We All Dig Tunnels, and Call Them Lives

We all dig tunnels and call them lives. Our perspectives are defined by the scenes on the walls of the paths we burrow. These tunnels we dig may lead to a vein of metaphorical gold that runs deep through the terra firma of our lives. Striking such gold is a wonderful if rare outcome and cause for much gratitude. Other tunnels may lead to silver, copper, coal or stone, etc.. Each discovery a direct, if unforeseen result of the direction in which one chooses to place their effort. In misfortunate circumstances, our digging may lead to flooding or cave in, and there the story ends.

Why tunnels? Many feel trapped by life, and here the metaphor is clear. Others see double rainbows, climb the world’s tallest peaks, or hurtle themselves from aircraft at 14,000 feet. These souls feel free. Indeed, “freedom” is a familiar battle cry, and an excellent alternative to feeling trapped, but it is still freedom within a confined mental space. It is only an experience of the concept of “freedom” based on a singular perspective. It is a mindset defined by the path they’ve selected to carve a life out of this endless universe of possibility. Have you ever met someone who “knows” they are “right,” perhaps in the mirror even? Case in point.

One can be “free” anywhere; on a mountain top, in a tunnel, even in shackles if strong enough of mind. The point is not freedom from bondage; rather, it is to recognize and acknowledge the limits of the human capacity for perspective. Each person’s path is unique. Therefore, even in the presence of the most compassionate, empathic soul on earth, our stories, while perhaps listened to by many, will be experienced by us alone. Empathizing is the act of stopping for a moment as we delve, turn to the wall, and swing the pickax with the goal of opening a window to a world that has not as yet entered our passageway. It is a way of honoring the fact that our’s is but one of a countless set of perspectives to consider.

No two lives are alike. No law of balance exists between the worlds of choice and fate, good or bad fortune, or life and death. With the infinite experiences occurring simultaneously and continuously on this planet alone, it is perhaps prudent to consider this reality before we level judgment on others. We may think we know how existence works, and overlay that template onto the world around us, or we may feel lost, alone in the dark. In either case, compassion suggests remembering this simple, empathy-based truth; we all dig tunnels and call them lives.

The Struggle Is Real

We all struggle at one time or another. Human beings, wealthy and impoverished alike, meet adversity on their own terms, on an ongoing basis. The first noble truth of Buddhism states that; “Life is suffering, pain, and misery.” There you have it! Ironically, upon closer inspection, the weight of the difficulty life presents often seems most evident in those who most concertedly deny its presence. Of course, we all have good days. Many of us have them in spades, but none can deny that without darkness light would have no meaning. The veil of night eventually falls on even the sunniest day.

Few things shut down a room faster than open discourse on the topic of personal struggle, pain, or misery. Its as though admission of the obvious is the ultimate taboo. “How are you?” “Oh, great! All good,” Win the day in casual banter because let’s face it, few are ready for the authenticity of reality-based ‘banter.’ The very question, “How are you?” is not an invitation; it’s a social contract. “Please don’t toxify my day with an unpleasant response,” is the unspoken subtext woven into the question itself.

My life is a party compared to those I see on the news (Disclaimer: I don’t actually watch the news), but that doesn’t mean I’m not forced to dance with demons at their behest. Not my idea of a good time, but some dances are, as it turns out, unavoidable. I don’t talk about that much when people ask how I’m doing. I share the bits they want to hear for the most part, because I understand the social contract. That said, I wonder why we, as a people, find it so disquieting to lend and shoulder to those facing times of discomfort.

Perhaps in bearing the weight of our own realities, there is little strength left to heft the burdens of others, but that’s not the point is it? Listening and empathizing does not have to become an infectious ordeal. Hearing someone, where they are, good place or bad is a gift that can be given without loss. 

Being ‘heard’ is a rarity that can change the mind of a person in need. Why are we here? A personal question with infinite, experienced-based answers to be sure. I feel we are here to make the world a better place, to address the first noble truth of Buddhism, to be the sounding board for growth, change, and healing. Next time we have the opportunity to ask how someone is doing, perhaps we could do so knowing full well from personal experience, that the struggle is real.