Nothing is (inherently) bad, nothing (inherently) good.
Everything comes as a symbol, a teacher. What does this problem have to tell you?
There’s a concept in spiritual work that everything happens for my benefit. This is a confusing notion, especially when things that seem to be negative, painful - bad. It’s ridiculous to consider this without a depth perspective. So let’s give that a go.
In Soul Caller language, we have a parallel concept: It’s all for me. We assume that everything that happens in my life and in the world is for me. There are several ways to parse this: We can say, everything that happens is FOR ME, a gift, given to me by grace. We can say, everything that happens is FOR me; it’s on my team. It has my best interests at heart.
How can this be? How can this argument with my partner, this international pandemic, this death of a loved one, this political train wreck be a gift? How can it possibly be on my team?
Good questions. Let’s see.
First, when we say, everything happens for my benefit, what are we actually saying.
We are NOT saying: I should pretend everything is okay. We are not saying, I shouldn’t complain or express my feelings. Nor are we are saying, I should count my blessings - there are worse things happening to other people.
No. That is not what we mean.
What then DO we mean?
We mean that every moment (and everything within it) is given by grace - it is FOR me. This moment (and everything within it) is set here before me by Grace. Here it all is, a big pile of light and dark, up and down, good and bad and the choice of what to do with it is (always) in my hands.
In this way, everything that arrives is an invitation to make a choice. Is this a gift or an attack? Is this ‘for me’ or ‘against me’? Every moment, every problem, every person I encounter is an invitation to make this choice.
Is life a gift or an assault? A dance or a drama?
If everything that happens is FOR ME to meet, how do I know what to choose? How do I know how to meet this?
I find it helpful to ask questions. Where is the beauty in this problem? What is the offering in this crisis? Perhaps I am offered the chance to see myself or the world in a new way. Perhaps I am invited to pause before reacting, to open to what has been presented and allow it to open to me.
As I ask questions, I stay curious. I look for patterns. What else is happening here? What is that connected to? What does it remind me of? Seeing a difficult situation as a metaphor expands it in a way that also expands me.
The image of the pearl in the oyster comes to mind.
An oyster does not swim itself to the shore and offer itself to us. We need to swim down and look around underwater. We need to learn the oysters’ ways? To recognize which oysters contain pearls and how long we need wait to retrieve them. We need to work slowly, carefully and purposefully, without damaging the ecosystem where oysters dwell.
Without taking the oyster/pearl metaphor too far, here’s what I mean.
In order to get to the pearl hidden inside of a dark time, we need the sharp tool of discernment, the stamina of the pearl diver and the wisdom of the visionary - we need to see inside the shell, to view what is possible, what is hidden from the outside view.
To do this, a truly useful technique that I teach to members of my Soul Caller workshops is to look at the problem as a dream.
During this year of pandemic and quarantine and upheaval, I have been using a particular process quite a lot. I find it especially helpful on dark days. It came to me one afternoon in early summer of 2020 when I was feeling overwhelmed with worry over the state of our nation and the world.
It feels a bit like the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, in which we inhale suffering and exhale peace, and a bit like the Hawaiian practice of Ho’o pono pono, in which we approach the things we cannot bless by finding and forgiving their reflection in ourselves.
I offer it to you, in the spirit of the season - a few days after Imbolc, when Gaelic tradition marks the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox, and the return of the goddess Brigid to reawaken the earth. This festival reminds us that even though it’s still cold and the nights are still long, Bridgid is here, invisibly stirring the crocuses beneath the snow.
Anyway, here’s the practice.
Name, claim and bless all people and situations that make you feel triggered, isolated, outraged, overwhelmed, grief stricken and sad.
Here’s how it works.
Name the problem. Write or speak its name - you can do this in a journal, on the back of a napkin. You can do it in prayer or howling in the car.
It’s an ancient witchy practice which immediately delineates a boundary between the problem you’ve named and you. It also instantly shifts your perspective. You are no longer the victim of this problem. Now you are the witness, naming it. Walking around it. Giving it a look in the eye.
2) Claim. (I will share the this is the hard part.)
Once you have named the problem, become curious about it. Interrogate it, asking: Why are you here? What do you remind me of?
Imagine it’s a dream image and think of it as a symbol. Think of it as a message sent by a goddess that loves you without reservation. What might she have to say - what message might illuminate something about you, about your own life? For example:
Does that plumbing leak remind you of the leaks in your time and attention: the energy leaking into social media, down the drain of time wasting activities? Is that leaking energy affecting relationships that matter to me? How might I seal the energy leaks in my life?
Does this unreasonable boss (or colleague) remind me of my own unreasonableness with the people I manage: my children, our babysitter, my partner? This allows you to consider things from the boss’s point of view. Is she being demanding or does she see unrealized potential in you? Turn the mirror around: Are you unreasonably demanding that your boss live up to your standards? Are you unreasonably demanding with yourself?
Once you find the problem in yourself - symbolically or literally - you take the next step. Claiming it as yours and blessing it back into the good.
This plumbing leak was given to me so that I could see the leaks in my own energy. It was sent for me.
This unreasonable boss was sent so that I can see how unreasonable I am with others and with myself.
Once I have claimed the problem, I have let it inside of me. And that’s why this is the hard part.
We really don’t like having things we cannot bless inside of us. We tend to reject these aspects of ourselves and condemn them into shadow.
That’s why, once we see our own reflection in the problems that plague us, we must do the important step of blessing them into the wholeness of reality, the wholeness of ‘the good’.
3) Bless it back into the wholeness of the good.
This will require an inner turning - out of opposition to the problem, away from trying to fix, kill or destroy the problem. A turning toward willingness and trust.
I am willing for this person, this problem, this situation to exist (in me, in the world). I will not disown it. I will not condemn it. I am willing to see it - to name, claim and face it.
So, here us where some spiritual teachers would talk about transcendence. Here’s where you might read words about focusing only on the light, turning away from the problem.
Words that most of us (including many spiritual teachers) do not understand
We must take care when we come in contact with our own darkness not to bypass our own disgust, shame, reproach and condemnation of these aspects of ourselves.
We must find a way to be in an imperfect body, imperfect life, imperfect world without separating that body, that life, that world from blessing.
Which is where we come to the true meaning of the teaching: turn toward the light.
Transcendence grounded in reality. The ability to live in the world of pain and suffering without being of that world. The ability to see that everything and everyone is blessed.
I don’t mean that everything that people do is right. I don’t mean that we ignore the terrible things some people do. I don’t mean that there are not consequences for actions which harm others.
I mean that everything that happens is FOR you. And for me. And, yes, everything that happens is also for our enemy.
Nothing is inherently bad or inherently good. Removing the bad/good binary allows us to see things as they actually are. This isn’t bad. It just is. This isn’t good. It just is.
Everything is simply itself, sitting there, doing what it’s doing. Being what it’s being.
We are the one that calls it ‘bad’ and then condemns it and pushes it away. We are the one that calls it ‘good’ and clings to it, trying to keep and hoard it.
Without good/bad, everything flows as one offering. Everything that is, is. Everything that happens, happens.
From this perspective, we can bless whatever comes. We can imagine, this was sent for me. This is all for me.
Take a walk and sense Brigid’s presence in the shift from winter to spring. The goddess is everywhere, in the scent in the air, the slant of the sunlight. Listen for her voice in the chattering of woodland creatures coming back to life.
That’s a lovely metaphor to remember when dark days come for you - and they will, they always do . Remember Brigid and her swirling, life-giving presence. Remember that spring always comes.