Surviving Despair

“Paradoxically, the moment of utter defeat can be the traditional turning point in the journey. It is the moment when all conscious strategems have failed, the ego abdicates, and deeper forces of life may make their appearance.” – Marc Ian Barasch

Toko-pa recently posted this quote, and it has lingered in the back of my mind. What has been at the forefront is despair.

Belief has a fiery quality to it. When all else seems murky and confused, we can fall back upon what fuels our sense of purpose: belief in ourselves, belief in a power greater than ourselves, or faith in the power of a system of beliefs. Even those who disavow theism may show some quality of devotion to a virtue that calls them forward.

At some point in every journey, however, even these lights grow dim. Perhaps this occurs at the moment right before the discovery of treasure, the last mile of the marathon, the last gasp when all energy is exhausted and some part of the being cries out, “How much more of this can I take? And why?”

Sometimes this enormity of frustration, somehow unlocks exactly what we need to push through into success. Perhaps there was some burden we’ve been carrying that we finally abandon, realizing there was no purpose to it. Perhaps we have nurtured some secret fear or grievance, some way of being that no longer works but we cannot bring ourselves to abandon it, and this is the very thing getting in the way of what we need. If you are a person given to caring for others, perhaps it is your secret selfishness. If you are a person who walks with callous indifference, perhaps it is your secret wounded heart. The thing we always held up as our strength must fail for the deeper strength to emerge.

Or perhaps you look upon your path and see a trail of mistakes and failures. In spite of your best intentions, things did not work out as you hoped. Perhaps you failed someone or lost your integrity, enabled someone to do terrible things that can never be undone. Perhaps you did not speak when you could have, or you spoke and hurt someone deeply when you could have remained silent.

These are dark feelings, and tender, and they can lead us to who we truly are. Despair is not the end of the path. This feeling is like a cry in the wilderness, but it could become the crowing that breaks open the sky for the light of dawn. Beneath the weight of despair is joy, fierce and urgent, wriggling for freedom.

What keeps you going when you reach the edge of the map and you’re no longer sure if you trust your compass? What keeps you going when you feel despair?

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