Reflecting on our five-day “Relearning Trust” teaching retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault at the end of September I am struck by an experience I had on day three of our time together.

The Bethlehem Centre, where the retreat was held, is located in Nanaimo BC on the northeast side of Westwood Lake. Around the lake is a 5.7 km trail, most of which winds its way through a chaotic tangle of bush and trees of fairly dense forest on either side.

Early Tuesday morning I was running along the southwest side of the lake. In the faint light, the trail was indistinctly visible only a short distance ahead; on either side was a dark untidy jumble of impenetrable forest. Suddenly, from behind me a blast of fierce orange light illuminated my way. The axis of the earth had tipped just enough to allow the rays of sun to spill over onto the little patch of dark in which I was running. As the sun shone from low on the horizon, it broke through the foliage and was refracted into a vast sparkling array of diverse orange shapes.

As I continued my run, I realized that the magical shapes of light glittering all around me were only made possible by the obstacles the light encountered as the sun’s rays penetrated the bush. It was the messy tangle of forest that caused the light to break into an extraordinary variegated pattern of shapes dancing in the dark. Without the obstacles the magic would have been impossible.

I am often unhappy with the messy chaos of the world and the obstacles to beauty and truth I perceive in my own inner life. If I had my way, the forest would have been clearcut long ago. I would gladly dispose of all the mess in life so that the light might have an uninterrupted pathway. I resist the painful realities of life. I seek to assert my will over the mess and fight against the inevitability of suffering. I want to tidy things up.

But what if it is the obstacles and the mess that make the beauty possible?

For five days, Cynthia urged us to open to the possibility that we might forge a different relationship with the often awkward and painful realities of life. She guided us to perceive in the chaos the gift of beauty. She suggested that it is in the vulnerable places that our true strength resides. Could it be that the path to real life and wholeness might be hidden right here in the midst of the darkness and tangle of incomprehension?

This is a hard lesson. Everything in me rises up against the untidiness of the world and the chaotic confusion of my own inner life. I want to avoid the pain of chaos. I want order and control; I long for a peaceful straight path through the forest. But I know this is not possible, not even desirable. A clearcut forest is a bland lifeless place.

So, how am I to find my way through the tangle and turmoil of my inner and outer world?