I have been reading Pema Chodron’s book, Start Where You Are, and the above quote jumped off the page at me. What followed was a beautiful description of gloriousness and wretchedness and the necessity of both in our lives.
“Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and wanting it to be like that forever. The glorious becomes tinged by craving and addiction.”
“On the other hand, wretchedness—life’s painful aspect –softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose—you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
Like all human beings, I have experienced both, sometimes at the same time. My husband was ill for a few years, very sick for several months, and passed earlier this year. There was gloriousness; the bringing together of close, lifetime friends; the peaceful, sacred last few days; the outpouring of love and support afterwards. And there is wretchedness. Turning to tell him something I think he’d be interested in, and he’s not there; the knowledge of the milestones ahead that he’ll miss; the almost unbearable quiet of evenings where I watch the clock thinking how soon can I reasonably go to bed.
According to Chodron, we try to grasp onto the glorious and avoid the wretchedness, and that way will invariably lead to unhappiness and disillusion. The secret is to learn to sit with both and hold them both lightly. Robert Frost once wrote, “The best way out is always through.” I’m trying to not take shortcuts through my wretchedness; that by sitting with it, it will soften me. I’m also trying to not be unaware of the gloriousness in my midst; the family of cardinals in my backyard; the soulful gaze of my dogs; the trust others have in me.
My life’s work is to create a safe place for others so that they may wrestle with their wretchedness, gloriousness, and the messiness of being human. I am finding the foundation of both is mindfulness; a practice easy to define and incredibly difficult to practice. In my work with leaders, we’ll talk about techniques and strategies, mindsets and self-awareness. In the end it’s all enabled and made better by mindfulness.