Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Transformative Power of Diminishment

March 22, 2015

Dear Friends,

When a rather pragmatic friend asked what I was thinking about these days, I told her I was interested in the idea of hallowing our diminishments. She gave me a cheerful eye-roll in response, then remarked, “I don’t see what there is to think about. If something gets less or goes away, replace it. Isn’t it just that simple?”

No, it’s not.

The idea of diminishment commonly prompts this replacement impulse in our culture. Obviously, replacement and compensation are vital to effective patterns of life management. However, they are counterproductive responses if we are seeking to enter into the experience of diminishment in a way that alters our understanding of our world and our sense of ourselves.

Hallowing our diminishments is an aspect of the human change process that carries the potential for transformation. In order for transformation to occur, however, we must embrace the diminishment process rather than seek to circumvent it.

I am learning about this transformative aspect of diminishment, although I am still in that miserable beginning stage where there are too many questions and too little ‘say-able’ truth.

Nevertheless, life provided me an experience last week that I think illustrates both the point of transformation and the difficulty of describing how it works.

March has been a particularly busy month, and filled with an unusual number of tasks that have used large reserves of my small store of energy. One morning when the alarm went off I felt so tired that I had difficulty moving. I sat so long on the side of the bed that Annie came to investigate and gave a friendly tug on my robe to rouse me in case I had gone back to sleep in the process of dressing.

When after a long while I was ready to go downstairs I sat for a moment in the chair on my stair lift. From that position at the top of the stairs I can look out over the roof tops and trees straight into the eastern morning sky. As I sat there I was not thinking—I was sitting simply present with my inner world, the gray tiredness, the paralyzing drag on mind and muscles. I was motionless, present in the diminished world of physical potential, aware and present with the loss.

There was nothing to fill that empty place where once young stores of energy permitted me to run the stairs. There was no replacement for that eager inner running toward the day, its potential and possibilities that once permitted me (on occasion) to sing before I had my coffee.

Annie came to the top of the stairs and sat down to watch, puzzled. She could see that I was not in bed asleep. She was also clear that I was not downstairs filling her empty food bowl. What did it mean that I was not-doing-anything, and, even more puzzling, doing this not-doing-anything at the top of the stairs?

Inwardly I was not in a language place—I was just with myself, tired, too tired to push the switch on the chair and start down into the day—too tired for work, too tired for joy.

Then I became aware that while I was sitting, motionless, the eastern sky had filled with the brilliant gold and mauve and indigo of a prairie dawn. And that light, that indescribable moving color, poured into the empty, diminished inner space where I was sitting consciously present with my life losses.  And I was changed.

There was no magic sudden infusion of energy. 

There was no spontaneous hymn of morning praise to the God of life and sunrises. 

There was no compensating replacement for the reality of emptiness, the truth of diminished resources.

But transformation happened. I was changed—still tired, still slow to think, still present with the diminishments of aging. But in that diminished inner space, a sunrise—such a sunrise!!—had chosen to enter for five life-altering minutes.

I remained a tired, diminished aging person, but I was a tired, diminished aging person transformed by a prairie sunrise that had hallowed that diminished place.

Grateful all over again that the hallowing process incorporates more than replacement and compensation growing out of my effort. Doing nothing (at least from Annie’s point of view) was profitable. 

Embracing my diminishment did not cause the diminishment to lessen but it permitted the loss in my diminishment to be transformed.

Easter is coming.

See you next week.


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