The tremendous event of a human birth begins an epic story of both chaos and harmony, a profoundly familiar rhythm of life that we know and revisit on both physiological and emotional levels as long as we live. As soothing and essential as harmony is life demands disruption as well. Harmony is disrupted, and life-forms deepen in intelligence, evolve.
The word harmony evokes equilibrium and peace. When we idealize harmony we imagine the smooth melding of opposites. The music of life supporting us, internally and externally. The balm of a tropical breeze. Floating in the peaceful, friendly ocean of life.
Looked at closely, however, harmony reveals itself to be composed of both stress and rest in balanced relationship. Parts that on their own may be jarring can together form a harmonious whole. All of nature is a great mix of differences, and when the mix is harmonious, it nourishes us. We don’t usually dissect the opposing forces in a particular moment in a forest or a mountain top, but those opposites are there if we look closely. Individuals may be adrift and stressed on their own but harmonious in a couple, family, or community. Certain aspects of a person may be disconcerting, but when experienced as part of the whole contribute to the depth and lovability of that same person.
When experience is primarily harmonious, we have the sense of being held, either internally through our own equilibrium, or externally through the alignment of supportive outside forces. With too much rest, we lose the stimulation necessary for development. With too much stress, we lose the rest necessary for development. In harmony we have both.
Whether our early lives were hard or easy, they were the “nature” for our emerging sense of self. As you grew in age your awareness of yourself as a somebody grew. Maybe you had the great good luck and grace to be nourished in love and tenderness, and your sense of yourself developed easily and naturally. Many of us have had less than ideal sheltering, and that too has its own kind of surprising grace, a grace that is discovered when we are willing to meet the result of our less-than-ideal sheltering.
When our early nourishment has been less than ideal, the edge of uneasiness that accompanies our growing identity leaves the sense that there is a hole where there should be wholeness. We feel essentially unprotected, vulnerable. In search of protection and strength we attempt to fill this hole with any number of temporary plugs. We learn to be more lovable, or to know more, or to be tougher, or to need less, or to pretend that all is fine.
The perceived holes in our cocoons insist to us that something is needed, something is missing. We hope that others will give us back what we seem to inherently lack. And in harmonious phases, we do feel whole again, but the return of the sensed lack within us keeps proving that nothing and no one can permanently fill it.
When we are willing to stop avoiding the pain of this absence, to stop making war against this absence, to stop dramatizing it and stop filling it with pleasurable objects, the absence turns out to be the gateway to the living presence of wholeness. The inner incompleteness we experience calls us deeper into ourselves through pure inquiry. Pure inquiry reveals the insubstantiality of the perceived “me” that needs protection and completion. The hole itself, when experienced directly, is the window into revealed self-completion.
At the end of our first cocooning, after our time in whatever kind of womb we inhabited, the placenta burst. The onslaught of the hormonal sea at puberty ended whatever kind of childhood we lived in, the realities of adulthood disrupted our idealizations nourished in adolescence. Aging or disease of the body ends the sense of physical self as indestructible.
Do we learn? Mostly we haven’t, although wisdom does assert itself in bits and pieces along the way. Mostly we have fought every disruption as we have longed for what is lost. Mostly we have been surprised and even offended when disruption has appeared. Can we learn? Certainly, and it is time. Disruptions can be fully met. Rather than longing for what has passed, we can assess what we have lost and be open to what is next, bearing whatever pain any transition may bring.
This is not a recommendation for simple-mindedness or new age naïveté. Global disruptions demand attention of the highest order, and many of our personal disruptions do too. There is the possibility of all that is good being lost in any disruption, from the ending of our time in the womb to the ending of an era. The point is to realize that disruption and harmony are part of the same whole.
When we no longer simply mourn whatever has disappeared or fight whatever has appeared, we can discover what is not lost in disruption. In this discovery, a deeper, inner harmony is revealed. It is absolute. With awareness of the essential, undisrupted integrity of oneself, clarity of action and courage of inaction are natural and appropriate. We live without the need to search for fulfillment. We find it in who we are.
This blog is adapted from “Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, which was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.”
Gangaji will be offering a silent retreat in May at Fallen Leaf Lake in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.