For many of the early days of the New Year this year, I knew that change was coming. Gradually, as the days passed relentlessly along, I could sense it ever more strongly. Whenever I withdrew within myself, I could feel it approaching.
These days, when I am alone within myself, communing with my spirit, my inner world, there is a palpable lightness of spirit that had been absent for so long, I had almost forgotten what it felt like. When the opportunity presents itself to look closely into the eyes of another fellow traveler in this life, it becomes possible again to rediscover the reflection of the light of my own spirit in the other, since we are all of one spirit ultimately. We sometimes fail to see this light when our path is so overly preoccupied with temporal matters, and it requires us to find a way to step back in order to re-establish the link.
I was listening recently to the words of someone I consider to be a spiritual mentor, who said, “We think we are seeking the path, when, in fact, we are already on the path; whatever we are experiencing or enduring at this moment is the path.”
The path is me.
I didn’t always realize this. Especially after experiencing very stressful periods of time, I often thought that I was looking for a place to begin my journey toward the next part of my life; trying to find it and stay with it, to walk it enthusiastically, to exist within it. In much of my searching, there were times when I didn’t truly realize how much the act of searching was the path, and now as I approach what is sometimes described as “the autumn of my years,” the metaphor seems appropriate.
Within the time frame of the autumn season in this part of the world, everything seems so brilliant, so colorful, so clearly and extraordinarily spiritual, and when we pay close attention and keep our hearts and minds and eyes open, we don’t just sense the beauty, the vibrant colors, and all the sensual pleasures of the incoming season, we also appreciate the relief from the steamy heat of summer, which takes more of a toll on me physically as each year passes.
The gradual transition from the greenness of summer always seemed to linger endlessly as autumn approached in the distant years of my youth, and now I find myself hoping once again that my life’s path into the upcoming season will endure even longer than it did during the days of those tender childhood memories. I do not wish for a brief autumn, or a late autumn, or even an artificially extended autumn. I want a nice, slow, and gradual embrace of the natural gifts it holds.
The education in life we can receive when we study the transition between seasons, inevitable lifts my spirits during this time, and I always want it last and last and last. The only way for me to make full use of it, I’m afraid, is to dive headlong into it, casting aside what scares me about what may follow, and as glorious and beautiful and colorful and sensual as this “autumn within” may be, it suggests by its very existence, the coming of winter, after which the cycle repeats once again.
At different points throughout all the seasons of my life, I have had to endure and survive a variety of different kinds of suffering, causing me to withdraw from the temporal, while also creating an opening to the spiritual. I know there will likely be more suffering to come; the fact that I have survived this long is nothing short of a miracle. I have come close to death a number of times in my travels, and I have felt at times as though I had clearly landed at the very lowest point of my humanity.
I have been deprived of basic needs. I have gone hungry at length. I have been lonely and alone many times. I have felt the sting of bitterness and the weight of relentless obligation. During those times, it often seemed as though nothing would go right, nothing will solve it or reverse it, and then just waiting—just waiting long enough—remaining open to what is possible, to forgiveness, and to letting go, made all the difference. If you can do enough of that, you can get through to another day, and that other day quite often ends up being beyond anything you could have imagined.
I have spent a great deal of time in this blog describing my search for my place, for my entryway to the path of the spirit. I feel strongly that I am headed in the right direction, but remain uncertain about just which direction that might be. I have worked on improving my intuitive senses, hoping to piece together a glimpse of what might lie ahead on my path, and connect whenever I can to others who are searching in their own way for the path ahead. As I embrace the possibilities that appear in life, I enthusiastically engage other like spirits in a way that I hope will bring some insight and clarity to my own search, but also, by extending myself, my spirit, to others, I am hopeful that it may lead to some mutually beneficial outcome.
In the film, “The Tree of Life,” Jessica Chastain’s character describes the way of grace as one that “…doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. It accepts insults and injuries,” in opposition to the way of nature which “…only wants to please itself…to have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world around it is shining and love is smiling through all things.”
She concludes her description by saying that these ways “…taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end,” and she vows to be true to the way of grace “…whatever comes.” I believe that the way of the spirit is the way of grace; it is the way I must go to carry forward, and to remain open to whatever comes.
I am not completely a creature of this world. I am in this world, but not entirely a product of this world. I arrived in this world some sixty-five years ago, having spent most of it searching, struggling, and trying to understand. I have written hundreds of thousands of words, attempting to articulate what it has been like on the journey of a lifetime. I have done all that I can to build a foundation of the spirit in my life, and I have had some marvelous periods of construction and made important progress in spite of a number of long gaps in understanding, and I strive continually not only to reach the spirit, to embrace the human spirit within me, but also to see it in others.
