Thursday, February 25, 2010

Growing Pains

Spring is bursting out all over. New buds are pushing out through the bark of last year’s branches. Roots bore deeper into the earth while new leaves like pendants wave in the wind. Sun and rain chase each other like birds across the brightening sky. The whole earth seems to be awakening from silence and shadow. With the patience of Job, life emerges from the dormant forms of last year’s leavings, rising like the sun and moon – inexorable, indomitable, selfless and unafraid.

In our own lives we too feel the restless stirring of new life emerging. We sat down to write a quick note to our dads and a nine page letter poured out. We began humming a tune under our breath at an important meeting and wrote a song walking back to the car. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and threw ourselves into a favorite recipe, the whole house cast under the spell of roasting garlic and rosemary. We faced down our old two-headed enemy resistance and avoidance and finally tackled that ugly pile of papers on our desk, reveling at last in the clarity afforded by uncluttered space and asking ourselves, why did I put that off for so long? Then we pick up the phone and make that difficult call – the one that’s been haunting us for months, even years – and learn the truth that by simply cultivating willingness we allow the irrepressible healing of love and forgiveness to well up and wash clean the wounds we have made.

It is the nature of all life to expand. In Indian philosophy, the word for ultimate reality is Brahman. The Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita teach that Brahman is not a god; it is the undifferentiated source of all things. Our idea of God is a stop-gap measure, a mere personification of this primal energy. Brahman is the underlying nature of reality itself, beyond all the dualities of being and non-being, existence and non-existence, God and not-God. Brahman is the ground of being, the sacred, formless source from which all forms are made. It is within all things. Everything is a manifestation of Brahman – every object, every thought, every particle of light. The whirling of electrons around nuclei, the energy of consciousness, the poppies in the field, the blue whales in the sea, the spiraling galaxies in the endless night, even the fabric of space and time itself – these are all Brahman. Therefore, so are we.

The etymology of Brahman is clear and revealing. The Sanskrit word Brahman comes from brih which means “to expand” or “to grow”. It is the nature of God-consciousness to continuously move outward, to manifest itself as ever-changing forms. We are one of those forms. When we come to understand this, we can finally be at peace and stop resisting the never ending restlessness within us, that unsettling habit of never being satisfied, of always wanting more, of feeling that no matter how great this moment is there must be yet another accomplishment to achieve, another mountain to climb, another song to write.

And in our calm and clarity we move closer toward understanding another fundamental truth: growth hurts. There can be no growth without the necessary dissolution of previous forms – forms that once meant so much to us. Growing means forever letting go.

Seeds burst and die as new sprouts emerge. Flowers whither and fade as fruit takes form. Growth is always a kind of death, and to deny this is to live forever in a debilitating lie. We must say yes to loss and transformation. We have no choice.

With every new achievement comes a host of new problems. You want fame? Now you can’t go anywhere without people bothering you. You want money? Now you long for the simplicity of the lean years. You want success and mastery? Now the demands others place on you become staggering. But they can never equal the ridiculous demands you place on yourself – the nagging, haunting worry that you are never good enough, no matter what you do.

But all of this is healed in the light of wisdom – the wisdom each of us holds deep within the folds of our awareness. We are enough, because we are the presence of God-consciousness in the world. We are the Presence of eternity in the field of time. While the forms may come and go, that which we really are was never born and will never die. Brahman is Life. “Life is not the opposite of death,” writes Eckhart Tolle. “The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite.”

Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and every other wisdom teacher worth his or her salt spent their whole life begging us to acknowledge this truth – we are not who we think we are. Wisdom means breaking free of our limited and limiting perception of ourselves and moving into the deeper realization of our identity with the infinite, eternal ground of being, what Jesus called the Father, what Buddha called Emptiness and what Krishna called the Self. When asked how he healed people Jesus answered, “It is not I who do these things, but the Father in me. And all of these things you could do, and more.”

Creating is costly. It hurts to be more. Most of us spend our lives cultivating comfort, asleep to the fact that comfort is the enemy of greatness. To expand and grow into what and who we really are is to stretch beyond our former bounds. Sometimes we feel like we’re breaking apart – and we are. Learning to love discomfort is the final hurdle. When we cross that hurdle and transcend our childish complacency we are born into a realm of limitless possibility. Knowing this, we can weather change with serenity, equanimity, generosity and compassion. The next time you find yourself surrounded by abundance, yet still yearning for more, you can smile and know that two contradictory truths are at play: we already have everything (because we already are everything), yet still feel the ceaseless expansion of our natures. The temporary forms that make up “the world”, including us, are forever emerging, expanding, colliding, conflicting, aligning, receding, dissolving and re-forming. It is our sacred right and duty to participate in this glorious emergence, this concert of co-operation. We are not to fear, avoid or resent this process. We are to practice loving-kindness, even and perhaps most especially toward ourselves. We are to join in and guide with a light touch this flowering and fading of which we are an inexorable part. This is our beautiful, glorious, heartbreaking life. These are our tears. These are the things we make. This is the light we bring with the flame of our growing awareness. These are our gifts. These are the things we must in the end let go. These are our growing pains.