My beautiful Seashell gifted me with a thought today, and I want to share it with you…but I’m going to have to ask you to indulge me for a moment before we really get going. Trust me on this.
Please take a second to look at–really examine–the following images.
Lovely, no? The way the light bends and the shadows break, the textures, the colors, the way you can look at them and just know that the air would feel and smell different in each place. The sense that you could, given enough time, learn the seasons and moods of the mountain, or the river; the sense that you could spend days blissfully exploring the canyon; the sense that now you kinda want to see where the rock wall leads, and whether you can suss out what it was built to protect.
They’re beautiful, and amazing, and the images are all so serene…but if you take another second and think about it a little bit more, they’re all actually images of the aftermath of extreme violence. Mountains don’t grow because Bob Ross paints them there–they grow because two tectonic plates have crushed into each other with such ludicrous pressure that the edges have buckled and been sent skyward (for the record, in many cases this is still going on–there are mountains that are still getting taller every year). The canyon was carved out by millions of years of water flowing through it, perpetually carrying away a tiny piece at a time until there were giant spaces where there was nothing left to carry by the time the water ran dry. The river in the picture is working on making a new canyon even as we speak; and nobody builds a wall just because they can’t think of anything else to do with the rocks–they build a wall because there is something out there that they want to prevent from getting at whatever is in here.
But we don’t look at rivers and think, “relentless slow erosion machine”; we don’t look at an old stone wall and think, “holy crap, do you suppose that was for boars? Are there boars around here? I bet it was for boars. Get me out of here, stat”.
So how is it, then, that we take such a critical stance when we look at the mountains and canyons and rivers and old walls that have formed in ourselves?
Existing in this world is a process of exposing yourself to constant violence, whether you want it that way or not. Sooner or later someone is going to break your heart; someone is going to disappoint you; someone is going to reject you; someone is going to tell you you’re not good enough. Someone will turn you down for the job. Someone will go to prom with someone else. Someone will walk away from your relationship. Someone will never, ever say they’re sorry.
And in the same way that the planet’s topography changes as the result of violent forces, so does your internal geography. Two competing beliefs collide and form a mountain range. A constant barrage of negative messages from an ex-lover carves a canyon in one place before drying up; while in another part, a constant barrage of self-doubt is still carrying pieces away. Deep in a forest, you build a wall to keep some part of you safe from whatever is out there. And we’re trained–by religion, by the media, by social pressures, by well-meaning self-help books–to believe that these are all bad.
Sure, it’s not the greatest thing in the world to have a river of self-doubt carrying off pieces of your soul. But have you tried to stop a river lately? And more pointedly, have you tried to stop a river all by yourself? What are you going to do, build a stone wall across it? What if it’s the Amazon? Is it even possible to put a dam across the Amazon by yourself?
So maybe instead we can consider a different approach. Maybe we can accept these things that we are taught to think of as “flaws” as something beautiful instead. Maybe we can acknowledge that if you landed on an alien planet whose surface is completely devoid of distinguishing marks–no rocks, no bumps, no elevation changes, just a perfect unmarred sphere in space–and it was a cloudy night so you were unable to see any stars, it’d be damned near impossible to avoid getting utterly, utterly lost the second you got out of sight of your spaceship. In other words, those “flaws” are the landmarks by which we navigate through space; they show us where we are, where we have been, and where we are going. They are beautiful in their own right, and wondrously enough, these flaws formed by violence can actually provide ways for us to connect to other human beings, which is a gift beyond measure (“Oh, you love going out to look for old stone walls too? So do I!”).
Maybe we can decide that it’s ok if your internal landscape isn’t completely unmarred, and in fact, there’s something beautiful about the quirks of your own spiritual geography. Rather than spending all our time wishing there were never any obstacles and desperately seeking the empty plains, maybe we can learn to be excited by our flaws, and see them as opportunities to conquer a piece of our inner self that has been formed as a result of violence outside our control.
Maybe we can decide to go spelunking in the canyon, is what I’m saying. Or following the stone wall. Maybe we can sit beside the river for a while and watch the self-doubt go slipping past, and think idly about what it will be like when it just runs out of water.
For the record, the mountain in the picture at the top there–the mountain on the left, with the clouds near it–is Mount Everest.
Maybe it’s time to pack your gear and start climbing.