By: Mark Nepo
The cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien has discovered that every indigenous culture on earth shares a common description of the cycle of experience. Though stated and honored in many ways, that central wisdom essentially says: what is not integrated is repeated. Just what does this mean? It doesn’t mean that any of us are exempt from pain or chancing into the territory of injustice. It doesn’t mean that we will not see things break down or fall apart. What it does mean is that whether pain and suffering will have a proper place in our lives or whether we will be trapped in the canyon of pain and suffering depends on our efforts to integrate our experience into a wholeness that then releases its wisdom.
It is a law of the journey: what is not integrated is repeated. What we won’t face or express moves into our hands as a compulsion to speak itself through our actions: my pain at being rejected by one friend being played out unconsciously on another; a sad and empty teacher painting a sad and empty world for his students; or a doctor pushed and abused in medical school pushing and abusing his patients years later. You can fill in the unconscious equation any way you like. Inevitably, what we won’t face or express moves through our hands into the world. (pp 18,19)
The Jewish thinker Leon Wieseltier puts it starkly:
There are circumstances that must shatter you; and if you are not shattered, then you have not understood your circumstances. In such circumstances it is a failure for your heart not to break. And it is pointless to put up a fight for a fight will blind you to the opportunity that has been presented by your misfortune. Do you wish to persevere pridefully in the old life? Of course you do: the old life was a good life. But it is no longer available to you. It has been carried away, irreversibly. So there is only one thing to be done. Transformation must be met with transformation. Where there was the old life, let there be the new life. Do not persevere [against the shattering]. Dignify the shock. Sink, so as to rise. (p.153)