The Dark Pieces
Jan 2017 Graduate Meeting

Video for this meeting:
Awakening Through Conflict by Tara Brach [9 min]

At the meeting, we watched the above 9-minute video, Awakening Through Conflict, in which Tara talks about conflict and difficulty as a vehicle for awakening. You can think of it as a "trailer" for the full 59-minute talk.

Most of us are not skilled at looking at the things we don't like about ourselves.  We just don't like certain characteristics and simply want them banished.  John Tarrant of Pacific Zen Institute says:

We often disapprove of parts of our lives without really examining them - it's like never going into certain rooms of your house. But meditation allows all the voices and all the images in the room. When we open the invisible doors, we can come to rest in the life we have; we can love it as it is instead of waiting for a shinier version.

And, as Rachel Naomi Remen says in her story that inspired the title of this week’s topic:

We are always putting the pieces together without knowing the picture ahead of time. I have been with many people in times of profound loss and grief when an unsuspected meaning begins to emerge from the fragments of their lives. Over time, this meaning has proven itself to be durable and trustworthy, even transformative. It is a kind of strength that never comes to those who deny their pain.

The Dark Pieces

    All through my childhood, my parents kept a giant jigsaw puzzle set up on a puzzle table in the living room. My father, who had started all this, always hid the box top. The idea was to put the pieces together without knowing the picture ahead of time. Different members of the family and visiting friends would work on it, sometimes for only a few minutes at a time, until after several weeks hundreds and hundreds of pieces would each find their place.
    Over the years, we finished dozens of these puzzles. In the end I got quite good at it and took a certain satisfaction in being the first on
e to see where a piece went or how two groups of pieces fit together. I especially loved the time when the first hint of pattern would emerge and I could see what had been there, hidden, all along.
    The puzzle table was my father's birthday present to my mother. I can see him setting it up and gleefully pouring the pieces of that first puzzle from the box onto the tabletop. I was three or four and I did not understand my mother's delight. They hadn't explained this game to me, doubtless thinking I was too young to participate. But I wanted to participate, even then.
    Alone in the living room early one morning, I climbed on a chair and spread out the hundreds of loose pieces lying on the table. The pieces were fairly small; some were brightly colored and some dark and shadowy. The dark ones seemed like spiders or bugs, ugly and a little frightening. They made me feel uncomfortable. Gathering up a few of these, I climbed down and hid them under one of the sofa cushions. For several weeks, whenever I was alone in the living room, I would climb up on the chair, take a few more dark pieces, and add them to the cache under the cushion.
    So this first puzzle took the family a very long time to finish. Frustrated, my mother finally counted the pieces and realized that more than a hundred were missing. She asked me if I had seen them. I told her then what I had done with the pieces I didn't like and she rescued them and completed the puzzle. I remember watching her do this. As piece after dark piece was put in place and the picture emerged, I was astounded. I had not known there would be a picture. It was quite beautiful, a peaceful scene of a deserted beach. Without the pieces I had hidden, the game had made no sense.
    Perhaps winning requires that we love the game unconditionally. Life provides all the pieces. When I accepted certain parts of life and denied and ignored the rest, I could only see my life a piece at a time - the happiness of a success or a time of celebration, or the ugliness and pain of a loss or a failure I was trying hard to put behind me out of sight. But like the dark pieces of the puzzle, these sadder events, painful as they are, have proven themselves a part of something larger. What brief glimpses I have had of something hidden seem to require accepting as a gift every last piece.
    We are always putting the pieces together without knowing the picture ahead of time. I have been with many people in times of profound loss and grief when an unsuspected meaning begins to emerge from the fragments of their lives. Over time, this meaning has proven itself to be durable and trustworthy, even transformative. It is a kind of strength that never comes to those who deny their pain.
           - from Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

    The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth, it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.
           - from Taking the Leap by Pema Chödrön

     Without the dark pieces the puzzle falls apart. Without the dark pieces our well-being goes on being puzzled and incomplete. I also realized, that within a year after my devastating realization that I didn't need to fix or escape my dark spaces at all, but to let them live and breathe. I think accepting the dark parts is very interwoven with being friends with ourselves. After all, our friends and family have stuff we don't like about them, but we love them and we accept all the parts, good and bad.
           - Edie-Marie Roper

How to Recognize Grace

It takes you by surprise.
It comes in odd packages.
It sometimes looks like loss or mistakes.
It acts like rain or like a seed.

It is both reliable and unpredictable.
It is not what you were aiming at
or what you thought you deserved.

It supplies what you need
Not necessarily what you want
It grows you up
and lets you be a child.

It reminds you that you're not in control
and that not being in control
is a form of freedom.

- Marilyn Chandler McEntyre