and grateful, to the insightful and courageous, the facts are certainly more desirable than chasing a life of superficial pleasures, religious delusion, and New Age fantasies. Why? Because life’s challenges and pains hold within their seemingly impenetrable shell, their seemingly endless spooky corridors, a graceful, deeply compassionate path to freedom, fulfillment, and ease in our own skin and in the world. When we relinquish escape into fairy-tales we are left in the seat of real possibility for transforming our lives and our spirituality, if we have the courage and creativity to appreciate and persevere through the paradoxes that integrate our spirituality in the world.
When we sit in the seats of our bodies we are confronted with the challenge of discovering pleasure and fulfillment by other means, specifically may I suggest, by amplifying and beautifying the ordinary aspects of life. We do this, however, not so much by changing outer reality, but by unwinding what pains us about reality. As a result, we find more richness in solitude. We find more succor in meaningful friendships. We discover more wisdom, amusement, and bewilderment in nature. We find fulfillment in exercising and deepening our creative capacities. We find pleasure, even ecstasy, in taking care of our physical health, even as we realize our bodies as a locus for the more intangible riches of life. We find peace in the clarity of our hearts. We find god and grace in the transformation of our difficult emotions. We find emotional release in the welcoming of sadness. We find perfection in the truth (supported by real evidence) of our intuitions, in an abiding “yes” to all that befalls and uplifts us. We find heaven right here in an increased focus on the ordinary, which becomes extraordinary when we carve out more room in our hearts for appreciation.
The paradox is that the more we embrace what breaks us open, the more we deeply appreciate life’s simple pleasures and beauties. This is a radical inner and outer sustainability because we are filled with so little, which is so much. This deepening focus on the ordinary world and the everyday good and not so pleasant and random facts of life is consolidated, if you will, when we cease to pursue make-believe and band-aid remedies for our pains and challenges—the very superstitious and fallacious constructs of religion and fantastical spirituality.
Instead of believing the highly unlikely possibility that we are reunited with our lost loved ones in heaven, the more realistic and integral spiritual response to the sadness and devastation that follows loss is to mourn. The grief of mourning is what I call “the great dissolver of pain.” It is a beneficent acid to the concretions of suffering that pervade and sabotage our hearts’ fullness. If we want to love, we should revel in grief, when it arrives, as it always will, because this world is temporal and our grounded hearts, if we allow them to be, are always in love with this world. No one escapes loss, and if one could, he would be less, for the blessings grief bestows would be lost on him: depth, care, compassion, groundedness, wholeness, appreciation, and ultimately the capacity to love more fully than if only mildly visited by the pain of loss.
If we remove the many beliefs and wishes that perilously and capriciously prop up our lives and keep our hearts floating above the seemingly scary nebulae of life’s underbelly, we would have to sink into a deep communion with the raw facts of life. If, on the other hand, we were to choose to say no to the fantastic, to the superficial, to the blatantly false precepts that prevent us from sinking into the frank reality of our hearts, into our bodies and lives, into the good Earth, into a care for one another, this could be the biggest empowerment and courageous move in all our lives. I am not saying we should not pursue pleasure; we should. But the danger is when pleasure in moderation (easily) becomes an excessive avoidance and denial of what does not feel good.
What is excessive? Excessive is when pleasure takes us away from (better, when we give ourselves over to) dealing with our difficult emotions and facing the not so pleasant aspects of life to the degree that we lose track of what specifically pains us. Pleasure is excessive if it prevents us from the experience of a richer transformative enrichment—that of abiding in non-pleasure until we are transmuted into fulfillment. Indeed, it is a question of degree—the degree to which we ignore what makes us deeper, richer people in favor of staying afloat for the misperception of fear-based survival instincts (and no, fear is not inherently bad!). The result is that we lose the sacred death that would bring us more fully alive than we might ever have imagined.
We all have enough pain from childhood to fill our cups of transformation for years to come. Since the pains of childhood—collectively the loss of love in its many forms—is essentially inevitable, then far from being made in the image and likeness of a perfect God, perhaps it is more accurate to say that we are born into an imperfect life, and our challenge as mature adults is to make perfect sense of life’s shortcomings by way of our courage to undertake the hero’s journey as a rite of passage into adulthood. In the spirit of negation, this journey is less the adopting of what we think to be “adult,” as it is the wholehearted transformation of childhood.
So, if we see religion and all manner of unilaterally positive, non-paradoxical and therefore non-transformational spirituality, as a means to escape the difficult experiences of life, the courageous question is how to make ordinary life, with all its foibles and failures, as good as what we imagine it to be in an after-life, in a proverbially perfect, make-believe heaven. Even if there is an after-life, for which we currently have no good proof, the transformation of our heartaches is still a best choice for living because it allows us to make the most of this life. If we also get to live a perfect life in heaven, then we have lived doubly richly!
The problem of leaving reality for non-reality is that we lose the experience of sanctifying ordinary life. We miss what is beautiful here and now. This life on Earth, and for the foreseeable future, is all we really know for sure. Yet so many choose to sacrifice present grounded reality, our own health and that of nature, for what we do not know to be real. On the other hand, if we embrace and undergo the transformation of our hearts we do not miss out on what we do know, what already is beautiful.
So, what if we forget projections and wishful thinking for future salvation? What if it is just a denial of the here and now, especially the challenging here and now? Perhaps we could more appreciate and protect nature, especially as that which we know sustains our lives, yet remains veiled from our restless minds. The deeper into projections we live, the messier become our ordinary lives and the more we need to escape into non-reality. On the other hand, appreciating what is both difficult and beautiful here and now only makes us more beautiful as we turn what is painful into a comprehensive vitality that emanates from us, rain or shine, through our work, presence, respect, grounded compassion, wisdom, and the richness of our person.
If evidence were the manifest world today, which it is, we see the loss of the sacred in ordinary life, and its result is the degradation of the planet and the desecration of nature and our own bodies—in the Botox facelifts, in GMOs and the routine spraying of our foods with untested chemicals, in increasing nuclear disasters and threats, in our poisoning and increased toxification of our environment, in so many human and animal rights abuses everywhere.
Losing track of the sacred is a uniquely human endeavor, per our definition of what is sacred and what is not. So much of what is considered worthwhile and worth saving and living for is infiltrated by religious manipulation and its fear of nature and the sacred feminine. For if we all are all going to heaven why do we need to care for the Earth at all? If we are pure light already, why deal with the atrocities, the suffering of others? Earth and the recesses of our sensual body-minds are, after all, full of pain, darkness, demons, sin and none other than the domain of hell. By perpetuating this infertile, blasphemous propaganda, most religions and one-sided, light-seeking humanity have greatly contributed to the stigma, the despoiling of the rich sacredness of our bodies and the planet.
It is our responsibility today to study, to sink into our bodies, into our dark and light non-dual hearts, into the good Earth, to learn first-hand the difference between myth and reality, between religious and New Age fear and what is on the other side of emotional courage. Our lives and the life of the Earth depend on it. Love depends on it.
About Jack Adam Weber:
Original Art by Andrea Smith. Visit www.andreasmithgallery.com for more information.