We Are Not Alone

“How did it get so late so soon?” –Dr. Seuss

Dark times come in every life. Periods of bewilderment, feeling lost and hurt, being in darkness, this is part of being human. Remember that our greatest spiritual stories, including the story of the Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, and Moses, all include chapters about these great figures wandering in the desert, in the wilderness, sitting alone in darkness of the forest.

The Buddha, for example, left family and home, teachers and friends, all that was familiar and comfortable to sit in the forest in the dark. He sat for forty days. Waiting. Watching his mind states come and go. Not knowing what would come. We are told that Jesus spent forty days in the desert. Moses spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. While scholars believe that “forty” is not a literal number, it clearly means a good long while.

Allow yourself to relax and remember at a time when you felt lost, unsure of what would come. Remember how strange life seemed, but also relax into the realization that this is a human experience. It does not mean that you personally did something wrong. It means that you are human. The root of bewilderment means to be in the wilderness. Like Moses. Our great stories are not just “out there.” They point to experiences that are deeply encoded in us. We know how it feels to be lost. Deep down, we know what to do. As the U.S. Forest Service advises us to do when we get lost in the woods: Stop, stay calm, observe, take shelter if you can. In the forest, that might mean a mothering tree, as the Buddha found. But when we are emotionally lost, we can take refuge in qualities of heart: self-compassion, kindness, patience.

The Christian calendar includes a time called Advent.  Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.”  It is a time of opening to the darkness of the unknown, which in many traditions, including Buddhism, is the very definition of faith. Real faith, it turns out, is a willingness to open to the darkness, to be present to what is instead of grasping at thoughts and stories from the past. What will come? We don’t know. But what if we allowed ourselves to turn our attention to how it feels to face the unknown? What if we allowed this attention to be exquisitely gentle and accepting and spacious? Like being gazed at by someone who really loves you?

In times of darkness, it can help to call on great and good beings to accompany us–to literally picture ourselves being held in loving awareness. We can picture beings known or unknown, our mother or loving dog or a great spiritual being: Buddha, Jesus, Tara, Totoro, or that beautiful flowering Bodhi Tree that sheltered the Buddha during the long, dark night that preceded his awakening.

Don’t be shy. Allow yourself to picture sitting under that wonderful tree–or climbing up into the lap of the Buddha. Let yourself pray for help from Tara or Mary, and imagine how it feels to be held in vast and unconditional love. In the midst of allowing ourselves to feel nurtured and accompanied in this way, it might occur to you that as hard and mysterious as life is, it is also full of benevolent forces. Most of us spend so much of our time imagining that we are all alone, surrounded by cruel and indifferent forces. But our times of darkness and bewilderment always passed.  Allow yourself to remember how life went on. What happened after that loss or heartbreak? Note any unexpected good things that came along including the discovery of new capacities for understanding or compassion or strength.

Allow yourself to write down some of your wildest dreams for your life Write with abandon, until your deepest essence wishes begin to shine through.

Here, for inspiration, is C.S. Lewis: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

6 thoughts on “We Are Not Alone

  1. Thank you so much. I read this on Daily Good and followed it here so I could express my gratitude. I hope you feel held in loving arms.

  2. Such truly deep and eloquent words. Thank you so for putting them out into the world to share and strengthen us, even though we are strangers to you. Know that they have been deeply heard and will be the cause of innumerable
    ripples of kindness through the world. Blessings!

  3. Gracious admiration for these words of brilliance.

    The common element to various traditions for this time of year is light. The candles. Tinsel and blinking lights. Even the selected artwork – starry night!

    The ancients observed the world and the sky and celebrated when the light began to grow again, as each day the sun shines just a bit longer than the day before.

    Your words capture this sensation and joy.

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