Sooner or later we will all
experience the tragic quality of life. Perhaps this quality of life is brought
to us through illness, or the death of a loved one, or losing a job, or an
unexpected accident, or having your heart broken. But we will all experience
this tragic quality of life in both small and overwhelmingly large ways over
the span of our lives. Whether we want to face it or not, life, with all of its
beauty, joy, and majesty, also has a tragic element to it. This is exactly what
the Buddha saw, and it inspired his entire spiritual search.
It seems that most people look for various ways to escape from this tragic quality of life, but ultimately to no avail. There is no escaping it. And it must be faced sooner or later. The question is, when we are faced with this aspect of life, how do we respond? Surely, to avoid it only leads to denial, fantasy, life-numbing withdrawal, cynicism, and fear. It takes great courage to face the totality of life without withdrawing from it or trying to protect ourselves from it.
Paradoxically, to face the totality of life we must face the reality of death, sorrow, and loss as well. We must face them as unavoidable aspects of life. The question is, can we face them directly without getting lost in the stories that our mind weaves about them? That is, can we directly encounter this tragic quality of life on its own terms? Because if we can, we will find a tremendous affirmation of life, an affirmation that is forged in the fierce embrace of tragedy.
At the very heart and core of our being, there exists an overwhelming yes to existence. This yes is discovered by those who have the courage to open their hearts to the totality of life. This yes is not a return to the innocence of youth, for there is no going back, only forward. This yes is found only by embracing the reality of sorrow and going beyond it. It is the courage to love in spite of all the reasons to not love. By embracing the tragic quality of life we come upon a depth of love that can love “in spite of” this tragic quality. Even though your heart may be broken a thousand times, this unlimited love reaches across the multitude of sorrows of life and always triumphs. It triumphs by directly facing tragedy, by relenting to its fierce grace, and embracing it in spite of the reflex to protect ourselves.
In the end, we will either retreat into self-protection, or acknowledge the reality of sorrow and love anyway. Such love not only transcends life and death, it is also made manifest in life and death. You give yourself to life out of love, and it is to love more fiercely that you walk through the fires of sorrow that forge the heart into boundless affection.