(by David Richo)
The full article appears on Watkins Mind Body Spirit Issue 40.
“Suddenly, the perfect solution just popped into my mind.”
“I don’t know where I found the courage but I spoke up.”
“I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how it happened but everything just fell into place.”
“Finally, without even trying, I met just the right guy/woman.”
If we think back over the episodes and milestones of our lives, we notice that somewhere in each event there was a happening, something beneficial but not the result of our choice, plan, or expectation. We were somehow given an impetus to make a leap or guided to something new. That special assistance, unearned, unforeseen, unplanned, often unnoticed, is a description of grace, the gift dimension of life.
Our life is thus a combination of what comes to us unbidden and what we choose to do deliberately. So for instance, it is the grace of synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence, that leads us to meet a suitable partner at just the right moment. This simply happens. Then it is up to us to form and nurture a meaningful relationship. We commit ourselves to continue the venture that grace began.
Thus, grace is both a comfort and a challenge. We are comforted by the invisible incentive that kicks in for us, giving us the sense that something helpful is at our side. Yet, we are also challenged by the next steps we will be asked to take to follow up on the opportunity being offered to us. For instance, we find contentment in discovering the career that fits for us but it will be a challenge to take the laborious steps to make a success of it.
Our sense of our own wholeness would be diminished if all there were in life were what we do—with no room for grace joining in on how our story plays out. Our world would be sadly deficient if everything depended on us with no surprising benefits landing in our laps unexpectedly and unpredictably. It is a joy to realize that our world is a web of life that combines do-it-yourself activity with a vast network of unseen assistance.[span3]A higher power is transcendent, it does not have to be synonymous with the traditional view of God. It is often described as both beyond us and in us. In the Hindu Myth of Markandeya, Marsya Purana, the divine “higher power” says: “I bring forth the universe from my essence [beyond us] and I abide in the cycle of time that dissolves it [in us].”[/span3]
We might feel the coming of grace into our lives as a caring about us from a power beyond us. We interpret this sense of being held or cared about as evidence of a “friendly universe.” We come to trust that something wants us to find fulfillment, happiness, and enlightenment—just what we want for each other when we love. We feel an unexpected alliance between ourselves and the universe or a higher power than our ego. This is connection, accompaniment, the essence of love. We recall Socrates’ words in Plato’s Symposium: “Human nature will not easily find a helper better than love.”
Grace is not a concept found in a psychology book, sometimes not even in a book of spiritual practices. It hearkens to us from the realizations of mystics and of course, from our own experience, what feels trustworthy to us no matter how outlandish it may seem to the world of science. Our experience has to be the final arbiter of our personal truth.
Yet, we also know that grace is an ancient belief in the human psyche, as old as religion and history. Socrates, opposed the doctrine of the Sophists that arête, that is, virtue, can be learned or earned. He showed that moral excellence was more a “gift of the gods” than the result of parental nurture. This “gift” is what we are referring to as grace.
A careful reading of early literature, for example the Iliad and the Odyssey, reveals that every achievement, wisdom, or virtue of a hero is ascribed to the help/grace of a god or goddess. The alternative is hubris, the arrogant belief that we humans are it, that our own skills are all that is required for success. This inflated ego style is what catapults the hero into a tragic downfall. With increasing spiritual consciousness, humans come to see that grace and awareness of it, thanks for it, is the royal road to the deposing of our solitary ego from its stone throne in our psyches. This is how opening to grace is a spiritual victory.
The ego does not want to surrender to a power described as greater than itself, no matter how helpful it is. This is why grace is called “amazing.” It can successfully commandeer the most stubborn force on earth, the arrogant ego, to surrender to the truth that it is no longer in control and thereby help each of us to become humble enough to ask for help. Grace is thus also the help that leads to help.
Though a higher power is transcendent, it does not have to be synonymous with the traditional view of God. It does not even have to have a name. A higher power can be an interior power of our psyche. It is often described as both beyond us and in us. Here is an example of that same realization from the Hindu Myth of Markandeya, Marsya Purana. The divine “higher power” says: “I bring forth the universe from my essence [beyond us] and I abide in the cycle of time that dissolves it [in us].”
Grace is a given of life. An acknowledgment of grace does nothing less than widen our vision of what it really means to be human. The destiny we are called to, our true fulfillment, is transcendent, beyond mere survival, the More than what we thought possible. We can only come to it with an aptitude for immense surprise:
More is present here than just you and I.
More happens than what we make happen.
More is afoot than what we see in front of us.
The whys turn to ashes in the fire of grace, the something we know not what, always at work to make us more than we are now and to make the world more than it is yet. All these “mores” make the “whys” less and less urgent.
Meet the Author: David Richo, Ph.D., M.F.T., is psychotherapist, writer, and workshop leader. He teaches at a variety of places including Esalen and The Beyond Partnership in England. He shares his time between Santa Barbara and San Francisco, California. Dave combines psychological and spiritual perspectives in his work. He is the author of many books including How to be an Adult in Relationships, How To Be An Adult In Faith and Spirituality, and How to be an Adult in Love. davericho.com