It happens every now and then: The scale tips in the direction of overwhelm and exhaustion, and I forget what I know. Such is the human condition.
Recently, I had such a day. I felt overwhelmed by all that’s on my plate. Hemmed in by the choices I have made in life. I wondered if I ever might break free from it all and start anew. Surely, it’s never too late to try something new, right? I know you cannot buy happiness and that happiness is not to be found elsewhere. Not in Colorado or India or Australia or anywhere else. Although a sunny, blue canvas might be more motivating for some people, ultimately happiness is an attitude, a manner of journeying through life. It is within us and does not exist apart from us. Spiritually speaking, we are never without that which we believe we lack.
I know this.
But some days, I feel bad for what I don’t have, especially for not having the means to start over again and do what I want to do instead of what I feel obligated to do. Most of all, I wish I could disappear into the woods for six months, for the forest doesn’t ask anything of me. Or even a month. I wish desperately that I could have a few weeks with my parents at this sensitive, sacred juncture without the demands of work that seem to multiply from year to year and are especially intense at this time of year as we sprint to the finish line of yet another school year. But our household relies on my income, and going without a paycheck as I approach two months of unpaid summer vacation seems especially unwise.
I was feeling powerless and overwhelmed. Feeling that something’s got to give. Some of this crushing responsibility has got to be lifted. I saw no end in sight to the demands and monotony – for I had been shortchanging my sleep, which invariably impairs my vision.
So, despite everything I needed to attend to, I took a two-hour walk in the woods, where I fell under the spell of moss, lichen, and ferns and was comforted by the tender green resurgence of life in springtime and the rhythm of birdsong.
Being in the woods helped, but it wasn’t long before the effect wore off. Something similar happens when I float in my kayak on the river. It’s as if the heaviness of worldly concerns lifts from me like mist rises from the river in the morning. I am left weightless, without a care, attuned to the energy of nature that reconnects me with my center, which feels like the center of the universe. All is well. When I step back on shore, the gravity of the human drama returns gradually, although the experience on the river allows me to put the heaviness in perspective. Even when I’m not tuned to the bliss channel, I know it exists.
Then, last night I had a dream. In the dream, someone asked me if I had heard the news about the tragic events unfolding in Chechnya. I saw a news report on a large screen, and then I was transported to another place – a sunny, mountainous location in front of a large hotel. My husband and I were talking with a woman who was traveling in an RV and was going to stay in the nice hotel. We couldn’t afford the hotel and had to stay in our RV. Then we drove along, and I found myself in Chechnya. At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The neighborhoods looked like ordinary neighborhoods. Then I was in a group of people running on the sidewalks then stopping and being totally quiet, trying not to be noticed. A man leading a group of children a few blocks away came running and shouting in our direction, alerting everyone to the danger that chased them. People could be shot on the spot. Running, stopping, huddling, repeating – we walked breathlessly past police officers that we knew could not be trusted and tried to remain as unnoticed as possible. We knew that voicing any complaints or disagreement was especially dangerous. This was hell. In the dream, I realized how privileged I am in my waking life and that anyone in the dream setting would be so thankful for even the smallest kindness or comfort because there was none of that there. I awakened from the dream feeling tremendous gratitude.
What a reality check!
The bottom line is: If you are healthy and have food on your table, you already are much more fortunate than so many people in this world, who would give just about anything to have those things.
While waiting in line at the grocery store, I thought about how blessed I am to be able to go to a store and buy food for my family. It truly is a privilege. The same is true with dishes. Rather than get irked about having to do the dishes, be grateful that you have dishes to do because it means you have food to eat. It feels a lot better to walk around filled with gratitude for the little things that we so often take for granted than to complain about what you don’t have or how things aren’t going the way you want them to go. To remember how blessed you are and that – while there may be things you feel are lacking in your life – so many people would give anything to be in your shoes.
My parents and I have been having some difficult conversations lately as we explore care options for my mom. My dad lamented that we waited too long for my mom’s recheck after a spot (that was biopsied and determined to be benign) was discovered on her pancreas a year ago. What if she could have begun treatment back then? Perhaps that would have made a difference. Or, I countered, perhaps she would have undergone aggressive chemo all summer and not been able to enjoy going to orchestra and ballet performances nearly every night. Perhaps she would not have had the energy to practice guitar and build her repertoire, or the confidence to perform at open mic nights. My mom lived so fully last summer, and we were all in awe of her. Her energy was astonishing and inspiring. Let us be grateful for what we have had the privilege to experience with her and not burden ourselves with regret – for we don’t know for certain what experiences the “road not taken” would have set before us. Nor do we know what grace is in store for us on the path we have chosen.
Similarly, let us have compassion for ourselves and not shame or pressure ourselves if the life we are living right now seems deficient in some way. Even if we feel we are here in this world to do more, why not release into the moment and feel good about having done our best each step of the way? Appreciating today does not preclude having ambition and preparing for tomorrow. Why not be more fully present to the work we are doing right now, every moment, rather than complicate and burden our lives by berating ourselves for making mistakes (which is inevitable) or falling short? Let us feel good about who we are and what we do instead of bad about what we feel we are supposed to be or accomplish. Although regret might be a station along the way that serves a purpose, let us not rest there for too long and risk missing the opportunities of today, believing they never visited us in the first place.
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