At times, I have been criticized for spending so much time on such an elusive understanding, and there have been those who haven’t viewed my efforts as being particularly useful, as well as some who have questioned my judgement. Some of my choices may have been more destructive than constructive at times, but when I have been down—all the way down—scraping the bottom—I’ve had to fight my way back; claw and stretch and reach—paddling furiously in the waters of uncertainty and mystery.
At the end of it all, I seemed to understand better; occasionally having a small, incremental moment of progress, and it helps me to continue. I did not ever suppose that I could, at critical moments, have the courage to make the choice to initiate change in my life, but somehow I have.
4 thoughts on “Autumn of My Years”
You are correct that many of us miss that the walk we are on is the Path of our life. We are so consumed by reaching the next achievement that we far too often are oblivious to the pleasures of the reality in which we are occupying. Likewise, we also concentrate on the pains and toils of our life becoming completely oblivious to the beauty within the chaos. And then there is, perhaps the greatest loss to each individual, ignoring the yearning of our Spiritual growth. Our youths are usually consumed with ignoring the spiritual aspects of our beings altogether or just by fulfilling a part by placating our elders and their sincere expectations. Most folks come to a critical junction in their lives that demands a choice with clear consequences to be accepted. Oft times, that choice silences the spirit because it has deviated from the path they should have chosen but rejected. Regardless, both paths (self-focused or outward focused) bring consequences coupled with variations of pain. As I have often stated, Life-pain is the vehicle to true wisdom. Short term or self-inflicted pain brings knowledge, hopefully; but life pain is long endured bringing many lessons if one chooses to face them. Life-long pain and suffering brings you to many cross-roads demanding you face them or retreat into yourself and hide.
As you stated, you felt as if you moved through each hardship resulting in a marginal advancement. Advancement is the key regardless of the measure, for many have stayed stuck in life and are devoured by their misery, thereby; poisoning all. I will have reached my 48th arduous year by the end of this month but I am in the winter of my lifespan due to a disease that started to consume my physical humanness from the age of 5. As you know well, physical reality is only a single facet of what completes us human beings but it is this broken body that has been my vehicle to traverse my path. Suffering and pain are common bedfellows of mine but so are perseverance, courage, fortitude, faith and an insatiable hunger for all knowledge in the physical and spiritual realities. I have so much more to learn regardless of whether my journey completes this very night or 20 years from this moment. I consider myself blessed as many my age relentlessly pursues wealth, fame, stability or acceptance but I know these are veiled facades of someone else’s perception of success and happiness. The world of humanity, as a group, offers little except materialistic gain but they do not know joy, true love, sacrifice or faithfulness. Individuals that break from the accepted mold discover so much more to everything. I appreciate all of Creation in its stark beauty and cruelty devoid of mankind’s meddling. I appreciate human success but recognize it has had a very steep cost. However, I greatly value the beauty and passion humans can create in the arts and moments of bravery. We are so complex and so very fallible but I see great riches in how one individual rises from a failure, tragedy or personal set back. The story is in how we rise and how many we bring up with us instead of how many are being crushed due to our success. The world craves the “self-made person”, which does not exist. Knowing this we should look for the people who have overcome extraordinary obstacles refusing to sacrifice any one person’s life, livelihood or dignity in the process. The true heroes, the truly extraordinary people in this world can be evaluated by the people, never being counted by doer, who are made better for having known you. In fact, if you can lead one person on a voyage of introspection then you have accomplished more than the maker of a vaccine. Sounds ridiculous, I know, unless you ponder the unknown. What if that one single person is someone like Billy Graham, who led hundreds of thousands to the saving grace of Jesus. Or Corrie Ten Boom, who saw evil in person and spread love and faith from her time in her earthly hell? Each person they impacted went on to impact hundreds of others and so on. Contradictorily, what if one cruel or angry word led an injured, angry child to become the next despot who would go on to hurt many? We affect one another whether we mean too or not but, we, as writers can expect our words to live far beyond our physical humanity and that thought is humbling to me.
You are veteran of words so you carry a heavy burden as well because our words are permanent especially when read by another. If that one reader ponders them beyond the time it takes to read them then his or her thought processes changes, even incrementally. The reader may be spurred on to act or think and if we are really fortunate both will occur. If that leads to introspection then the gateway to change may bound open.
