Transformation Through Difficulty

The following is a transcript from a Unitarian ZOOM presentation on September 13, 2020.

A woman is interviewing for a job, and at one point in the interview she is asked: “What is your biggest weakness.” Without hesitation she replies, “Honesty.” The interviewer seems puzzled, and says, “I don’t see how that could be a weakness.” And she replies: “I don’t give a damn what you think.”

For honesty to be mindful, it needs to be both true and helpful. Self-honesty is usually more helpful when paired with kindness. It’s important that we not judge or condemn ourselves. With a little gentle self-observation, your world will become more open.
Mindful observation of what is really true in our lives can lead to transformation. Transformation is beneficial change that leads to a wider, more insightful view of ourselves and the world. We may discover meaning, love, or have a breakthrough experience that leads us beyond what was previously known. Please keep in mind that transformations generally take time to stick, to become a natural inclination. And many of us, definitely me included, sometimes require challenges and difficulties to motivate a change in perception or consciousness. Witnessing our difficulties may take both personal courage and a willingness to be supported by something divine. And I should add that some difficulties may require professional assistance, and that assistance could become part of a transformation.

Now, I’d like to tell the story of Kafka’s doll. Franz Kafka may be best known for the short story: The Metamorphosis, in which a man wakes up having turned into a beetle stuck on its back. So it is a bit ironic that this last little story from his life is heartwarming. And it might even be true.

Franz Kafka, the story goes, encountered a little girl in the park where he went walking daily. She was crying. She had lost her doll and was desolate.
Kafka offered to help her look for the doll and arranged to meet her the next day at the same spot. Unable to find the doll he composed a letter from the doll and read it to her when they met.

“Please do not mourn me, I have gone on a trip to see the world. I will write you of my adventures.” This was the beginning of many letters. When he and the little girl met he read her from these carefully composed letters the imagined adventures of the beloved doll. The little girl was comforted.
When the meetings came to an end Kafka presented her with a doll. She obviously looked different from the original doll. An attached letter explained: “my travels have changed me…”

Many years later, the now grown girl found a letter stuffed into an unnoticed crevice in the cherished replacement doll. In summary it said: “every thing that you love, you will eventually lose, but in the end, love will return in a different form.”

True love, as an aspect of being, is always available. It’s good practice to cultivate love. Over time, love can become one of our default settings for the way we perceive life. Where true love is shining, there are no opportunities for fear, hate, or greed to influence our beliefs, thoughts, or actions. Perhaps, no one in our recent history knew this better than longtime civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis. He wrote: “Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates.”

In a conversation with On Being’s Krista Tippet, John Lewis said, “You have to be taught the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. And in the religious sense, in the moral sense, you can say in the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine. So you don’t have a right as a human to abuse that spark of the divine in your fellow human being. The movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest form of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you.” End quote.

So here’s a man who was able to face great difficulty and hardship by anchoring in love.

It’s possible that the average person may feel that they don’t have the right stuff to live such a heroic life. But we’re not being asked to live another person’s life, we’re asked to live our own life with whatever degree of courage and love we are able to cultivate.

Now, the inclination of the contracted self is to ignore or wall off the place where trouble lands in us. Or, the contracted self might project that trouble as part of the world’s trash. Our difficulties become disowned, through willful ignorance or chronic distraction, and our world becomes smaller.

Please recall that I said that we can cultivate courage and love, which means we will progress at our own pace and ability. The inclination of the open or whole self is to explore difficulties and pain as opportunities for growth, as motivation to label what is most important to this life, and as motivation to surrender to the flow of something divine. We can find sanctuary in the flow of something divine, sanctuary from the judgments imprinted onto our psyche by both ourselves and others. We are not looking for fame or approval, and we will not be perfect. But each of has our own song, unique skills and ways of being that we can cultivate and gift-give to our world. When we live through soul-space, or with the heart’s will, we are more likely to sing the unique song of our life – a song that will resonate with universal tone, a song that will harmonize with the Earth’s orchestra.

We need to pay attention. Yogi Berra was a good baseball player who valued observation. He was known for clever sayings, speaking with original mind. For example, he said, “It aint’ over till it’s over,” and “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” He also said: “You can observe a lot just by watching.” The following poem suggests you can observe a lot by watching yourself, those difficult felt senses that we may tend to block or ignore. This is a poem of transformation through difficulty.

The Felt Sense Prayer (author unknown)
I am the pain in your head, the knot in your stomach, the unspoken grief in your smile. I am where you hurt, the fear that persists, your sadness of dreams unfulfilled.
I am your symptoms, the causes of your concern, the signs of imbalance.

You tend to disown me, suppress me, ignore me, inflate me, coddle me, condemn me.
I have only your best interests at heart as I seek health and wholeness by simply announcing myself.

You usually want me to go away immediately, to disappear into obscurity.
Ignoring me, not exploring me, is your preferred response. So I implore you, I am a messenger with good news, as disturbing as I can be at times.

I would like to guide you back to those tender places in yourself,
the place where you can hold yourself with compassion and honesty.

I may ask you to examine your routines, breathe more consciously, treat yourself and the world with care. I might encourage you to see a vaster reality and worry less about the day to day fluctuations of life. I might have you laugh more, spend more time in nature, spend time every day, if only for a few minutes, being still.

I am your friend, not your enemy. I have no desire to bring pain and suffering into your life.

I am simply tugging at your sleeve, too long immune to gentle nudges.
You are a being so vast, so complex, with amazing capacities for self-regulation and healing.

Let me be a harbinger that leads you to the mysterious core of your being
where insight and wisdom are naturally available when called upon with a sincere heart.

This poem suggests that pain, or any discomfort, can be a teacher, perhaps increasing our motivation to end unnecessary suffering. Or, perhaps suggesting we explore our interior life, either because something is being expressed through our body – such as an identity as victim – or the discomfort in our body is reminding us of impermanence and the fact that we need to prioritize what is important. I know that this has really been true in my life, that physical difficulties have been a spiritual invitation to deepen my connection with the embodied divine.

As the Buddha taught: life has suffering. Our lives have the potential for joys and sorrows, wonder and strife. What can make unavoidable hardship and pain more meaningful is if we nurture the ability to learn, find meaning, and grow from hardships. Hardships aren’t a badge that we wear like matrys, but can be motivation to explore the depth of being, to surrender with discernment to the heart’s will and an expanded sense of self.

Carlos Castaneda wrote:
Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good and it will make you strong; if it doesn’t, it is of no use and will weaken you.

To have such clarity you must be discerning. Your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. Does this path have a heart? The trouble is, we rarely ask the question.  End quote.

And I might add that following a path with heart is synchronous with following the heart’s will. If you can find and follow a path with heart, you will be deeply challenged. And you will also find wonder and grace. You will begin to see the choices, choices you can make, that hold love. You can say yes to the uncertain moment, receptive to the charge of the heart’s will.

Can it really be done? These type of questions clearly need asking in our disconnected and conflicted world. One peaceful step, then another, our ongoing inquiry may be the invitation to a path with heart. And can we encourage each other for whatever small steps we make in community with the web of life. Finding love, especially in difficult times, will transform you, will reclaim your life to the extent that you are receptive, holding space for the energy of something divine.

Thank you for your kind attention.





This entry was posted in Secular Buddhism/Unitarian, Spiritual Practice, transcripts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *