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.
The new normal, is it on a higher plane than the old normal, a downturn for the worse, or back to square one where the usual simply dons a disguise? The new normal may be a safe place to rest after a period of shit-storm scale chaos. It may be a case of ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ as in the more things change, the more they stay the same. It may be uplifting, disappointing, or overwhelmingly…normal.
In reality, the new normal is nothing more than what is set in motion the night before as we fell asleep. Perhaps it is the same old same old that we’ve chosen to embrace in lieu of reaching for the new spectacular. Or perhaps everything is normal once we’ve been exposed to it for a while, meaning that everything is always destined to eventually be the new normal.
The word “Normal” is loved by some, despised by others. Some associate normal with the safety and security of the familiar. Others associate the word with misery along the lines of drowning in a boiling vat of boredom fueled by insipid flames of mediocrity. Both relatively ‘normal’ perspectives, I suppose. See what I did there : )
Getting a driver’s license creates a new normal. Graduation creates a new normal as does marriage, having children, and watching them move away to start their own lives. These new normal states arrive on cresting waves. They crash on the beach and take up residence in the stillness of drying sand as the high tide of life recedes. They simply are.
Whether we love or abhor the feeling of normalcy, it is somehow both disquieting and comforting to know that we are responsible for it. We create it. We have the power to embrace it. We have the ability to banish it. We can choose to take a different route home from work, get lost, start over. We can choose to accept that which we find or shake the Etch A Sketch of life. Still, no matter how far and wide, we roam the new normal awaits. Best perhaps then when taking aim on the future to sight in a ‘normal’ that somehow retains a bit of twinkle in its unblinking eye.
Perspective makes the view. We all see something different when we look at the moon, though we all call it the by the same name. During my junior year of high school, I was failing algebra II. I could understand three out of every five words that rolled off the thickly Greek accented tongue of Mr. Papastathis. I dropped the class in which other students were doing just fine. It was like he was speaking Greek to me, ha. I tried A2 again the next semester with a different instructor and scored an A-. I’m sure the Greek teacher was a fine mathematician. Still, his teachings blurred to the point of useless for me personally. Perspective.
Learning is a personal venture, and we all take our own pathways to knowledge and wisdom. My Algebra II experience taught me more than math. It taught me that is was okay to search until I found the right teacher for a given subject. Those who impart wisdom come in many forms: educators, family, mentors, friends, and sometimes a yogi.
It’s a true gift when a random someone changes our life for the better. Often when we least expect it, our short time here can be enhanced, brightened, and improved by hearing the right message. The practice of yoga takes multiple forms, and I’ve explored most of them with many different teachers. All have been gifted with the ability to do the poses and pass the test of instructor certification. However, it became clear over the last year that very few have the ability to make a profound, state altering difference in the lives of their students, at least this pupil.
Enter “the yogi,” or as I’ve nicknamed her, Lady Dalai Lama. Class starts with her rambling a bit about whatever is on her mind. She laughs at her own jokes. Most importantly, she never fails to bring up something that resonates with me. It could be an anecdote about suddenly realizing while walking through Target with her kids that she has allowed holiday madness to take her in a mental stranglehold. Other times it’s about meeting a vacuous someone who she’s diagnosed with a case of “There’s no there in there, you know what I mean?” Most importantly, she has distilled the practice of yoga down to its most simple and essential elements, stripped away the encyclopedia of postures, and made the practice genuinely effective. Her most repeated motto for the class is “Close your eyes, no point in comparing yourself to the person next to you, yoga is not a competition.”
The Lady Dalai Lama specializes in the art of relating the finer points of each simple posture. I’ve done some of the poses hundreds or thousands of times over the years. A few words from her sage lips and I find a completely new, deeper place in the same old pose. Tuck the tailbone to the left here; notice how this grounds both feet. Extend the ring fingers there; can you feel how that releases the shoulders. Voila, the same old pose creates an exponentially deeper result. Details, not actually the province of the devil, matter most. Her class has changed my physical being, my mental state, and my life. Seeing the depth of wisdom a gifted teacher can afford, I am unable to settle for less. As we go forth on our journey of lifetime learning, when choosing mentors or teachers, we would be wise to keep a weather eye out for the essence of the yogi.
At the end of the parade, the costumes come off. The instruments are returned to their cases. Batons are put away. Horses are lead to the stables for hay. Clowns wipe off their make up. The floats are deconstructed or left to deteriorate at the hand of the elements. Time marches on, but not for the parade.
That blink of an eye that caused so much anticipation,preparation, a bit of anxiety, and copious excitement has come to a close. All the planning and hard work are spent. The joy and wonder that were created now begin the process of vaporizing into the ether. The parade takes up residence in fading memory as the next novel distraction begins to crystallize, sure to capture the imaginations of the willing.
Why go to all the effort to manifest something so fleeting? Perhaps it is because the act of creating an experience from nothing affords us a sense of meaning, even if only for the ephemeral moment. Because meaning, fashioned from nothingness, is the prize that we all feel impelled to create before the end of our parade.
The quagmire of neglect is fed by many streams. Indifference, preoccupation with the demands of every present moment, innocent ignorance, or willful avoidance, to name a few. These may occur singularly or compound to create a blind spot, the perfect breeding ground for runaway deterioration. It’s natural, perhaps inevitable, but in the short term, most certainly addressable.
The cypress tree on the front corner of our little brick home knows of neglect. Her arboreal brothers and sisters feel it too. The groundskeeper has forgotten them, or been away, or lost motivation. There are dead limbs visible throughout the property. Once they were green with leaves or needles, but now when the wind rises, they sit mostly still, only trembling slightly for lack of sail. They are no longer part of the tree’s growth. Instead, they are a liability, an invitation to disease, and decay. A good steward would, with a sharpened tool and gentle hand, remove them in the name of the greater good.
So it is with the branches of a life. Some grow unhindered to great majesty. Others flourish for a time but then wither. They may take the form of perspectives, habits, regrets, or relationships. These dead branches often hang on long after their time has come to be gone. The burden they present may be difficult to see as for so long we’ve known them as something else. Best to remove them before their dead weight brings down the whole tree.
It is not cruelty, nor indifference, but awareness, thoughtfulness, courage, and mercy that call for the removal, the setting free to a new purpose of that which no longer serves a tree, or a life. Today the saw will be sharpened, the gloves pulled on, and the task will begin. Today is a perfect day to begin trimming the deadwood.
There is almost always a way to be grateful. And finding our way to gratitude almost always makes our present circumstances seem better. When life “seems” better, we may find even more to be grateful for. Of course, this could be viewed as mental sleight of hand. Therefore it isn’t necessarily “real,” but what is real? Our pain? Our triumph? Our fate, perhaps? To come into this world then to leave it, that is as real as it gets. The rest appears to be interpretation.
Bad luck, good luck, chaos and moments of calm, none of these circumstances last forever. The opportunity to know them each in their pure form is a gift beyond measure, dazzling in scope. Sleight of hand it may be, but then some believe there is magic in the world. Self-administered, therapeutic healing opportunities await in the realm of gratitude.
We’ve all felt it; trapped then freed, captured then escaped, stymied then, etc. Sometimes life feels like a toned-down version of Terry Gilliam’s classic motion picture Brazil. To be more specific, living can at times take on the feel of the film’s ending sequence. Everything is okay. Then things are not okay. Suddenly, everything is going to be okay again. Then, not so much. The magnitude of fluctuation between a crest and a trough in life may vary significantly based on the intensity of the slope. However, the fall, no matter how mild is rarely the fun part.
If the aforementioned film has not yet made your dystopian playlist consider it recommended. It is of course wildly extreme, but beautifully so. Spoiler alert! The lead character finds himself suddenly yanked from his normally endurable though sometimes annoyingly monotonous life to be thrust into a chaotic, absurd, yet most serious battle for survival. He is rescued, then captured. Then freed, then retaken. Then…sound familiar?
We are all beholden to fate, or “destiny” for those who prefer a more anointed perspective. Puppetmaster or no we are in fact attached to those around us and the six degrees of separation that come with them. This is true of even those we have not met, yet. We are, of course, also bound to our environment and its whims. For those of you who welcome surprise of any kind, whether it dons the costume of angel or devil, well done you. Not everyone, however, is eager for darkness just because they’ve glimpsed the sun.
Life choices are powerful. They give us the ability to create opportunities, seemingly self-directed outcomes and of course repercussions. Choices, however, do not always rule the day. Chance it seems is the real prime mover. Chance, luck, randomness, are there making life happen while we make plans. During the early years of one’s journey, the changes in circumstantial altitude seem so vast, exaggerated by lack of experience, and therefore perspective. Later we most often come to understand that no matter how steep the pitch we face there is at least a chance that things will level out, then climb again. That alone makes every turn of fate more manageable.
Experience is the ultimate instructor. We don’t all learn the lessons, but at least we are forced simply by virtue of existing to do the work. One of the most significant benefits of living long enough to look back is the gift of beginning to understand the ebb and flow of things, and by association be able to believe in the possibility of a happy ending. To that point, containment, happiness, victory, or deliverance may be in our future, and may even define the ending of Brazil.