February 15 – Being a Spiritual Warrior – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Until the heart becomes an inlet, it cannot be free.
It is true; there is such sadness in the world. But there is a difference between feeling the pain of things breaking, ending or drifting apart, and the sharper pain that comes from measuring the inevitable events of life against some ideal of how we imagine things are supposed to be. In receiving hardships this way, life is always a falling off. Life is hard enough without viewing all our pain as evidence f some basic insufficiency we must endure.
There is a beautiful Tibetan myth that helps us to accept our sadness as a threshold to all that is life-changing and lasting. This myth affirms that all spiritual warriors have a broken heart – alas, must have have a broken heart – because it is only through the break that the wonder and mysteries of life can enter us.
So what does it mean to be a spiritual warrior? It is far from being a soldier, but more the sincerity with which a soul faces itself in a daily way. It is this courage to be authentic that keeps us strong enough to withstand the heartbreak through which enlightenment can occur. And it is by honouring how life comes through us that we get the most out of living, not by keeping ourselves out of the way. The goal is to mix our hands in the earth, not to stay clean.
I remember, in getting to know a new friend, how we shared out stories in an increasingly personal way. As I kept taking my turn, I heard myself tell of loved ones who have died, of my struggle through cancer, of a marriage that, despite the deepest commitment, didn’t last, of years of being rejected as an artist, of losing a teaching job that was dear to me, of suffering a brutal estrangement from my parents – and just as I was feeling a strength come over me for facing life and being authentic, he wiped his mouth and said, “What a sad life you’ve had.”
It took me some time to withstand his judgement and his pity, but I looked at him across the night and kept breathing deeply though the break in my heart. In daily ways, we are judged, discounted, and even pitied for glories that only we can affirm. In the end, life is too magnificent and difficult for us to give away our elemental place in the journey.