Bittersweet: Living at the Intersection of Joy and Pain

Those who have described living in the spiritually awakened state as suffused with indescribable love, beauty and joy only told you half the story.

“Jane awoke to her true nature, she awoke into pristine clarity, and henceforth she lived happily ever after.”  Or so the brochure goes. And when you have those mind blowing, yet unsustainable moments of clarity, those amazing but temporary satori experiences, you get a tantalizing taste of BLISS.  If you could only sustain this clarity you imagine you’d inhabit a state of uninterrupted joy, a peace beyond sorrow.

How shocked you will be when you fully awaken and abide in that Ultra Sanity.  Yes, at first it’s BLISS, JOY and PEACE.  In fact, those words are just pathetic hollow symbols that can never begin to touch the states of being they seek to describe.  But if, after a while, they are accompanied by a sadness, a sorrow so great it would crush you out of existence in the moment you turn to face it, don’t panic.  You might feel there is something wrong, you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere, but you haven’t.

This is not a personal sorrow, nor a psychological bubbling up of childhood trauma or the pains of your so called past lives.   Not even close.

You are resting in the dead center of the Great Paradox.  This is one of the places you might get stuck, you might fall into nihilism. The trick is to stay completely still in the center.  Don’t let your attention move toward or away from it.  Don’t attempt to antidote it by leaning into the Joy.  Just remain poised in the center.

In this state, you need not move toward anything.  Everything comes to you.  And unlike all the Beautiful Sleepwalkers, we are unable to distract ourselves from what is.  We can’t go to a movie or read a book or go shopping or have sex or stuff ourselves with food or go drinking or take a weekend spa trip to “take our mind off of it.” There is no break whatsoever from Ultra Sanity.

You may not always experience the sorrow, but when it comes you need not employ any device. You need not turn away from it or even welcome it.  It needs nothing from you and there is nothing to do but stay exactly where you are and let it wash over you.  If you stay still, you will find there is never more sorrow than peace.

Welcome to the Bittersweet.

This is the typical literature about ending suffering.  What they mean is personal, psychological suffering. And it’s true. But don’t mistake the advice and prognosis given to those who are unawakened.  These practices will, without doubt, make your life better.  But no one really tells you that full spiritual awakening is not about making your life better.  It’s not a new and improved “more spiritual” YOU.  If you actually accomplish the goal of Buddhist practice, and turn to face the You you are trying to improve, only to find it does not exist…you are in for a totally different ball of wax.  The self-help version of Buddhism does not give any sort of map for the terrain in which you now find yourself.