A Crack in Everything
The late poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack … in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” As we tread the path of spirituality, we often find that we have many cracks in our lives – in our faith, our resolve, and possibly even within our very selves. We struggle more than we want to, fail and lose focus more than we think we should, and doubt much more than we thought we would when we began the journey. Our imperfections become more glaring the longer we are on the path, and we struggle to live with our lack of will and seeming inability to stay with our vows, especially the vow to do our meditation. But as many mystics explain, it is through these cracks in our lives that the light can enter. Baba Gurinder Singh often says that life is a learning process. We are here to learn, and we sometimes learn as much, or more, from our imperfections as we do from our strengths.
Mystics address our struggles and seeming failures with grace and compassion because they understand human frailty. They understand that sometimes it is the very things we resist, avoid, and flee from that bring us closer to awakening. In Sar Bachan Poetry, Soami Ji writes, “It was only when my heart burst open and was shattered into pieces that I received the vision of Radha Soami.” He explains throughout his teachings that our real self is the soul – love – and that all else is illusion. He says: “This world, this alien land, is a game of body, mind and senses. Discard these coverings, these extraneous fragments of your Self.” The shattering experience he describes is a necessary part of the spiritual process if we are going to discard the coverings we hold on to so tightly.
The Sufi mystic Rumi writes, “In this house of mud and water my heart has fallen into ruins” (The Pocket Rumi). These are descriptions of a ruined, shattered heart and a broken spirit. Perhaps when we began our spiritual journey, we didn’t anticipate this part of the process, but the mystics know that it is inevitable in order to discard and dissolve the “extraneous fragments” of the self. We have so many coverings wrapped around our souls, and these have to come off one by one in what may sometimes feel like fracturing and traumatic experiences. We would prefer to avoid having our heart shattered, yet it is often in our deepest suffering that we truly turn to the Lord. Mirabai writes: “Tormented by pain, I wander in the wilderness unable to find a physician who can cure my affliction. O Lord, Mira will be relieved of her suffering only when the Lord himself becomes her healer” (Voice of the Heart).
The mystics often write of the pain of their spiritual journey. Why is it that we think our journey will not include these tales of difficulty and trial as well?
Sultan Bahu pleads with his Master not to turn away from him, not to blame him for his evil deeds:
Take heed of my lament, O Master of Masters –
to whom should I relate my tale of woe?
For me there is no one like you,
but there are millions like me for you.
Do not read the scroll of my evil deeds;
pray do not push me away from your door.
Says Bahu: Had I not been such a blatant sinner,
whom would you have forgiven?
Voice of the Heart
Sultan Bahu pleads with the Lord to accept and forgive the cracks in his life. Bahu even somewhat boldly asks the Lord: Who would you have to forgive if I hadn’t sinned? This highlights the compassionate, accepting stance that the mystics have toward our mistakes and the cracks in our lives. The relationship between the Lord and the soul is intrinsically one of immense grace.
Describing the relationship between the Lord and the soul, Goswami Tulsidas says:
I have heard, O Lord, that you are
the saviour of the fallen. …
I am fallen, and you are the saviour of the fallen.
We are so well suited.
The Teachings of Goswami Tulsidas
The Master and the disciple are so well suited because the disciple is weak, imperfect and full of cracks, and the Master is infinitely loving and forgiving. Baba Ji tells us to learn from our mistakes and move forward. One of the keys to this, though, is that we have to admit our weaknesses and acknowledge the cracks in our lives. Then we simply have to turn to the true healer to heal those cracks and let the light in.
“May your troubles be your treasure!” says Rumi in his Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. “It’s a shame you veil your own treasure.” A treasure is something we cherish, something that is precious to us. Troubles can come in the form of difficulties, worries, misfortunes, burdens, and feelings of agitation and distress. Instead of rejecting these experiences, Rumi says that we should treasure them. In the Bible, the apostle Paul explains that when he asked God to take away his troubles, the answer came back, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul goes on to reflect on this grace: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, I am strong.” It is in acknowledging our weaknesses that we draw close to the spirit, because then we begin to come to terms with the “extraneous fragments” of ourselves that hold us back from deeper spiritual experience.
Kintsugi is a Japanese form of art in which broken pottery is mended by repairing the cracks with lacquer and powdered gold. The broken pot is transformed into something more beautiful than it was in its original form. The cracks in the pot that might be viewed as flaws become the golden lines of the newly created artwork. Similarly, our troubles can be our treasures, our weaknesses can become our strengths, and our ruined, broken hearts can become vessels of spiritual openness.
In a Buddhist temple in Thailand, there was once a huge, ancient clay statue of the Buddha. It was not a refined piece of art, but it had been cared for over a period of about 500 years and was revered for its endurance. Many changes had taken place in Thailand during the life of the statue – violent weather, invading armies, collapses and changes in governments – yet the Buddha statue remained. Buddhist writer Jack Kornfield, in his book The Wise Heart, describes a discovery made by one of the monks:
The monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images ever created in Southeast Asia.
The golden Buddha was discovered by shining light into the cracks of the statue, in much the same way that we discover our own soul by shining light on our troubles and flaws. Without the cracks in the clay, the golden Buddha within would not have been discovered.
When Soami Ji said that his heart “burst open and was shattered into pieces,” it was because of the power of the Shabd. He wrote: “As the thundering resonance of Shabd arises within, my heart is enthralled by its overwhelming strains. It was only when my heart burst open and was shattered into pieces that I received the vision of Radha Soami.”
Because of the power of the Shabd, the extraneous fragments of the self were dissolved, and the heart was shattered. We may experience times of breaking down, sorrow and loss, but if we keep the perspective that it is the Shabd working within us to shine light through the cracks of our lives, we can endure and grow from our difficult experiences. We can learn to treasure our troubles. As Rumi says: “He made us like a stream, humble and flowing, to wash us of our sins. To pull us back to that place of No-direction, He sent us troubles from all directions.”
The full verse of Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” is:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
We are not expected to come to the spiritual path as perfect disciples. We are asked to learn from our lives, face and accept our weaknesses, “ring the bells” of our meditation practice to the best of our ability, and allow the light of Shabd to shine through our cracks so that we can open fully to the power of grace, love, and forgiveness.