Two Faces of Grace

The horrific face of grace can fill us with dread and fear when it appears, but if we are willing to welcome it -- as we welcome the good news of the grace of bounty -- it too brings us home.
03/19/2012 07:07 am ET Updated May 19, 2012

The experience of the gift of life, of the grace of life, is a mysterious blessing we celebrate and bow to. Grace is the answer to our prayers, and yet it is free of our bidding. How joyous to bask in even an instant of surprising good fortune. How sweetly humbling to be delivered from misfortune.

We most easily and delightedly recognize grace in its form of deliverance. Yet it has another, equally humbling, equally mysterious face. The horrific face of grace can fill us with dread and fear when it appears, but if we are willing to welcome it -- as we welcome the good news of the grace of bounty -- it too brings us home. In whatever form it presents itself, grace reveals home as free and at peace. Grace is the messenger of the silent core of us, regardless of any tumult on the surface.

Who can truly comprehend what we each have to experience in our lives? We know of horrible experiences, diseases, wars, loss and degradation that many have to go through. And we also hear from many of the surprising grace present with the loss and pain: grace's horrific face.

This is not the face of grace that we want. We want grace that is easy and beautiful and flowing. We usually -- at least initially -- resist grace that is ugly and painful. You must have experienced certain events, however they have shown up, as unwanted. If you are still resisting some unwanted event in your life and are willing to open to it now, you can find the grace in that very moment.

Grace does not require you to want something that you do not want. What is required is that you tell the truth about what simply and irrevocably is. What is required is that you stop fighting and hiding from what is. When these utterly simple and deeply challenging requirements are met, the innate grace of your own consciousness naturally reveals who you are and what you can bear.

We have many ideas about what we can bear. These ideas are the reflections of our fear. We doubt our capacity to meet what life and the changes in life give us. But when the willingness to tell the truth in open stillness comes, capacity is discovered.

Part of the horrific grace of being a human being is the knowledge that non-existence is at the end of the arc of our lifetime. We avoid death -- other's or our own -- but when death comes close, the possibility is just as close for the discovery of great horrific grace. We don't want to die. It may sometimes seems dying would be easier than meeting the challenge of living, but you wouldn't be reading this if you hadn't chosen life. And yet death will come.

In the horrific knowledge that what we don't want (death, loss) will come regardless of our desires, there is an indescribable grace that is available. The fact that you have the gift of a human life with reflective consciousness allows you to open your consciousness, rather than to engage in the usual habitual strategies of denial.

The Tibetans speak about this precious human life. I used to doubt the preciousness of a human life because it seemed that the cows, in their unconsciousness of inevitable death might actually have a better life. But what are the cows doing in the pasture? They are waiting for the slaughterhouse. Even the lilies of the field, though not doing anything, simply living and being beautiful, are dead soon enough. We too are headed for the slaughterhouse, we too will be dead soon enough. And because of the horrific grace of consciousness we can meet that inevitability.

If we stop at the horror, if we try to find something to cover it or fix it or distract ourselves from it, we deny ourselves the grace of it. When there is enough willingness to face what has been avoided, the preciousness of every moment of every limited life form is celebrated and welcomed. Facing the horror of changes and endings allows us to fully participate in both what is inherently transitory and what is changeless.

Precious human life. Precious life form. Precious moment of every life -- the cow's life until it is slaughtered or the lily's life until it wilts -- how precious it is to be conscious of being and not being.

This blog is adapted from a talk given by Gangaji at Kripalu Center, MA in September 2011. Gangaji's new book Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, was published in September 2011 by Tacher/Penguin. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher's Weekly said, "This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self." In April Gangaji will be offering meetings and weekends in Mill Valley and San Diego, CA, Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. She will be holding a Silent Retreat at Fallen Leaf Lake, South Lake Tahoe, CA, beginning May 29. Visit for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.