When Kierkegaard describes despair he notes that it is both indicative of privilege and evidence of sin: to despair is to persist in a lack of faith; that it is possible for us to despair negatively shows us the possibility for faith, i.e., relationship with god. Despair is then likened to an abyss: the terrifying depth of the abyss also reveals the height of the mountain. Both depth and height can only be measured relatively. When you look down, when you train your focus downward, you find depth - and this is part of despair. When, however, you look up, when you orient your focus upward, you can only measure height. This is part of, or the beginning of, faith.
As I can recognize myself expanding into peace and generosity, it is difficult not to look down. Indeed, there is some good in looking down, so long as my downward perspective is part of an upward orientation (ok, i'll explain that!). When I look down and see where I've been, when I see old behaviors which I have been discarding or modulating, when I see old fears that no longer have power, I can see how high I've come, and I am both humble and proud. If peering gently into that abyss prods me to remember to keep moving upward, then that peering is good. If peering into that abyss reassures me that progress has been made and helps me to trust in further, future progress, then that peering is good.
Unfortunately, peering over the edge and into that abyss can make me fearful. "What if I slip?" "What if this progress I made is only temporary?" What if I can't go any further?" "What if I'm not as far up as I think I've climbed?" In such a case, I may become fixed upon the depth below me and then bring that fear to the height above me: "I can't do it" "I will never climb far enough" "There is so much to do and I don't even have the proper shoes" " If I climb higher, I might fall and then where would I be?" "It gets steeper..."
So currently I am sneaking grateful glances over the edges and am both cheered and worried:
- I am so glad that Maria had so many loving friends around her at Mass on Sunday (the subtext, which embarrasses me and so I didn't want to write it is that I am both so glad for her and so proud of myself for experiencing that happiness without jealousy. there. no hiding, right?)
- I am so happy that I have been able to keep myself from saying some of the hurtful and negative comments I used to say to Paul. I *can* watch what I say if I pay enough attention.
- But I am just past ovulation and will begin the slow (ok, not so slow) descent into PMS and crampy, cranky pain. What if I am just as ugly to myself and my friends in a week? What if I've not *really* been growing?
- What if my self-perception is off? I can swear my stomach looks flatter today but no one else would ever be able to notice. What if the same is true of my attitude, my person? I feel different, but can anyone even see it? Is it actually helping my friendships, or is it just in my head?
- I don't know how to be loving and firm, yet. Do I?
Some of this worry is helpful, at least for now: I am not likely to let my head swell over my progresses quite yet. And the cheering is good too: I am not likely to throw in the towel over my worries.
To learn to fail, continually, cheerfully, without stopping, without blaming, without self-pity, with love and gratitude ...