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The Fire of Joy and Sorrow

Written by Dan Linton

When I first read Joseph’s “The Boy in the Giant”, it was specifically addressed at another NextStage student who also blogs here, Joe. I read the post of course, but I didn’t take much time to contemplate what learnings it may be offering me.

It was later pointed out to me that it wasn’t just for Joe, and in retrospect had I taken a moment to think when I first read it, I would have realized that. Everything is a teacher, I decide the lesson. So when my miss was brought to my attention, I read it again and still I did not find my lesson within it. That happens quite a bit, so I mentally set it aside as the lessons often become more clear over time – the Solitaire Meditation being a perfect example, the lesson that keeps on… lessoning.

Recently, Joseph shared the same Giant story again on his Facebook account, which linked to his personal blog and his Patreon page. What caught me was in the title of the Facebook post: The Boy in the Giant – Artwork by Lady Sparrowhawk. What is this new artwork and who is Lady Sparrowhawk? I recalled that the post had lessons for me which I had not learned, and I was intrigued enough to click. Here is that artwork:

There was something about this image that resonated with me, and stuck with me. In that first moment, I read the story again and was still not pulling out its meaning, but that drawing… It’s not the typical type of art I might usually appreciate – for that matter I rarely stop to appreciate art at all (hint: that’s part of the lesson). I didn’t even really pause my attention on it for more than a moment other than to note its presence before continuing to the story.

But this drawing had power.

It stuck around in my conscious thoughts occasionally percolating up for no particular reason. Then I had an online video meeting with Joseph as I often do as part of my training. He used language that directly called to my mind The Boy in the Giant, although he did not reference it by name. I have no doubt this was done with specific intention, as are most things Joseph says and does. The drawing again appeared in my thoughts. I went back and reread the story again.

As an aside, you may have noticed that it took me being reminded, through various means and several times, to explore this story and it’s relevance to me. I have a habit of relying on my old tools when trying to understand myself, rather than using the new tools I’ve learned through the Practice. Given two pieces of wood, a long screw, and a choice between a screwdriver and a powerful drill with a screwdriver bit, I have been pulling out my old rusty hammer to get the job done (which doesn’t get the job done of course, or at least not very effectively).

I have a few well-used tools in my toolbox, and in this case I pulled out the eyeglasses of impatience. The “eyeglasses of impatience” sounds like a cool Harry Potter thing, but in fact they have some peculiar properties. I use them when I’m in a hurry or just feeling lazy (or more accurately, avoiding work), but I still want to feel like I’ve given something the attention it deserves – they represent a lie I tell myself to feel better about my lack of focus. Once I have them on, they allow me to only engage with the surface layer of what I’m examining, and they effectively block me from seeing beyond the very obvious or very literal information. This lets me quickly skim the information – well not actually skim the information, but instead the glasses let me feel like a surface skim is somehow adequate.

Then the skimmed information, or the thought of following up for a deeper look, goes directly into the “storage bin of forgetfulness”, and that’s another story.

My old tools have gotten me to a certain point in my life and solved some problems along the way, but they aren’t getting me any further. They tend to just cause churn and confusion. Had I taken a moment to engage a new tool first (like Levels of Awareness ), I might not have had to be prompted, and this onion layer might have been pulled back ages ago.

Part of the reason I blog is for readers like you, and I hope that my experiences may help you on your journey in some way, but the truth is that I mostly blog for me. Writing these posts helps me process lessons and deepen my Practice. This particular series of events has caused me to recognize that I have a well-ingrained habit of avoiding deep introspection, and relying on my old tools. Progress requires the work of digging deeper, and avoiding that work might be easier but it’s also completely unproductive. The Practice teaches that the deeper inward we go, the further outward we can go.

It would be very easy for me to say something at this point like “in the future, I’m going to engage the new tools I’ve been taught, so I can become aware of the teacher and the lesson within these moments.” Of course it’s not that simple. The events mentioned in this blog post occurred a month or more ago, yet just this weekend I have been experiencing an almost identical situation – and I’m very aware that I’ve pulled out my old hammer to work on it.

Not that long ago, I would have gotten angry at myself for repeating an unproductive behavior, but now I’ve accepted that this is progress worth celebrating! I may have pulled out the hammer, but I have realized it before using it too much. Long-time readers may notice this is a manifestation of the 4 part awareness algorithm that Joe mentioned in one of his early blog posts. Now I can put the hammer down, and try out the power drill with this new lesson. In time, I will learn to go to recognize the nature of the job at hand, and select the right tool before reaching for my all-too-comfortable well-worn and familiar hammer.

And if you haven’t read the story yet yourself, please take a moment to do so now, for I too am a child who has built up a mud giant around himself.

While I have not yet identified that first time I was left “outside in the cold, rainy, wet damp of dawn”, I’m sure I was. I’m sure most people were, and I’m also quite sure most people walk around inside their own mud giants most of the time. I’m far less concerned of how my mud giant came to be, and far more interested in how it can be “scattered and turned to dust”. For like the boy in the story, my shell was cracked 2 years ago by the death of my mother, and I briefly experienced what I had built my mud giant to stop – sorrow.

Sadness was something to be avoided. I considered it a weakness, it felt unmanly, and it seemed to be the result of conflict or disappointment that was avoidable through any number of my well honed peace-keeping tools. Sadness was a kind of pain I could avoid, and it worked very well for a very long time – my giant has extraordinarily thick walls. I’d liken mine more to a suit of armor, or perhaps a thickly-walled fortress that I have never wanted to step outside of lest I suffer. There are other words for that – a gilded cage, a prison.

I created the prison because avoiding personal sorrow and pain was more important than anything else.

What no one told me was that while my cage is highly effective at keeping sorrow out, it does an equally effective job at keeping me separated from joy. How do you get close to someone, how do you give yourself over to the love of someone else, how do you trust, how do you learn and grow – from behind prison walls? The greatest joys require risking the greatest sorrows methinks. You can not have one without the other, and by effectively blocking sorrow, I also cut myself off from joy.

This has caused so many ramifications in my life that I can’t even begin to document them all. Not the least of which though is never being happy, never experiencing real joy with any situation, never being able to truly celebrate that which is within and around me. The joy has been there for me to receive, but the slightest risk of sorrow and pain chased me back inside my walls.

When my mother died, my walls cracked and the sorrow flooded in. Along with the sorrow though I also experienced just a trickle of some of the incredible aspects of the Universe that I had no idea even existed – which led to at least a small taste of joy. Since that time I’ve been vigorously plastering over the cracks, rebuilding my walls.

I’ve also now just begun to realize what my prison has caused me to miss out on, and why many of the repetitive patterns in my life have developed. The fire of joy and sorrow come together – I might even dare to ponder if they are not in fact just different aspects of the same thing, inseparable. What I do know is that they are fire – transformative energy that can burn away my mud giant to allow me to grow in new and unexpected ways, and to see myself.

Welcoming joy will allow me to endure the sorrow, and together they will deepen my well. I don’t need to fear either one of them any more. The question that presents me now is: how do I embrace joy and sorrow? I haven’t done so in a very long time.

About the author

Dan Linton

Dan likes video games, pizza, and spending time with his dog. He has been a student of NextStage since December 2015.

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