Personal beliefs from a spiritual agnostic on a summer Sunday afternoon.
1. Fear is supposed to be scary. Frightening situations are gifts, exactly as valuable as the degree they frighten you. Each is an opportunity to experience liberation, act on faith, release the pretense of control, and find joy. In fact it is that helpless sense of joy that comes after unexpected destruction of something we loved that is often as close as any of us come to nirvana.
Helpless joy is when you give up a stable career and instead fly to Spain to earn sixty Euros a week looking after someone else’s children, discovering that your future has never been less certain and your happiness never greater.
We each carry within us a list, sometimes miles long, of ocean breezes we long to feel, languages to speak, flavors to taste. Yet we don’t experience those moments because we are afraid of failure, disappointment, mockery. In this way our fears and our dreams are often the same. It could even be argued that our fears of things we do not want to happen, such as to have our house broken into, are in fact dreams of being liberated from the fear itself.
With our happiness so often on the other side of a large fire-breathing dragon, one would think we would all be better dragon-killers. Yet so often we waste years waiting for someone else to kill it for us, or for the dragon to turn into a mouse. We forget that even being burned alive by a dragon does not actually hurt as much as cowering in its shadow for the rest of one’s life.
2. There is a reason for everything. One can only experience relief from this theory, however, when one abandons the need to see the pattern. This is partially because some events are too painful to embrace, and partially because we’re not objective enough to recognize that we need the circumstances we perceive as “bad.”
For most of last winter, I bemoaned the difficulties that kept Mr. Hotness and I apart. I was bouncing around the US, unemployed, while didn’t know how to move here without marrying me. My mom needed a great deal of emotional support and had been forbidden to return to the UK. We seemed stuck in our respective countries.
It took me months to recognize and accept that while Mr. Hotness’s love sustained me through the hardest winter of my life, it was one that would not survive living together. We communicated differently and had very different ways of engaging the world. Mr. Hotness takes his time, head down, circling round to his goal, while I run face-first off the side of every cliff. We would have driven each other insane. In fact, we already were by the time we broke up. Those gods I cursed for keeping us apart were in fact giving us exactly as much time as we needed together.
But during those times when the silver lining is not so easy to see…
3. Stop punishing yourself. I don’t care if your back goes out or you discover your significant other packing her bags to fly to Argentina with embezzled funds. There is no benefit to asking the question “Why me?” or worse, looking for answers to that question. It compounds the pain, and is often based on the pretense that if it was your fault, you can prevent it happening again. Not only that, but as long as you believe you deserve the painful situation, you’re not going to open your mind and heart to possible solutions or outlets of relief.
4. It really is going to be okay. I can’t argue this or prove it to you. You will know it when you realize that your definition of “okay” is adaptable. When my mom and brother moved back to Oregon and I faced life alone here in Buffalo a few months ago, I was convinced I would be lonely, broke and miserable. How could I not be? Instead, my part-time admin job turned into a varied full-time position, I’m making great friends, I’m laughing, I’m dancing, I’m living, because I no longer define “okay” by New York City standards (I am, in fact, starting to recoil from them a bit) or the standards my family had before my parents’ separation. I define it by what feels okay today.
And when today is terribly different from yesterday…
5. You can cope. I hope you have friends or loved ones who can sit shiva for your hopes, but even if you don’t, you will get through it.
Pain and shock pushes us the cliff of our life. For a long time, we cling to the edge, terrified and screaming. We do not want to fall. We want to feel, to see in color, to revel in the glory heights, to love, feel the fresh wind, wear the brand-new satin dress of life.
We want life to be the way it was, and all we can see is what we’ve lost.
Which is natural, probably inevitable, certainly human. But someday you’re going to get tired of clinging to the edge, palms sweaty, shoes scrambling on the rocks below. You’re going to either be pushed into that valley, or you’re going to decide to slide down there yourself. And I hope you do. If you’re already not coping, sinking down to the valley floor is the only solution if you ever want to climb back up. Until you settle down at that sandy bottom, hands on the yellow dust, and sit, you will not hear your gods, your conscience, your peace. You will just hear your own sobs. So slide. You will not be there forever, and if you stop comparing it to the mountaintops, you’ll find it’s not really that bad. For the time being.