When a sleep disorder forced me to retire at 57, and six months later I developed prostate cancer, I reacted to life as if the music had stopped.
My misguided belief that life should always rest on an even keel appeared in the literature more than one thousand years ago in the form of a Zen story. A student said to his Master, “I had a terrible meditation session.” The teacher nodded his head knowingly and responded, “It will pass.” The next day the student again sought out the teacher and said, “I had a great meditation session.” The Master nodded his head and said, “It will pass.”
Life for the Zen Master involved accepting loss for what it is—an unavoidable part of living, something that necessarily contains both pleasure and pain.
Many people who have been intensively hurt vow never to allow themselves to become vulnerable again. I did that by initially withdrawing from the compassion of friends and numbing my mind by staying in bed for three months watching endless reruns of Law and Order.
Vegetating in bed did cushion me from painful emotions, but it also diminished my life. There is an old martial arts saying, no pain, no gain. I think the same applies to a willingness to experience pain as a price for recovering joy. Tibetans say that you can’t have meat without the bone or tea without leaves. My mother said it to me somewhat differently—life is a package deal.
You can insulate yourself from pain, as I did, but in the process you stop feeling. Now, six years after my diagnosis, I think of life as an intricate dance with twists, turns, dips, and wild spins. Those who sit and watch can never experience the dancer’s joy.
Yes, the dancers may risk embarrassment by fumbling over their feet or bumping into each other. But if you watch them carefully, there will be times when they are so in-sync with the music, you couldn’t imagine one without the other. And by their ecstatic expressions you can tell the joy they are experiencing is worth the risk they are taking.
But unless you are willing to get on the dance floor, you can only experience their joy as a spectator. Unless you’re willing to become vulnerable, life will pass you by.
(To read my poem, A Bean Hollow Goodbye, which is related to this article, press here.
copyright 2009 Stan Goldberg, stangoldbergwriter.com
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