So wild flowers will come up where you are.
You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
“To be worn out is to be renewed.” ~ Lao Tzu
Pain and suffering are difficult gateways no one avoids. We wish it was different, but it is the way of life. They are fierce and necessary teachers at times, initiating us to disarmour, soften into vulnerability, into our heart. They wear the edges off our hubris and pride so we become humble and compassionate in ways we could not without the adversity. To feel more deeply at a cellular and soul level.
Pain and suffering did exactly this for me. Bit-by-bit, they crumbled the arrogant, overly-driven and insensitive man I had to be to overcome and conceal the trauma I experienced growing up and inherited from generations past. Strong was a necessary coping mechanism used to endure my childhood hardships, but was also a genetic programming past down to me, particularly from my father who grew up in wartime Britain and who eventually “escaped” his hometown of Swansea. Strength was also a large part of the the machismo male culture I, for a while, blended into as a sports-going teenager, that learned, like so many other young men today, to not be a “weakling”, to be tough and hide feelings.
For these reasons and so much more I will one day write about, I became armoured, rigid, emotionally disembodied and distanced. I became who I had to be. I learned to pedestalize strength. And so I had to learn weakness.
The gifts and purpose of weakness
“The first step of the journey is the admission of powerlessness. It is where no one wants to go and no one will go voluntarily. We have to be led there through our own failure and experience of death. In men’s work, we call it the Great Defeat. Franciscans call it poverty. The Carmelites call it nothingness. The Buddhists call it emptiness. The Jews call it the desert. Jesus calls it the sign of Jonah. The New Testament calls it the Way of the Cross. We’re all talking about the same necessary step.” ~ Richard Rohr
“One day, Vincent, when you embrace your greatest weakness, you will then embrace your greatest strength. And then you will be a man.” These were the wise words of a spiritual teacher I worked with in the early 2000’s, around the time I was beginning my spiritual journey. I didn’t realize how true those prophetic words would be, and how powerless I’d become over the following decades to embody them. Powerless through four years of living below the poverty line, feeling utterly lost, lonely and confused; as well as about eight years worth of a whole host of chronic, undiagnosable physical ailments that mystified both allopathic doctors and alternative healers.
These were but two (there were more) arduous rights of passage that brought me into the relentless, destabilizing crucible of weakness.
For the one who learns to rise above through strength, and stays there ignorantly, as I had, they identify with false power. A power disconnected from the heart, and rooted in trauma. A power that is wielded ubiquitously across our planet by those who have a vested interest in controlling others for further power. A power that defines a large percentage of our political leaders, police officers, athletes, and more. A power that makes us look good, be “successful”, keep busy, do it alone, be stubborn, be stoic, be smug, disconnect, hide. A power that puts up an image of “I got it”, “Look at me”, “I know”, “I don’t need anyone or anything”, “You gotta fight to make it in this world”, “I got it all together”.
A power that has yet to be initiated along the harsh and devastating pilgrimage into powerlessness, turning fragile strength into weakness, where humility and compassion is earned and true power can finally be embraced.
This is the sacred gift and purpose of powerlessness, of being stripped away, that comes with pain and suffering. It teaches us the wisdom and way of weakness in a world that pedestalizes strength.
Pain and suffering will find us more intensely as we continue on unconsciously dependent on and identified with old, engrained, trauma-rooted strength. Persistent pain and suffering is a determined messenger. It demands that we look under the firm cover of our well-worn social ruse and disguise, to weaken our dependable depended upon strength. Backwards as it may sound, weakness becomes our difficult and steadfast friend at these times. It comes to serve us in ways we don’t quite understand, certainly not at the beginning stages of our adversity.
Life won’t allow us to continue hiding in pseudo strength and persona (Greek for “mask”), numbed to our body, our soul. That’s just not how life works. And that’s just how kind life is. For, to be alive is to feel, even pain. To be dead is to be numb. And so with numbness due to armour, an initiation into weakness is eventually called for. To crumble the bulwark guarding feeling; to teach us to feel again just as we did when a little one; to feel, heal and therefore be alive. To bring us into humility and compassion, closer to our heart, and the hearts of others.
To bring us to our knees where we can finally open to our true, divine power.
“When the world pushes you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray.” ~ Rumi
Pain and suffering don’t leave according to our preferences, our timing. We cannot will them away, at least not the more deeply rooted ailments. (This I attempted many times.) They have their own intelligence, a hard message for us that usually takes time to integrate, sometimes decades, often lifetimes. They stick around, dedicated in purpose, until we finally listen and learn. Until the tight grip that keeps us together weakens enough to have us, at long last, fall beautifully apart, including all our ideas of who we “ought” to be and who we thought we were.
Heartbroken, but broken open. Humble. A profound moment of long-awaited grace that makes the stars and heavens shine that much brighter.
Weakened into love
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” ~ Jimi Hendrix.
With that kind of profound surrender and heartbreak, what’s discovered is what western society generally discards and ignores in all its hype and pedestalizing of false, ungrounded strength: a different kind of strength, authentically rooted, strength only found in weakness, in asking for help, in slowing down, in expressing emotions, in admitting we are scared, in admitting we know very little.
A newfound strength in vulnerability, surrendered to through the relentless initiatory crucible of powerlessness. Our real power, there all along, hidden on the other side:
The power of love.
“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor. Perhaps, in a way, that’s where humanity is now: about to discover we’re not as smart as we thought we were, will be forced by life to surrender our attacks and defenses which avail us of nothing, and finally break through into the collective beauty of who we really are.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Indeed, that is the secret and sacred agenda of all this: To awaken us to our true, unbounded, beautiful nature; to the only power that can positively change the world, a power birthed through the crucible of powerlessness.
Pain and suffering is the gateway, weakness our guide, love the overarching force behind it all, the fierce laws of love wearing us down in sacred service to love.
As much as we like to believe otherwise, love will do what it takes to wake us up. It both cares and does not care about what we want. It will wear us down, further and further, until we wake up from our limited shell of existence and to our divine wholeness. Until we remember that love is ultimately in charge.
Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart