Even when I’m driving, I am often lost in thoughts (which might explain why I am accident-prone)…thoughts, for example, about a conversation that just ended…what I said, what he said, what I didn’t say…what I should have said…what he said…what he didn’t say…what I wish he’d have said…the list is almost endless.
And, equally as mad.
Or, there are those times I’m lost in thoughts about where I’m headed, the person I’m going to see, the conversation I’m going to have…what I’m going to say…what he’ll say in return…what will happen…what will go right…what could go wrong…what…well…you get the point.
I know better than this. For no matter how much I anticipate what the future may hold…how a conversation will unfold…or, what an outcome may be…the funny thing is, life never turns out quite the way I imagine it. Probably doesn’t for you, either.
I am absent from what IS when anticipating what ISN’T. Which is much of the time.
It’s how I live a lot of my life and it is insane. To my credit, however, it seems I am becoming more aware of just how much of life I miss by re-playing in my head a life that’s no more or losing myself in thoughts of a life that may be. The former is frequently the stuff of depression; the latter, an explanation for the American addiction to lotteries. Peace is only ever possible in the present. I know this, in my better moments, anyway.
And, how could it be otherwise? The more present I become, the more content I am. Which is why, I suppose, Jesus said, “Take no thought for tomorrow…” (Matt. 6:34) which, by implication, might also mean “Take no thought for yesterday…”
What’s left when you give up re-living what occurred yesterday or what might might occur tomorrow? Today, of course, all there ever is. Whatever tomorrow holds will be experienced as today. Only when I am present do I receive life’s presents. This is where real abundance is, the kind of wealth Jesus described as “treasures of heaven where moth and rust cannot steal or destroy.”
I received one of those presents recently.
Pam and I have been repainting the inside of our house. I enjoy painting about as much as I do the seasonal flu.
One afternoon, I went to the paint store to fetch another gallon of white, white trim paint. They call it “white, white” because, as this novice has learned, gray is not the only color that comes in fifty different shades. “White, white” paint is as white as the first snow in winter.
As I drove to the store, I imagined what would transpire. Thoughts, you see. Absent from what is in anticipation of what isn’t. I pictured myself walking in and over to the counter and requesting a gallon of white, white paint. A happy clerk, recognizing me from my visit a few days before, jumped into action. As we exchanged a few pleasantries about the weather, he whisked a gallon of white paint from the shelf, rang it up, and, in an instant, I was out the door.
That is, at least, how the drama unfolded in my head. But, as is the case with all mind-created happenings, it did not happen as I happened to imagine it happening.
Instead, when I arrived and placed my order, the store clerk said nothing as he grabbed a gallon of paint from a shelf nearby. There were no pleasantries exchanged about the weather either. He reached for the paint with a grim seriousness, as if he were somewhere but here in his own head. He peeled back the top and placed the gallon of white paint under the color dispenser.”
“Whoa, wait,” I objected. “I want ‘white, white’ paint. No coloring, please!”
“That’s what I’m gettin’ you, sir” he defended, never looking up. Simultaneously, he released a lever and a drop of black paint appeared in the white base.
I thought to myself, “He did not do what I think he just did.”
But, he did. And, as if reading my thoughts, he explained, “Sir, I know it’s a weird, but it takes a little black to make the white paint white!”
“Yea, but don’t ask me how. It’s just the way it is. You’ve got to have a little black to make the white, white.”
No words were ever truer. No message ever clearer.
Had I not be present, however, or alert, as is usually the case, I would have missed it. I’ve missed many such messages from beyond, before.
There’s a little black in all of us, isn’t there? Funny, too, is how quickly we see it in everyone else but how slowly, if at all, we see it in ourselves. I think about this every time I sit in judgment on someone else–judgment that occurs more frequently inside my head than I care to admit here.
You can go through life, as I often do, hating and hiding your black spot (or spots)…what some call the shadow. It’s that part of you that you regard as ugly, evil, even despicable…almost always repressed and generally unknowable. But no one escapes it. No one is without it. It is as much who you are, as the public self you want the world to see.
“If only you knew the things I am capable of,” said Albert Einstein, when a reporter asked how he managed to handled all the public accolades that came to him so frequently. What did he mean? Einstein’s point was this: “I, too, have a shadow, a black spot no one can see…and no one could possibly imagine I have. Yet, I do.”
I could say the same. You have no idea some of the thoughts I have from time to time. In fact, the thoughts are frequently so bizarre that another thought quickly follows them. That thought is the thought that I hope no one ever knows what I’m thinking.
So, the notion that it takes a little black to make the white, white…a little dark to be light…yin to make yang…sort of makes me a little less afraid of the dark. Just knowing we all have a shadow helps a little, doesn’t it?
Today, and everyday, I will spend a little time with the dark side of my inner self. You might do the same. For example, instead of repressing them…hiding them…rejecting or waging war with them, make friends with your shadow. When you know, as well as forgive, the Jekyll and Hyde within, you naturally cease to sit in judgment on anyone else. You only judge in others what you don’t see in yourself.
For many years, it was my religion that almost continually reminded me that I’m at war with myself…with the world…even with God. Pauline theology, as I had understood it, plagued my consciousness with an understanding of grace that was limiting, narrow, and inadequate. Taught as I was that I had to accept everything he said as if it were actually right and unquestionable – theologians call it “inerrant” or “without mistake” – I was left with no alternative but to hate the hidden parts of me.
Which is why I’m so grateful to know there is good news that’s actually good, not bad news I’m expected to pretend is good. Today, I possess a larger understanding of grace – which is, of course, God’s acceptance of those parts of me I find unacceptable. If God accepts what I find repulsive, why should I hate or hide some parts of me? What God finds acceptable I’ll stop hiding as unacceptable.
It is true, I am an indecipherable riddle, at times a little weird, even downright frightening to myself. “But,” as the clerk…aka paint-colorer…aka philosopher and theologian reminded me on the brief visit at the paint store…
“You’ve gotta have a little black in life to make things white.”
It’s called self-acceptance in psychology; self-forgiveness in theology. And, it is the secret to happiness.