Few things tickle the heart like a new twist on an old bromide. This was brought home to me recently when a friend with a keen wit passed on the following observation: "When one door closes, another one opens -- it's just hell in the hallway."
Like most good humor, this comment is rooted in a universal truth. Significant changes in our lives, whether sought with purpose or simply thrust upon us, have their own timetables and often leave us side-tracked for a while in a purgatory of self-doubt and despair. When the challenge is brief and manageable, we tend to regard it as a mere "period of adjustment." Sometimes, however, we are presented with something that appears more relentless and sinister, what the early mystics called "the dark night of the soul." We can move neither forward nor backward; we can do nothing but wait and watch like expectant gardeners, frustrated that our planted seeds must remain for an uncertain time in the darkness of the earth.
Periodic suffering, of course, cannot be avoided upon this terrestrial plane. Indeed, on a cosmic level, suffering should probably be seen as an integral phase of our evolutionary journey, a period of cleansing that allows us to strip away the old and extraneous in order to make way for the new and essential. The question that remains, however, is: What are we to do in the meantime -- the seemingly endless period of experiencing "hell in the hallway," to use my friend's words?
Answers to this question can be found in all spiritual traditions. The best answers, however, seem to point to the central truth that suffering, by definition, is a resistance to the reality of what is. The more that we resist what is, the more that our suffering turns into pain. When we accept the suffering, however -- watching it, listening to it, allowing it to do what is must -- we often find that we can transcend it. It may be that our task is to simply remain in the present moment, always grateful that we have been given this hour of this day. Perhaps we can follow the wisdom suggested in T.S. Eliot's poem, Ash Wednesday:
"Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual for only one time
And only one place
I rejoice that things are as they are . . ."
The photo at the head of this posting shows a hallway in a small hermitage near Assisi, Italy, where St. Francis and his followers frequently meditated and broke bread together. The contrast between the darkness in the foreground and the pool of light beyond is a visual metaphor for me. It reminds me that every transition, even one bathed in shadow, can be a journey of hope.