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An Ending or a Beginning?

Think about your life and consider the question: can you experience an ending that’s not truly a beginning; a fall that’s not truly a rise; a release that’s not truly an acquisition? Think about your life and consider the question: can you experience a no that’s not truly a yes?

And if you can, then I will ask you to think again. Because I really don’t think it’s possible.

It’s a very Taoist idea, you know: seeming opposites coexisting - not as antagonists but as

necessary counterparts (as fond bedfellows, if you will) - each providing the energy that supports and empowers the existence of the other – seeming opposites coexisting in something of a beautiful, symbiotic unity.

The very symbol of the Taoist tradition itself speaks to this cosmic dance, to this universal interplay of seeming opposites that so defines what it means to be a soul privileged with this earthly experience of shadow and light, cold and hot, down and up, death and birth. And make no mistake - that’s what it is – a privilege.

I have to believe that countless souls linger on the fringes of this world, longing for this thick experience in which we can touch each other’s hands, smell baking bread, watch the miracles of Puget Sound, listen to the music of Beethoven.

How tempting it is to miss these simple yet glorious experiences because – well – schedules; and because – well – problems; and because – well - responsibilities.

The Buddhist tradition says it this way: that if you toss a life preserver into the oceans of the planet, the likelihood of receiving a human incarnation is about the same as a specific sea turtle randomly surfacing to find his head inside of that life preserver. So, to be clearer, if the area of the oceans is - say - 350 million square kilometers, and if the area of a life preserver’s opening is - say - half-a-square meter, we arrive at odds of that sea turtle surfacing to find himself wearing that new, polyethylene necklace somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 700 million.

And here’s the deal: in considering the countless events which conspired for the incarnation which landed you in that seat/bed/recliner reading to these words, scientists would say that this metaphor actually offers pretty accurate odds.

Unity Co-founder Myrtle Fillmore spoke to today’s subject, and I quote, “Unity's mission in our world is to help people release those fears and hurts that bind and confine, that we may experience and express the love that we are.”

Unity Co-founder Charles Fillmore, in more colorful language, and I quote, “The mind, like the bowels, should be open and free.”

It’s an idea found in history. Ancient people recognized nature as a wise teacher who dictated the release of aspects of life as the years go by – relationships, attitudes, habits, attachments – that life might reveal new potentialities; a paradigm representing a reality in which endings and beginnings coexist.

And it’s an idea found in religion. The Hindu goddess Kali is the great Mother Goddess. She is seen as the womb from which all are born and to which all return – a goddess representing a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist.

And the Hebrew Bible reminds each of us that there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to sew and a time to reap, a time to tear down and a time to build up, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance; a teaching representing a reality in which endings and beginnings coexist.

And my favorite: it’s an idea found in mythology, told in the fables of the phoenix of Arabia who, upon reaching the end of a cycle of life, builds a pyre for itself. And upon being consumed by the flames, it issues forth as a new being – young and renewed from a red egg.

Some describe its feathers as colored like those of a peacock; others, as tinged in purple like the robes of a nobleman. Ezekiel the Dramatist claimed that its legs were red and eyes striking yellow while Lactantius claimed that its legs – covered in scales – were yellow-gold with rose-colored talons and eyes blue like sapphires.

Now this Phoenix is not the bird of Arabia alone. It’s also known to fly through the Northern Lights over the plains of Lapland. And it’s also known to hop among the yellow flowers in the summers of Greenland. And it’s also known to float down the sacred waters of the Ganges on a lotus leaf.

But regardless of form, what is this winged wonder if not yet another restatement of a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist?

In the Southwest it looks like the Thunderbird; in England, it looks like Arthur's dragons. I might propose that at Unity in Lynnwood, this phoenix looks a lot like you. And it looks a lot like me. For whether you look to history or religion or mythology, the message is the same: there is a reality in which beginnings and endings coexist.

So, take a deep breath. Here’s a new idea for you, and it’s a big one. That which is difficult isn’t your enemy. You have no enemies; for even that which is difficult conspires for your soul growth, unfoldment and development.

In truth, when I look back over my 57 some years — the moments I would call failure and those I would call triumph; those I would call unjustly cruel and those I would call undeniably decent; those I would call so hard I didn’t think I’d make it through and those ironically less-memorable stretches of so-called normalcy between; when I look back over my 57 some years, it doesn’t feel accurate to say that I got rid of any of it. It feels more accurate to say that all of it – the so-called good and the so-called bad – somehow became integrated as steppingstones to the man I am today.

The butterfly is such a well-used metaphor, of course. On the surface, it’s a metaphor wonderfully appropriate to school age children, but what a deeper understanding reveals is that the caterpillar doesn’t just go away. The caterpillar gradually dissolves in a presumably uncomfortable and messy process; it disintegrates into a gelatinous goo absolutely necessary for the butterfly’s emergence.

More deeply understood, you see, the metaphor is really much closer to an R rating than a PG rating.

The caterpillar doesn’t cease to exist, per se. The caterpillar is transformed in a process of emergence and growth and beauty.

I think it’s that way with us. The so-called good and the so-called bad somehow become integrated as steppingstones to our future selves.

It doesn’t make injustice right. But it does make injustice useful. It doesn’t make difficulty fun, but it does make difficulty valuable.

It was the young poet Leslie Dwight who said the same thing in different words at the outset of the Covid era, and I quote, “What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for? A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw — that it finally forces us to grow. A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber. A year we finally accept the need for change. A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other farther apart.”

So, rather than framing today as a willingness to release all out there as difficult, consider framing it as a willingness to transform all in here that’s ready. For while a narrow perspective would have us believe that fire represents release, a broader perspective would have us understand that fire represents that sweet point of transformation between that which has come to pass and that which has come to be.

Maybe the question isn’t so much, “What aspect of my life is ready to be released?” as it is, “What aspect of my life is ready to be transformed?”

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