You know how people might say something for some kind of ever and you just don’t hear it?

Maybe at some point you begin suspecting just how much you aren’t hearing. You get curious, and with curiosity comes the teensiest opening to the possibility that there could be a vast world of things you’ve closed yourself off to.

And then, seemingly suddenly, you find yourself able to hear some of the subtler pitches, you can see a bit wider, and then maybe your friend or teacher or lover, or maybe your mother, the president or Leonard Cohen (sorry, he just snuck in there!) says the same thing he or she always said but today it gets past the wall of made-up mind: you know, past all the calcified assumptions and hardened beliefs.

Maybe life has changed you —what with its losses and joys, its earthquakes and hurricanes, the comings and goings of people and things, your loves and hopes and dreams— softening you up a bit here, toughening you up over there… And suddenly that thing that you could not ever hear before has a place to land. Or an itty bitty piece of it manages to fly through the crack in the window of you and now it’s in, Baby, IN!

When I first heard Byron Katie say, Everyone always does the best they can, I thought, yeah, right! It sounded nice and all, but what about in such and such? Surely you don’t mean that person over there… And what about that night when I was 26? Surely I could have done better. By “could have” I really meant “should have.” And with this string of surelys came endless waves of shame. I was filled with argument.

But where there is argument there is doubt. And doubt can be a window. And windows can open.

So I asked: is it true I could I have done better when I was 26?

When all argument, excuse and defensiveness is seen through, I find that I can only answer no. Misguided though it was, it was me doing the best I could. Swallowing those pills was the best conclusion I could have come to in the equation of me on that night.

I needed help. I needed to wake up. I needed to not keep seeing the world and myself as I had been. After all, it wasn’t working, and I’d tried all I knew to try. I needed to give up. What I’d done so far, what and whom I’d turned to, hadn’t helped. Ultimately I’d have to meet myself, to look myself square in the eyes, in a way I had no idea how to do then.

Recognizing this now is sweet relief. It is me being a Morning Glory to myself. It’s me going back into the burning building of my life then, and pulling me out: “C’mon Sweetheart, this is no place for you to stay. There are aardvarks in your future! And kisses. And joy. You have no idea!”

Noticing the reality of the situation —that I did what I did and that I was doing the best I could— feels a whole lot like kindness. Like warm oil being rubbed, by the kindest of hands, onto old places of injury. And certainly me-then could use warm oil and kind hands.

Something happens when I meet my hardest places with the kindness of understanding: I begin meeting fewer and fewer people I can’t understand. And when I do find some thing or person that leaves me shaking my head self-righteously muttering “they should know better!,” I can only ever look back inside myself at what I haven’t yet understood, at what might still be hanging from the hook of shame.

This being human is amazing, isn’t it? The hard, the wonderful, the baffling, the mysterious, the all of it…

Rilke comes to mind:

Quiet Friend

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be the bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself into wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water speak: I am.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Sonnets to Orpheus, Part 2, XXIX

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