What that might really mean in a brave new world
As sometimes happens, I suffered a loss yesterday, not through death but through misstep. It wasn’t retrievable. Doesn’t matter. Life does that, and especially right now, no matter how hard we try you and I are going to fuck up sometimes. That said, in a world where existential questions beg our attention as we lose more and more of our friends and family to Covid, as we lose more freedoms to protect ourselves and each other not only from Covid but also from folks who are having a hard time with life in general not going their way, it might be a time to look at what payment and sacrifice might mean at a higher level.
The investment may well pay off for those of us needing a little peace.
That would be a lot of us, in fact, albeit the good news is that most sane folks wouldn’t be wielding AK-47s to handle a customer complaint at Walmart.
If you’ve been feeling enough pressure lately- and my hand is up- that the slightest request feels like an ENORMOUS ask, that’s a clue. I’ve been there for a while, given this year, which is why, given the events of the last few weeks, I am turning more and more to what I need to sacrifice in order to gain that peace of mind. What payments have come due.
The concept of payment and sacrifice in this sense is perhaps a little different from the way we most often think of those words.
Let me put it into context, if I may.
About this time last year I was in Ethiopia on a horse ride through the Bale Mountains. With our small group was a very bright, talented English woman who was a musician and pentathlete. We spent a lot of time riding side by side and exploring ideas. She was about half my age.
I thoroughly enjoyed her company. That was until I made a comment one day about the idea of how we “pay” for our spiritual growth, that evolving and awakening take work, and in some senses, sacrifice.
She bristled so much at this notion that she removed herself from my company and spent the rest of the trip with her fellow English roses. That was her perfect right.
Her difficulty, and I think it’s widely shared, is that you and I shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything for what we want. She found the idea abhorrent. Most do. Especially if we don’t quite understand the terminology in context.
She believed, as it relates to our personal development, it should be an easy uphill jaunt. No failures, falls or side steps. I remember being young, too.
With respect to both my erstwhile friend and those who are reading this, I respectfully beg to differ.
The idea of sacrifice, in the existential sense, is that in order to grow into something larger, we have to forfeit something we hold dear, but which, actually, costs us dearly. Such as, our self-importance. The need to be right (at others’ expense). Time, if you will, spent in meditation or study or in the deep work of looking hard at ourselves in ways that can be damned uncomfortable.
Effort put into seeing ourselves as we are, not as the avatar we put out into the world as our mask, our front.
If I am unwilling to make efforts to grow, to give up my egocentric behaviors and beliefs, then I likely stay stuck where I am. The path in fact gets much harder, albeit I may not recognize that. The more I struggle to stay the same, the more energy I’m putting into trying to either change or reverse inevitable forces that move me forward. How I move forward, as in through time, through life, is up to me.
Let’s discuss time. For time is one critical sacrifice that many of us are loathe to give in exchange for something else of far greater value.
The time you and I spend in learning about our area of spiritual belief is, in effect, sacrifice. We are setting aside our selfish desires (movies, sleeping, video games, sex, whatever is a lot easier and often more fun) to create inner transformation. We may not have thought about it this way before, but it might help to frame it differently. In the whole of our lives, only a certain amount can be set aside for transformation. The rest of that time is just life: work, sleep, housework, raising kids, education, the like.
Depending on what you believe, it might well be plenty enough for you to give those beliefs a Sunday morning. Or a Friday or a Saturday, or all three, or a lot more. The question isn’t just the activity, it’s the quality of the activity.
Your butt or mine might be seated in a pew, we might be kneeling at an altar, or prostrate in front of a cross or a Buddha statue. However, if we’re not actually there in that moment (holy shit did I leave the oven on? I wonder if that cute girl on Tinder responded yet?) then there’s no sacrifice involved.
Real payment, real sacrifice, means being utterly present for our Deep Work, and giving all we have in that moment. Taking responsibility for a way of thinking which doesn’t serve, a series of actions which we regret, a habit of living in fantasy instead of the real world of feelings, children, emotions, love, loss and pain.
Forfeiting, at least for a while, the compulsion to escape into something (doesn’t matter the distraction) in order to stand in front of it forces growth.
Do it enough, and as with all good things, this kind of payment, of sacrifice, may result in our ability to give up our negativity, our anger, our inherent and very human laziness and evolve into what we can be this life.
What else am I willing to sacrifice? My pride, my vanity, the high opinion I have of myself, my need to be right or superior, my demand for attention?
When I am willing to forfeit those things, or even a little of those things, I make room for real growth. Some would say God, some would say Goddess, some might call it Grace. I would offer it’s all three and perhaps a lot more.
What that looks like in real time means, for example, before I go to bed, choose to write honestly my journal. Painfully, if need be, about the events of the day where I might not have been my best self. Can I sit with that? Look at those things? What can I learn from them?
I might vastly prefer picking up where I left off in the latest Jack Reacher novel. But that distracts, it doesn’t demand payment. When I intentionally choose the harder work, I begin to sacrifice who I am right now for who I could be. The different life that is available when we choose to see and perceive with new eyes.
There is more than enough pain to go around right now, from lost work to lost loved ones to lost careers, to lost income to lost life. The feeling that you and I aren’t really living.
We haven’t lost anything, not really. Not if we choose to commit a bit of time to payment. Sacrifice something easy to work on something hard. For that allows us to better negotiate where we are. To refocus on gratitude and what is good about life, not solely on our losses. For me, payment and sacrifice grow faith. Faith that what is around us in its own way is perfect in ways that we cannot possibly see. Faith that I can, you can, manage through this.
Because we can, if we’re willing to trade a little Netflix for a little kneeling before the Authority of Life.