Progress and Paradox

by Henry Y.

I’ve just returned home from a long day at my internship, followed by a two-hour evening class. As soon as I pulled out of the parking garage to head home, I attached to an aggressive and impatient energy and rode it all the way home. I studiously found a couple of opportunities to blare my horn, as it was clear that others around me didn’t know what they were doing and needed to be shown what was what.

Life forced my hand

Why do I share this? One, because it is fresh in my mind and body. Two, because it runs in direct opposition to a very old, very hard belief that my spiritual path ought to be one of continual progress. But even this doesn’t quite get at it. Progress in this formulation means a readily apparent and easy-to-gauge ascent from bad to good. So when I find myself angrily weaving through traffic in my rush to wherever, I come up against the hard wall of reality.

Photos by William White and Louis Hansel

Losing a father I shared a complicated dynamic with … laid bare the reality

The reality is, my anger is something that I have a hard time dealing with. It is not new, but it does not quite jive with how I see myself—my progress in A.A. and in the world—like it did when I was younger. How can a so-called negative emotion exist if I’m meant to be healing? My mind has a difficult time reconciling paradox.

What is new is the increasing untenability of living out of this anger. I am afraid to look behind the anger because there is a deep well of sadness that I do not like to acknowledge, but I have begun to listen to the voice that tells me that this is where true healing occurs. None of this is linear, although I can point to the sudden and tragic death of my father two years ago as a ready cause for sadness. I also know that in some ways that experience merely tapped into what was already inside of me.

Life forced my hand—I have to deal with the loneliness, the sadness and the tyrannical inner judge throughout the day. Naively, prior to his death, a certain part of me believed I had basically got myself sorted and it would be just bumps along the road from here. Instead, it felt like someone threw the spike strip under my car.

This day would have come eventually, I am convinced of that. Losing a father with whom I shared a complicated dynamic has laid bare the reality that the only one who can truly hurt me is me. I now hear that voice of criticism more clearly and witness the degree to which it permeates my everyday life. It is not stronger than it used to be; I’m just a better listener.

Listening more means I have the option to feel its full emotional impact in a way that is ultimately cleansing. My current challenge in the meandering, unpredictable process of healing is to allow myself to use this option.

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