I’ve been thinking lately about edges, both literally and figuratively. When I taught school one of my favorite things to explore with my students was the meaning behind idioms. After we investigated the historical and cultural context, I instructed the kids to illustrate the idiom from both the literal and figurative perspective. And that is what I want you to do now. In your minds eye or if you so choose, on paper, think of the edge of a very steep mountain and then picture yourself at your breaking point, about to go over the edge. You know – traffic, screaming kids, bills, deadlines …….
What can edges teach us? What perspective can we gain from life’s trials and tribulations? I have learned the hard way that difficulties, my own waywardness, struggles, failures and just the general messiness that we create can have such an effect on the landscape of our lives.
But are these obstacles really beautiful pathways to a deeper meaning? What if they are gateways, bridges to a rich and deeply satisfying state of being. Kelly Clarkson used the idiom, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” in one of her most memorable songs. The poetry of her experience explored the end of a terrible relationship that caused her to walk up to her edge and decide which way to go – down the path of despair or up the path of enlightenment and self-discovery. She found the freedom to be herself, hope for more and to go on without a toxic partner. She went on to find love, children and a new phase of her career.
I have gone through some trying obstacles lately. I own and manage rental property. This past month I had to evict two renters and stand before a belittling judge to gain my property back, and let me be clear, the female judge was rude to me not the person who lied and failed to pay rent! The evictions were just the tip of the ice berg but I will spare you the details of all the other issues! After some blow ups, tears and sleepless nights I decided to investigate the difficulties from an emotional and spiritual perspective. I chose to step up to the edge, peer over and see these issues emerging in my life as lessons, and instead of fighting them I turned them in to bridges.
According to Joan Halifax there are five internal and interpersonal qualities that we as humans need to live a more thoughtful life, showing compassion towards our self and others. The Edge States are altruism, integrity, empathy, respect and engagement. Ms. Halifax writes that we have to work with courage in order to avoid the pitfalls of living a self-centered life that falls into the landfill of being either a narcissist or a victim. She writes, “We can lose our firm footing on the high edge of any of these qualities and slide into a mire of suffering where we find ourselves caught in the toxic and chaotic waters of the harmful aspects of an Edge State.”
In Joan’s article, “Life on the Edge” in the July edition of the magazine, Lion’s Roar, the Buddhist nun writes about how life’s challenges are our teachers. Well friends, who is getting tired of all this teaching? I sure am! I watched as a dear friend just about had a nervous breakdown as her husband faced failing classes and not graduating. She cried, raged and fought her way through a roller coaster of emotions and events as that last semester dragged on and on. Her husband was working very hard and his professor was not! This college level educator simply would not grade, answer emails or properly review the students for each up coming test. Well, happy ending, the husband graduated, the friend stood and cheered as he walked across the stage and they celebrated and sighed a sigh of relief that…… that test was over!!!! They both faced the edge and had to find a way over the canyon of life!
Our Buddhist nun suggests that each of the five edges can change from their positive state and turn into something ugly and destructive if we experience extreme burn out and fatigue. Let’s look at respect. The judge I mentioned previously did not respect me as a landlord and treated me with contempt. The professor did not respect his students enough to give them timely feedback. These two highly educated, leaders of their communities failed to display respect. What is the ripple effect? My friend and I could have slid into the slippery slope of futility but we chose to draw from of sense of Engagement and see the experience as a stepping stone. We could have easily fallen off of the edge into the abyss of unfortunate events but we chose to change how we saw the people, their actions and embrace the lesson.
We will never avoid the pitfalls of life but we have to be ready to navigate different paths when we come to close to the edge, when people disappoint, when life is just too hard. How can we avoid feeling beaten down by life? I sure don’t have the answer but I will preach this time and time again – We have to give love away! If we get out of our head, away from the rewind tape that plays the judge’s shaming tone, then we can find the path of tenderness, wisdom and strength to get through the tough times. We humans were created with a need to communicate, to serve and to LOVE! As we do those things we will find our purpose, create bridges and enjoy the journey. Each day is another story in the book of your life. Live each page with empathy and courage. Remember to be altruistic, to speak your words with integrity and engage your mind and actions with peaceful thoughts and words. As we respect others, love others as ourselves, we will be able to live a life of contentment and fulfill a higher purpose.
Grace and Peace,