Certainly, we cannot control how anyone will react to our writing but I know that I always pray that my words inspire, insight to change and best of all it will cause a period of introspection in someone’s life. I consider the best praise of my writings is when it serves as a gateway to pursue deeper meaning for the reader. I usually take a more creative vein in my writings rather than introspective because that is where my literary strength takes form but I appreciate your style with great respect as it causes the reader to think, even if it is only in disagreement. In fact, I learned long ago that if you irritate the reader with your writing then they will ponder it for at least a week or longer but if your writing is pleasurable to them then it is more like being gifted by seeing a brightly colored butterfly make a clumsy flight along your path. Anger reacts immediately with a lack of intelligible responses or after a period of brooding. Pleasure is enjoyed and appreciated but easily replaced by the worries of life. Of course, there are those people who see both types and can appreciate, articulate, categorize and file all their experiences into multiple levels of their new realities that include the physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological and even metaphysical. Those folks have bore the most ferocious fires of life and have emerged better by some increment even amongst the most savage experiences. I can see deeply, I appreciate greatly, I am deeply passionate in my beliefs and I welcome my winter with an eager embrace while understanding my path’s conclusion is not up to me unless I surrender and that simply is not in my make-up.
Thank you for the gateway to introspection today John. It was a welcome off-ramp to my daily routine.
Hello again, Tina,
It isn’t often that I receive such a robust and thorough response to my blog posts, and I believe you may now hold the record for length in my comment section! I am delighted to respond to such a well thought out and articulate commentary on a subject that is central to our humanity and to our lives on the path.
It is essential that each of us examine our lives in a way that gives us the best chance for a good outcome along the path, no matter what obstacles or challenges present themselves along the way. Each life is precious in its own way, and it is so easy to get caught up in the flurry of demands competing for our attention, that we find ourselves becoming oblivious to “the beauty within the chaos.”
There may not be any aspect of our temporal lives more urgently in need of our attention than our spiritual growth, and while our spiritual nature is not always as immediately obvious as an urgent matter, it doesn’t take long to see the consequences of silencing the spirit when a crisis comes along, and as you so astutely observed, when the inevitable crisis appears, “Most folks come to a critical junction in their lives that demands a choice with clear consequences to be accepted.” And while the path to wisdom inevitably involves a portion of suffering or pain in acquiring it, life is plenty painful enough on its own, and if we can minimize the amount we inflict upon ourselves and others, then it seems to me we will benefit more in the long run. It isn’t always possible to avoid painful experiences, and we often struggle with difficulties that are not of our own making, but being able to face them and to work to resolve them will generally only occur with practice and determination. A recent Ted talk described the single-most important attribute in any success as being “grit.”
Your life has been a great deal more challenging than most, and your persistence in the face of such adversity is an inspiration to me and to each of the readers on your blog. Suffering is something we all share to some degree, but you have created a life that not only faces up to the challenges you have, but one that goes well beyond the mere endurance of adversity and pain, and one that lifts your level of humanity to a higher state of being, making it possible to overcome greater challenges. Lots of people think that their own lives contain more suffering than they deserve, and I have always expressed the belief that sometimes we earn it and sometimes it just arrives undeservedly, but the same is true for the degree to which we enjoy our lives. We cannot live by anyone else’s “perception of success and happiness,” any more than we can truly appreciate how others suffer in their lives. What usually is clear though is when you encounter someone who, in spite of their suffering, is living the best life they can, and those of us who suffer to any degree, and in all the different ways that pain can manifest, must often “ponder the unknown,” while attempting to rise above it, and you are doing just that.
I do take the responsibility of writing about my subjects very seriously, and a great deal of introspection, contemplation, and determined thinking goes on behind the scenes for any serious writer. Many of the visitors here have expressed their desire to pursue a deeper meaning, and there is a value to those efforts, but the creative expression can be equally effective in responding to the “ferocious fires of life,” Your creative and thought-provoking posts are clearly the result of someone who “can see deeply, appreciate greatly, and who is deeply passionate in her beliefs.” Your courage in facing up to your challenges and your willingness to embrace the coming winter is a testimony to the advantage of your approach to life, and that you are so generous in sharing it with me is a gift beyond words alone.
Please take care of yourself and I hope you will take that off-ramp anytime you can use a diversion for introspection.
Warm regards…..John H.
Thank you John. I am sorry for the delay but I did not get notifications. I greatly appreciate your posts and your thoughtful responses. I pray you are well and that your writings continue to be so empirically and spiritually fulfilling for all!
And I am grateful to you as well, Tina, because you consider what I write important enough to compose such thoughtful and considered words to share with me in response. It’s always appreciated when someone like you gives my postings such a careful reading, which allows me to respond at length. Conversations about these ideas are hard to come by, but you have been quite generous with your time and energy here and it is definitely spiritually fulfilling in that way.
I am well and hope the same is true for you. Warm regards…John H.