a compassionate consent to Reality – II
This is part 2 – my second “Wittgensteinian Essay”* exploring the phrase: “a compassionate consent to Reality.” You can find part 1 here.
“Reality” is the hard rock on which waves crash, and it is the soft welcome of a mother’s lap.
Does it ask for consent?
Refusal means denying the pain and wounding of the crash and turning away from the compassion of the lap.
Consent to Reality means being alive in our brokenness and receptive of joy and gratitude.
Words are so limited.
I know the word “reality” has a lot of problems – often attached to unhelpful philosophical foundations or made to mean more than it can.
What I mean is “what we honestly or authentically experience.”
European fire ants are reality, even though I don’t want them to be. For me, a fire ant bite can be as bad as a wasp sting. The pain gets worse in a bell-shaped curve peaking after about thirty minutes. Then, for the next three days, the itch is terrible. I hate them in my yard.
I made a choice to accept the fire ants, lest I become a laughable “Elmer Fudd” character, pointlessly at war with them.
When I’m in our yard, I discovered if I go barefoot and don’t kneel on the ground where they are, I very rarely get bit. We, somewhat peaceably, coexist. I’m surprised at this. I never expected to make peace with fire ants.
I think that making peace with “what is” – accepting what I experience and know – is a foundation for an integrated or whole life.
This acceptance is the only solid ground on which we get leverage for change or growth.
By “Reality” I also mean: “what we intuit or believe is true even though we’ve only caught occasional glimpses.”
When I capitalize the word “Reality,” I mean something specific that does not have universal agreement. Yet in one sense, this meaning may be more universally true of humanity across time and geography and culture than we realise. I mean the belief that Reality is permeated with a compassionate connectedness that is within us and beyond us,
that is Something More even as it is a part of us.
“God,” if you like.
(I.e. “God” – as long as we’re referring to a Reality beyond our understanding but not beyond our experiencing, a Reality that many name Love or Oneness or Creator or Father/Mother – that is hinted at or pointed towards but never contained or limited by texts, sacred or otherwise.)
I believe the two aspects of “reality/Reality” are inextricably linked. Our authentic experience of life is characterized by joy, sorrow, bliss, pain, fascination, and boredom. It is one whole cloth woven from all of these and the threads are meaningless when separated. And experiencing connection with Something More, with the Mystery of Compassion that is Present even in the darkness of our aloneness, that holds us together even as we experience separateness, is not escape but requires connection to our honest experience of life. We can’t be fully immersed in beauty, truth, and compassion without feeling the pain and seeing the darkness.
This Reality is grounded hope,
imagination that is rooted and alive.
Some believe that the essential human experience is our solidarity with each other in suffering – the birthplace of empathy and connection.
Reality includes much that we resist and much that we can’t control. So, we fight it. And we’re frustrated. And we make choices to try to separate ourselves from it.
Again: consenting to Reality gives us the solid ground on which to get leverage for change.
“The insight at the heart of nonviolence is that we live in a tragic gap – a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be. It is a gap that never has been and never will be closed. If we want to live nonviolent lives, we must learn to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility in hopes of being opened to a third way.
Other terms that I considered instead of “Reality”: Life, Engagement, Connection, What Is
We consent, not to specific events, but to a Reality in which painful things and beautiful things happen. And a compassionate Presence that is with us in any case.
My messy personal mix of beauty, weakness and selfishness is also real.
Reality invites me to love and accept my whole self.
Sometimes we think Reality is the enemy (but the enemy is our resistance to it).
“My grandmother was right, of course – right in a hundred ways and wrong in as many others. She was right that reality can be harsh and that you shut your eyes to it only at your peril because if you do not face up to the enemy in all his dark power, then the enemy will come up from behind some dark day and destroy you while you are facing the other way.”
Also Frederick Buechner:
“through the flaws and fissures in the bedrock harshness of things, there still wells up from time to time, out of a deeper substratum of reality, a kind of crazy, holy grace.”
I know… I want too much from one word. But I’ll stick with it for now.
*John Paul Lederach used a writing format that he called a “Wittgensteinian Essay” to help him “move from contemplative sense to paper.” I’ve likewise found it to be helpful in capturing more intuitive movement and breadth – a little like poetry.