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From "Bad Experiences" to an "Ecology of the Soul"

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<em> For the past several years, NPR has run a series of essays by different people, famous and otherwise, in which the writers express something that they have come to believe.  

This series --called "This I Believe"-- has in recent days officially come to an end.

It is almost four years since I submitted a piece for that series.  NPR never ran it.  In commemoration of the end of that series,  I am sharing it here now.</em>


    I've come to believe that with experiences --as with the weather-- it's an error to be too ready with the label 'bad.'
    I’m not denying that there are real catastrophes.  The winds of a tornado can kill.  And some experiences are unmitigated nightmares.

    But just as I don’t go along with those who complain about the “bad weather” on a rainy day, I’ve learned to stop regarding as “bad experiences” all those developments in my life I’d never have chosen to have.

    Several years ago, for example, my mother was diagnosed with cancer of a clearly terminal kind.  We brought her to our house, and soon we became her full-time caretakers as the disease steadily dismantled her.

    I knew, from conversations we’d had over the years, that being dependent on us in this way was something she never wanted to happen.  I, too, regarded it as a nightmare scenario:  I’m not a caretaker kind of a guy, I figured, and besides, our relationship had complexities that were sure to make such a situation even more difficult.

    Extremely challenging it was, and some aspects of my mother’s last five months –in our home—were downright horrific.

    But I regard that experience, as a whole, as one of my life’s great gifts.  I discovered emotional resources of care and compassion I’d never suspected myself of having.  And I came to be able to show my mother a kind of open-hearted love that, in the prior fifty-some years of our relationship, I’d never been able to give her so openly.

    Had she had the “good” ending we both wished for her –going strong till she dropped—we’d never come to so rich a place together, and I’d not have been left –likely for the rest of my days-- with so good a feeling in that place she occupies in my heart.

    In a more recent example of “bad news,” an institution to which I’d given my full devotion treated me shabbily, with people I’d trusted acting dishonorably.  I expected to be devastated, as years ago I would have been.  But, instead, this terrible disappointment led me deeper into my core where my true strength and conviction lie.  I found myself seeing not only this situation but everything else in my life in a spiritually deeper way.  With this deepening I began to act and speak with a clarity and power I’d never felt when things were “good.”

    Again, a scenario that was at the bottom of my wish-list proved a great gift.

    So unlike the TV weatherman, I don’t think only sunny days are good weather.  There’s little more beautiful than thunderheads rolling across the Sandia Mountains where I live in New Mexico.  And the rain plays an indispensable role in creating the richness of the living landscape.

    Life, I now believe, is less about getting one’s wishes granted than about creating an ecology of the soul in which the various elements –the light and radiant, and the dark and wet—are channelled to life’s purposes.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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