As we approach spring, I have felt a quickening within myself. I notice a desire to do more, to be with others more, and to see more of the world. I feel a sense of hibernation during the winter months, and now the promise of spring is calling me out of that hibernation. At the same time, I see so much uncertainty and chaos in the world, and it’s a bit intimidating to step out into it more.
In considering this intimidation, I began to work with the virtue for Pisces, which is the constellation we are currently under the influence of as of March 15th. Magnanimity becomes love. What exactly is magnanimity? According to Webster, it is a “loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, disdain meanness and revenge, and to make sacrifices for worthy ends.” What is it to be “lofty” in spirit, and bear trouble calmly? What ends are those worthy enough to make sacrifices for? Other definitions express that magnanimity indicates nobility, generosity, understanding and tolerance. How can we work toward these characteristics in the face of situations or people we may prefer to avoid or hold a grudge against?
Magnanimity seems to me to be a certain capacity to have reverence and respect for all, regardless of differences or difficulties. It is an understanding that every person has a purpose and place in this world, and is to be understood, revered, and learned from rather than judged, used, ignored, or dismissed. But how can we see this and live this when we are faced with people who challenge us? Perhaps it is the loftiness in spirit that is needed. Loftiness in itself implies a higher reaching way of being, and loftiness in spirit for me indicates an alignment with higher will.
In my own experience, I have found that when I am attached to a certain person, expectation, way of doing/being, etc., I am engaged with my own personal will. When I am able to let go of “my way” and surrender to a higher will, I inevitably find treasures and experiences I never thought possible. It is this very alignment with higher will that allows for the capacity to “bear trouble calmly.”
So many of us are experiencing huge changes in our individual lives, and every domain of life in general seems to be undergoing significant dissolutions and shifts. To bear trouble is to suffer. How can we suffer calmly? We are immersed in a culture that does not want to allow for suffering. We numb ourselves to suffering with pills, television, video games, over-scheduling, social media and e-mail. There are those who want to control things and keep them as they were, and others who feel indifferent to all that’s happening and simply turn the other way. Suffering is not typically the chosen option. What if we could bear trouble calmly? Would you be willing to endure the suffering?
Perhaps we would need to know the “worthy ends” in order to be willing to bear this suffering. Many of us suffer every day in one way or another, often not realizing we are doing it. Probably one of the first times in my life that I realized I could choose to suffer for worthy ends was when I was pregnant with my first child. I knew nothing about having children, and began reading voraciously to learn the “best” ways to bring my child into the world and raise him. In my research, I learned about natural childbirth and its benefits to the child and mother. I decided I would endure the suffering of natural childbirth for the sake of brining my child into this world in as healthy and natural a way as possible. Many say there is no greater love than the love of a mother for her child. Could this concept of magnanimity be part of the reason for that? Before modern medicine, women had no choice other than to bring a child into the world naturally. They all bore the suffering of childbirth. Today, we have so many interventions that remove the mother from this suffering, and studies have shown that non-natural childbirths have a higher rate of mother-child detachment. I cannot help but to consider the question, if we are not willing to bear suffering, how can we really know love?
Childbirth is of course not the only form of suffering we may endure. Have you ever struggled to help someone move, suffering through all of the carrying and heavy lifting, only to find yourself so connected to the person you helped? In a way, helping someone move is like a birth. It is a process of bringing forth the new, and leaving the old. What about suffering through a difficult learning curve so that you could learn a skill that would serve you and those around you? Were you able to look back on that struggle and find gratitude for it? If we take a bit of contemplation time, and consider the various ways we feel we have suffered, we might also begin to notice the many gifts that came out of that suffering. In some ways, suffering is like a birthing process. Something new comes out of it in most cases.
What if we cannot see the new, or the gifts brought from the suffering? Have we become indifferent to what is happening such that we are stuck in the idea that “this is just the way it is?” Or have we ended up resenting the suffering, staying angry at it and wanting to make things be as they were before the suffering? Either of these responses is quite disempowering, and will not allow love to be cultivated.
So how can we endure suffering calmly, not hold a grudge and sacrifice for worthy ends? I have found that it is self discipline that allows for this. It was self discipline and commitment that allowed me to endure natural childbirth. I made a decision within myself, counter to cultural norms, that my child was a worthy end to sacrifice for. Where I struggled much longer was in being willing to suffer for the ends I knew nothing of. I tend to lean more toward the control side rather than the indifference side of magnanimity’s shadows. When I don’t know the ends, I feel out of control and tend to want to make things happen according to my own will. It is the practice of faith that has allowed me to get better at remembering it is not my will, but “thy will be done.” Even when I don’t know the ends, if I can find the stillness within to connect to that loftiness of spirit, I am able to discover an inner sense that simply knows if something is of worthy ends or not, and stop spinning in circles trying to indulge my own desires.
In some ways, it is the very “promise of spring” that helps me to connect to this faith. There is a knowing of a birthing process, a movement toward new life and new creation. When I remember this, and that so much suffering in my life has resulted in magnificent new creations, I am able to choose magnanimity and cultivate love, even without always knowing the ends. A bud in the spring is waiting to bloom, and that bud cannot be torn open to flower. It also must tended, receiving water and light in order to flower and bear fruit. It bears the suffering of waiting for the right time to bloom and trusts that the blooming will happen.
I have come to understand that magnanimity cultivates a reverence for every living being. As we are willing to bear suffering, we somehow become more connected to the suffering of others. We begin to realize that everyone experiences their own version of the creative birthing process. We see through suffering that there is so much that cannot be known, and thus develop the ability to be less judgmental about the situations or actions of others. Every person becomes more beautiful, more special, and more treasured. We come to appreciate the uniqueness in each individual, and their importance as a thread in the greater woven fabric of the whole. Love emerges more strongly and more purely, without attachment or co-dependence.
Mothers also one day have to let their children go out into the world in freedom. Perhaps they are able to let go in this way, allowing the freedom of their individual children, because they watch their children suffer in growing up, and bear their own suffering in doing so. It is certainly not only mothers, or all mothers for that matter, that have the capacity to be magnanimous. However, it does strike me that perhaps the metaphor of suffering through birthing and letting go is a good one to help all of us cultivate magnanimity and love in a stronger way.
May we all find the promise of spring within ourselves, and the magnanimity to cultivate greater love for our fellow human beings and the earth. May we aspire to the loftiness of spirit that helps us to remember the many worthy ends worth sacrificing for. May we love one another. Blessings on your spring!