Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cautiously Optimistic

Both of my classes are going extremely well -- it's kind of amazing. I've never had a semester start off so spectacularly well, I don't think. All of my students are highly engaged. At times the classes seem like a "gathered" Meeting. With my lighter-than-usual teaching load, I'm having time to fully enjoy this. And the ideas we are studying are feeding my own research; plus I'm finding them valuable in my own personal life!

This is so nice and so amazing. At last I feel something shifting both in my own soul and in the world around me. For a long time, it was feeling like the world was closing in around me and I was losing strength to maintain my sense of identity and integrity amidst the great and conflicting forces pressing me from all directions. More and more, all I could do was hunker down and endure it all as best as I could. (This has been over the span of the last year-and-a-half or so).

Strangely enough, I was starting to get used to this, and starting to think this was just how life was. I was forgetting that life could be any other way.

But I was also starting to worry, because I could feel my strength beginning to give out.

I don't know how to account for the change I am now perceiving.

What astonishes me most of all is that I perceive this change simultaneously within myself and in the world around me. And I truly cannot say that my inner change has sparked outer change. The outer changes have their own independent sources. Nor did the outer changes inspire the inner change, because the inner change started happening first.

And yet these changes happening so close together feels like more than coincidence. I feel that I really have been tested, pressed to experience the very limits of what I could endure, until I came face to face with the reality of the possibility that my story might not have a happy ending. I found myself in my counselor's office one day saying with intensity, "parts of one's soul really can die -- tragedy really is possible," and he didn't deny this. All he did was share a scene from a movie that was about grim endurance, and he pointed out that in this movie (based on a true story), what made the difference between survival and giving up came down to the person's setting the tiniest of goals from moment to moment and stubbornly staying focused on those goals.

Amazingly enough, this response from my counselor was helpful. Had he said, "now, now, things will get better!" I would not have believed him and my trust in him would have been shaken. Had he said, "put this in perspective; you don't have it so bad!" that would not have helped at all, because it wouldn't have taken into account the reality of my spiritual exhaustion. Instead, he gave me permission to hunker down and fixate with grim stubbornness on tiny goals, not knowing if this would work, but accepting that that was the only thing I could do.

So I did that for a while.

And then, all of a sudden, new clarity and strength started crystallizing in my soul; and now the world around me eases up unexpectedly in several different ways all at once.

It is like the astonishment of spring thaw.

How is it that all of that stuff that has been cold and hard and colorless suddenly gives way to warm flowing liquid and bursting green growth? The whole world changes. Your stiff, guarded winter self is now out of place in this springy, laughing landscape. You can hardly believe it.

At first you are cautious, and you are right to be cautious, because there will still be a few more storms and snow and ice before the springtime really settles in.

This is where I am now: cautious, but open to the possibility that maybe what I've long been struggling with really can get better in my life.


  1. What a wonderful post, Scholar. How wonderful when the flaw finally comes, when the grim determination blossoms into a tenative joy.

    God's blessings on you.


  2. Thank you so much, Kent! I very much appreciate your kind words.