I recently came upon this small bit of writing from several years ago ago while cleaning out some digital file folders. Most bits of writing one discovers during such housekeeping is utterly disposable and you're well advised to snuff out all the 1's and 0's that form them, lest somebody come upon them and recognize that most of your writing is clumsy indeed. But this one I decided to save for a little longer, at least until the next digital purging. I don't recall what prompted the writing of this. Sometimes words come from places you can't quite identify.
I’ve come to believe that the quality that distinguishes humans from other living creatures is not "intelligence," but rather the fact that we are the one creature who is consciously aware of a woundedness, a sore spot, a mortal tenderness that is the source of both all our pain and ultimately our joy. Other living creatures, though subject to the same natural pains and laws of physics, remain blessedly unaware of the nature of the mortal wound, and hence do not suffer or rejoice in quite the same way as do conscious humans. The dawning awareness of this woundedness, this tender spot, is represented culturally and spiritually by many images: the fall from grace, expulsion from Eden, entrapment in samsara: all are mythological symbols of the sting that ensues when a conscious mind recognizes its essential mortality, its woundedness.
How we respond to our wound governs the quality of our lives, in the end. It determines if we remain trapped in dreariness, or find at-one-ment of some kind. The traditional path of a life is to attempt to cover up our mortality, to hide it from others and even ourselves. In anger and fear, we try to plate over our mortal wound with thick layers of costuming and personality and neurosis, trying to keep others from seeing it and trying to forget about it ourselves.
We go to war to protect our wound. Our civilizations are largely structured around the effort to hide the wound. Our technologies evolve, in part, as efforts to defeat the wound. We dress in fancy clothes and dwell in palaces to distract ourselves away from the wound. Though all these are common strategies, they don't make for a very pleasant way to live. It is a happy occasion to wake up from this condition and see the reality.
Fortunately, the wound is inherent in us, and cannot be avoided forever, even if we wanted to. Clear seeing will eventually show you the truth of this. Knowing the woundedness, accepting the wound and working with it is a sign of our evolution, our consciousness. To hide from the pain, on the other hand, is to live a life of non-truth. And to do this may even be to live an evil life, for virtually all evil acts are strategies to hide from pain or to push it onto others that we might pretend that it doesn't belong to us.
We are lucky that we can’t hide forever from the truth, and a genuine glimpse of our own mortal wound is what offers us the opportunity to change, to awaken. To awaken and feel the wound after a long period of hiding is something to celebrate. Some day, you may well come to realize that the moments of greatest trauma were also your moments of greatest awakening.
Sometimes through luck, sometimes with help, you may find that there is another way to respond to the knowledge of our wound. We do not have to hide, we do not need to defend. We can acknowledge the wound, accept it, live gladly with it even. We can tenderly care for our own wound, and treat the tender spots in others with equal compassion and empathy. We can respond to it with good nature, with irony and humor and understanding. Sometimes this is the path of the artists who live to articulate the experience of our human woundedness; the mystics who lived and died with compassion for the wounded; the saints who care for the universal wound. And there's a bit of this trait found in every good soul you’ve known. They are aware of the wound and are caring for it in themselves and others.
Perhaps you have known people who live this way routinely, or maybe you've begun to discover it for yourself: It is when we are confronted with the indisputable and unavoidable truth of our woundedness that a conscious, free life begins.
The happiest people I’ve ever known are those most aware of the tender wound in themselves and others. They ache for other people, and with them.