It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.
The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.
You find the jewel, and it draws you off.
In loving the spiritual, you cannot despise the earthly.
The purpose of the journey is compassion. When you have come past the pairs of opposites, you have reached compassion.
The goal is to bring the jewel back to the world, to join the two things together.
— Joseph Campbell, “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living” (1991)
The point of the stumble is the point of possibilities.
But those possibilities only pay out their treasure if you do the work to go deep and uncover it.
When I stumble, when I hear the stories of someone stumbling, when I feel the click as I read a book or hear a lecture, I know that treasure is close.
I take that point of transition and create a kōan, a story, dialogue, question, or statement to be meditated upon.
The kōan marks the place for me to dig for treasure, flags the abyss that I need to enter to find the jewel.
Like a paleontologist, I have become quite proficient at the steps of excavation, from seeing the signs to digging deep to sharing my discoveries. This is the source of mastery, which comes along with the price of mastery, years of hard work and strain.
Teaching moments are like buses. If you miss one, the next one will be along soon. The universe is more than happy to keep giving us the same lessons over and over again until we are ready to learn them, When the student is ready, a teacher will appear, not because the teacher hadn’t been around before, but only because people heal in their own time and their own way, so teachers don’t enter their vision until they are ready.
Jewels are not rare in the world. The willingness and skills to step out of your habits, to leave the routine and dig for them, to struggle to process the ore of pain and frustration which holds the jewels, well, that is rare. It seems so much easier to muddle along, to do what everyone else does, to judge and shriek rather than to get messy and go deep.
Digging requires going beyond your comfort levels. You may already know you love cheesecake, but trying the pâté may be what you need to try to face your fears, transcend your assumptions and bust down your expectations. It is impossible to know what will come of the exploration until you make it, for if lessons only delivered what you expected them to then there would be no enlightenment, no growth.
When you start seeing the patterns in the abyss, you start to see the veins that shoot through all of life, the cracks that go everywhere to keep blindness and comfort present. Those don’t go away just because you can now see them, because you are now awake and aware. You just have the tools to understand them and how they affect you. Your awareness doesn’t change the world, it only allows you to make more conscious choices in it.
The status quo is maintained when people stay where they are expected, when they are carried along by normative currents rather than choosing to drop down and look deeper.
When people stumble, they want to look cool, to not be embarrassed by their own clumsiness, to not show weakness. They gloss over it, defend themselves, try to forget the stumble rather than taking that moment of gawky truth as a sign that they have fallen onto a bit of essential truth.
The excavation of revelation may indicate where they have missed the mark in the past, where changed understanding, attitudes and choices are required and we are taught to resist change, especially change that we can’t easily explain to others.
The return of the gift is always the hardest part, because if society wanted the gift, if society valued the gift, they would already have it, rather than burying it away and protecting its discovery with fear.
In the end, the purpose is always moving past the pairs of opposites, the judgment of good and bad, to see connection, which leads us to compassion. Bringing the details and the divine, the carnal and the celestial, the everyday and the eternal together is how we touch the continuous common humanity that binds the world together.
When you stumble, there lies the treasure, if you have the heart and the skills to dig for the jewels the universe placed there for you.
Just dig it.