A week ago, I posted an essay about feeling deeply discouraged. My purpose was to whistle in the dark: I thought if I said out loud that I intended to persevere despite discouragement (or as I put it, to “proceed without the insulation of hope, the armor of faith in my own judgment”), I’d be more likely to follow through.
To my surprise and delight, I received a large number of messages in response to that blog post, more than to any other I have written. Virtually everyone who replied took time, many at length, to offer personal words of encouragement, allowing me to feel that my writing had indeed made a difference to them. Thank you!
It put me in mind of a story that is told about a Hasidic Rabbi, Simcha Bunim. It is said that he always carried two slips of paper: in one pocket, a message with Abraham’s words from Genesis, “I am but dust and ashes,” and in the other a line from Talmud, “The world was created for my sake.”
It is more in my nature to pull out the dust and ashes message. The other day, friends told me about a misfortune that had befallen someone who’d been unkind to me in the past. I was horrified to hear the loudly unpleasant gloating sound that instantly issued from my lips. “Whoa!” I said, wishing I could take it back, “I’d better rethink the way I’ve been congratulating myself on how well-balanced and developed I’m becoming. I still have an awful lot of work to do!”
Both messages are true, of course. It’s just that some situations require one truth for balance and some the other. But surely neither negates its opposite. As Gandhi said, “All religions teach that two opposite forces act upon us and the human endeavor consists in a series of eternal rejections and acceptances.” And so it does.
That is why I was so taken with a Web site a friend recently brought to my attention: Big Picture Small World. All of the brief Web films accessible from the left-hand column are worth seeing, and the one called “Half Full/Half Empty” is closely apropos Simcha Bunim’s and Gandhi’s point.
The lesson that seems to be writing itself on the world is the inseparability of spirit and practice. I really like the way Andrew Harvey put it in his writing on spiritual activism: “An activism that is not fed by mystical wisdom and stamina will wither in the fire of persistent and persistently exhausting disappointment and defeat and tend to create as many new problems as it tries to solve. A mysticism that is not committed to action within the world on behalf of the poor, of the oppressed and of nature itself condemns itself to futility at a time in which so much is at stake.”
Losing one’s balance so as to find it, finding one’s balance so as to lose it. It seems the interdependence of opposites is the essence of this life. I think I need to write that on a slip of paper….