Embodied Transformation & Evolution

No Straight Lines-finding our way in the messy complexity of life

Posted by on Dec 27, 2017 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 1 comment

No Straight Lines-finding our way in the messy complexity of life

A woman in New York City a few years ago had a hairdryer whose cord was falling apart. A friend had warned her not to use it because it could blow the fuse in her power panel. One day she had wet hair and wanted to go out, so she decided to use it anyway. The exact moment that she turned it on, the whole city had that massive blackout that lasted for days. She was so convinced she had caused it, that she eventually went down to the police station and turned herself in. “I did it, “ she told them. “I caused the blackout.”  They laughed at her a lot. I imagine she felt pretty foolish.

Has something like this ever happened to you? It certainly has to me. And it was quite embarrassing. Our egoic mind functions like this a great deal of the time. It makes me so important—I really think I am the centre of everything. And that I am also totally separate and distinct from everything else. What we are waking up to these days, in our global culture, is that life is not like this at all. We are so connected to each other that it’s mind boggling, overwhelming. And when everything is connected to everything else, how can one tiny thing be the cause of something else? It’s like that wonderful remark of Carl Sagan’s: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

There’s a beautiful documentary of what happened when a group of wolves was brought back to live in Yellowstone Park:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

The wolves had such a massive effect on the whole environment of the park that in a surprisingly short time, even the river changed its course. Those wolves weren’t walking around saying to each other, “Wow, we’re so powerful, look what we did—we changed the river!” They were simply an intimate part of everything in that park—that’s how the change happened. The wolves started eating the deer, so the deer stopped eating the trees by the river. After a while the trees by the river grew back, and their roots changed the whole structure of the banks of the river, holding the soil there. Then birds and animals came back to live in the trees by the river, and they changed the whole ecosystem.


The Colour of Water--Pat Fleming

Those wolves had no intention to transform their whole environment. Everything happened by itself. Even the people who brought the wolves back into the park had no idea that the wolves would change the river.

The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection;
The water has no mind to receive their image.          ~ Zenrin Kushu

I’m just like one of those wolves, totally embedded in this vast, pulsating web of life. My little separate ‘I’ is not really making things happen. And still I think I am in control of my life, until something happens to destroy that hallucination. It’s not so easy to open myself up to this bigger picture—even when all of the evidence is right in my face. It’s a lot like facing the fact that I’m going to die. If I don’t want to know, then I’ll simply find a way to ignore the glaring truth of it.

Life is wild, complex and mysterious. Whenever I hold on to a fixed point of view, life will come along and wash it away, by and by. I can get stuck in thinking I am just this separate self who does things, who makes things happen. This is a very narrow and limited perspective, and it will bring me a lot of suffering. But I can get stuck in the opposite point of view too, like a lot of spiritual people. I can start believing that the perspective of the ‘I’ is wrong, selfish, and that I should try not to use it. We run into all sorts of problems with this point of view.

If I start to think of the ‘I’ as a bad thing, I turn against myself in ways that can be very unkind and destructive. Everything has its place in this vast complex universe we inhabit. There are times when the voice of the ‘I’ is essential. One of these times is when I need to make amends, to take responsibility for my actions. It’s simply amazing how healing it can be when I am able to say to another human being, “I did that, and it caused harm. I am very sorry.” No excuses, no stories about what my mother did to me when I was young. Just the plain and simple facts of my actions and their consequences. ‘I am sorry’ is not about making myself into some kind of eternal sinner at all. It’s a simple expression of the natural healing  that happens when we take responsibility for our actions or non-actions. I might feel a lot of sorrow when I take this kind of responsibility. It’s something that needs to wash through me, not land on me and sit there, like the heavy burden of shame or guilt.

Speaking in this voice, the clear voice of my separate self, can create profound openings. It’s the basis of the reconciliation work that is happening in the prisons. It’s amazing what we can forgive, what the heart can make room for, when someone is brave enough to stand in front of us and say, “I did that. And here are the consequences, from which I cannot escape. I am so sorry for the suffering I have caused you.” People have been able to forgive the murderers of their children and their parents, when the person who did it made amends in this way.

What a paradox! We’d like to get things straightened out, so life is lucid and simple, not so messy and complex. There are parts of our brain that really want life to happen in straight lines. But life is curvy, twisty– it spirals and meanders all over the place. And the more we wake up, the bigger the paradoxes get. Just as it’s hard to face how little control we actually have over our lives, it can be very hard to say “I did it.” The small ‘I’ likes to wiggle out of things, to make excuses. It will try and make someone else responsible for what happened. Being a victim can be a very tempting place to hide.

This is our practice, whenever we are ready to embrace it: we can practice facing into how little control we actually have, just feeling what happens when we open to the wild unmanageable nature of life, without flinching. And we can practice taking responsibility, saying “I did this and I’m sorry” for small things. That way, we might be ready when we really need to say a bigger “I’m sorry.”

Adya Shanti, a well known spiritual teacher, says it like this: “Enlightenment relieves you of the illusion of control. But it doesn’t mean you’ll never have to say I’m sorry.”


with love,


photo credit: ‘The colour of water’ Pat Fleming

One Comment

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  1. Mitchell

    It seems to me that this essay arrives at something small / big after a big snaking river of concepts. And the big aha! Is yet to be shared. I think there’s something here that you’ve come to in your own life that is very rich, perhaps something that you’re coming to. I’d like to hear more about that.

    Your words brought up for me this idea I’ve come to about bodies – and, of course, emotional states, etc. – that they are as they are for a reason. Holding, compression, tension, lack of integrity, they all exist in support of who we are. In support of how we live. Its good to see that before we go off destabilizing the sacrum in hunt of some ideal mobility, for example. For me this has brought in a level of acceptance. Its ok. Perhaps there’s something, some place, some way with more integrity that we can offer or stimulate. But its good to be humble about that before kicking out their feet from under them!

    Spirals and little things .. we could talk for hours !

    Happy New Years, Shayla, may it be grand :)


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