Glorious & Wretched: Embracing It All

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A friend sent me an email the other day. She’s having a really hard time right now. She moved to Europe and is struggling with her family, with feeling alone, with finances crumbling, and plans not going as planned.

But even more, she’s struggling with not having it all together.

I think that’s one of the big lies we feed each other. That we should have it all together. That life should always be glorious. That something is wrong if it is not.

Another friend sent me this poem by Pema Chödrön the other day that has struck me deeply with revelations about myself.

May I share it with you?

LIFE IS BOTH WRETCHED AND GLORIOUS
By Pema Chödrön

Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the
gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger
perspective, energizes us. We feel connected.

But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down
on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being
really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness
becomes tinged by craving and addiction.

On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up
considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there
for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right
into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–
you’re just there.

The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only
wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed,
discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat
an apple.

Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the
other softens us. They go together.

This year I have been looking deeply at the fact that I have lived most of my life focusing entirely on the gloriousness. Sweeping the wretched out of sight.

“We get arrogant and start to look down on others.” I had.

This last year has rocked my world and knocked me off kilter. My first walloping dose of wretchedness in a long time.

And in this intensity, as Pema predicts, I found myself more real.

More humble.

More willing to sit with people who are in pain and not have to spoon out platitudes, fix it or help them figure it out.

I started to see all the fake both around me and even within me. First with judgment. Then with sadness. Then with a touch of grace. And curiosity for what is beyond that falseness and those barriers and walls.

I found myself drawn to people I had written off. And broken open by things I cannot change. Also comforted by things I would have found unproductive or worthless before.

As I have sat with this energy (wondering dramatically if I would ever create anything ever again), I have realized that I will connect with the gloriousness as and when I am ready.

And slowly I have been becoming ready. And gloriousness is peeking into my space once again.

“The world needs real people.” I told my friend. “Even people who need help and don’t have it all together. Perhaps especially.”

What if it’s not just ok to have seasons of both, what if it’s actually required? What if it’s part of what gives us beauty and richness and depth? Dare I say, is sometimes deeply beneficial? And exceptionally real?

I do think there are shimmery things for us on the other side of hard. That doesn’t make them less brutal to be with.

And that doesn’t mean that the shimmery will be glorious. It might surprise us. We might shimmer with raw wretched aliveness for a time.

But I wonder… Couldn’t the world use more of that too?

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