Question of the day: How do you hold onto grace?

Something happened to me last year, that I've been trying to wrap my mind around ever since.

It was the middle of the night, and I got an email from an old friend who was enraged at me. The details don't matter here: We all know what rage looks like, and this was it. Full-on rage. Nothing held back.

Normally, something like this would have thrown me into a pit of despair, defensiveness, anger, horror, sorrow…

But the timing was curious. Just that same week, it happens, I had been enraged at another old friend of mine. (Two completely different friends, two completely different circumstances.) I had been overcome with righteous indignation at how badly I felt I'd been treated by this friend of mine, and I had allowed my righteous indignation to come to its fullest boil — and then I'd unleashed it on this person. Which had made me feel better in the moment, yes, but not for long. Actually, it had made me feel awful.

And now, just a few days later, someone was doing the exact same thing to me — allowing their righteous indignation to come to a full boil, and then unleashing it upon me.

Because I had just done THE SAME THING to someone else, I suddenly felt nothing but empathy for the person who was enraged at me.

I knew exactly how much pain and fire my friend was walking through, to be so righteously indignant at me. I knew this to be true, because I'd just felt the same pain and fire myself that very week, toward someone else. I knew intimately that it IS hell — to be so explosively furious with someone. I could see that I had been in this hell myself, and now, a few days later, this person who was enraged with me was in exactly the same hell.

Which meant that we were twins.

It was so weird, but I suddenly was able to rise above the details of all the drama, and to just see how much we all suffer, as humans, when we feel we have been harmed by another. I could see how badly equipped we are at managing that pain at times. I could see how we only escalate things by lashing out with such rage. I could see how I had just done it (escalated the amount of pain in the world by lashing out at a friend, because I felt justified in my indignation) and now it was being done to me — and I could see how these tornados of anger just keep happening (to us, and from us) and how it is, universally, hell.

Then I fell into this state of peace and compassion unlike anything I have felt since that moment in India when I believed myself to be sitting on the palm of God. Suddenly, I felt nothing but peace and compassion toward myself, nothing but peace and compassion toward the friend whom I had been blindingly enraged at, nothing but peace and compassion toward the friend who was now blindingly enraged at me. I could see that we are all the same, that all we want is to be peaceful and to be loved, but that it is SO DIFFICULT sometimes to be a mere person, and to manage these most poisonous and powerful of human emotions. I was overcome with tenderness toward all of humanity for our universal struggle.

Within moments, I felt like I was floating. I felt so still and serene. And I felt so certain of this fact: None of these stories that we tell ourselves about our emotions matter. Our indignation and our anger don't matter. It's all just a trap, a prison. Nothing matters except compassion.

For the next 24 hours, I floated. I saw grace in everyone. I wondered how it was possible that I'd ever felt resentment, shame, blame toward anyone — when this state of love and understanding was so much better. I thought, "My God, this is the answer. This is the state I want to live in, always. Just be like THIS, Liz, and you will never suffer again, nor will you escalate anyone else's suffering."

It was beautiful.

And then I lost hold of it.

It lasted for a day — one of the most beautiful days of my life — and then I fell out of it. My own indignation crept back in. My own opinions crept back in. My hurt feelings made themselves known. I started building cases in my mind against the people who had angered me, or who were angry with me. My brittle little human ego returned. I couldn't access that serene, floating perspective again. t tried to fight my own ego — though I felt like I was the losing the battle just by having the battle — but it returned anyhow. (And hasn't budged since.)

But I can still remember what it was like for that one magnificent day, when I felt like I was composed of nothing but compassion (for all the world and for myself) and nothing else mattered.

My question is this: How do you hold onto that?

I want to go back to there.

I am asking in all sincerity. You guys have been around: You know things.

What do you think?


via Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook Wall