Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When Bad News is Good News

"Cactus in Bloom"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

This is "Holy Week" on the Christian calendar - a full week devoted to telling stories about abandonment, betrayal among friends, agony, suffering, crucifixion and death. I know many Christians who want nothing to do with remembering the events of HolyWeek. They keep as far away from church as possible during this week feeling that they are depressed enough, plenty of problems in their own life without spending a whole week remembering Jesus' final time on earth, his betrayal, his cruel death - "bring out the Easter baskets, the bunnies and the brunch"

As I reflect on it, I think lots of people in today's culture shrink from any form of suffering or pain as quickly as they possibly can - take some pills, have a few drinks, smoke something, do anything you can to make it all go away. 

While I certainly don't think we should do our best to bring pain into our lives, I  am also convinced that the pain, suffering, the hard times and the dry spells in life that each of us inevitably experiences can also be enlightening moments for us - doorways to new growth and deeper truth. 

Buddhist teacher and nun, Pema Chodron, wisely observes:

Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment
anger jealousy and fear,'
instead of being bad news,
are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we are holding back.
They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we'd rather collapse and back away.
They're like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity,
exactly where we're stuck.
These moments are perfect teachers, and, lucky for us,
they are with us wherever we go.

I really wish I had learned this valuable lesson in the earlier years of my life- learning how to embrace, confront and learn from my pain would have helped me avoid so much suffering.

I think of those many times in my life when I felt abandoned, times when I was so angry because I felt I was being treated unfairly. There were lots of times when I felt weighed down by my own failures. And almost always, when those moments happened I "collapsed and backed away" from it all.

In those moments, I sometimes lashed out in anger and revenge, sometimes I just withdrew and wallowed in my own sorrow,  or found other ways to dull the pain; however, I see now that these moments were indeed perfect teachers for me, opportunities and doorways to a deeper and fuller life if I had the courage to  "lean in" and not "back away."

I now know that most of the "bad news" times in my life were actually heralds of good news.  Whenever I embrace failure I find a great source of strength, and my resentments, jealousy or envy of another have taught me something about "me" and my own growing edges. Even my bouts of physical suffering, a surgery, a broken arm were always moments when I was able to blossom and bloom because I was vulnerable enough to reach out to others for help in those times. 

The desert where I live continually teaches me something of how the bad news' moments in life are often fraught with good news.  I am surrounded by ugly, spiky, thick-skinned cacti growing everywhere in the driest rocky desert sand and yet these cacti are brimming with beauty and life. In fact there is no more beautiful flower in the world than a bloom that sprouts out of cactus thorns. 

So it is with us - the most beautiful flowers of our lives are just waiting to burst out of our ugliest places. So "lean in," don't "collapse and back away." 

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"

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