“Our own suffering, if we turn toward it, can open us up to a loving relationship with the world.” — Pema Chodron
Whenever I hit a valley in my life and I feel hopeless or worried, somehow if I can lean into it, sit with it, turn toward it, it always seems to pass.
This is an example of what I mean. Say you’re on an airplane about to jump out and you’re attached to a very tall, handsome (or beautiful) instructor. You’ve learned everything you need to learn before getting in the plane and it takes off and you’re okay and then suddenly it’s your turn to jump and you refuse to move.
“I can’t do it. I just can’t jump out of this plane.”
Your instructor calmly reminds you that you certainly can and he/she’s with you and you’ll love it. You continue to resist, but you’re blocking other people and the instructor’s voice is so soothing and he’s pretty handsome or beautiful, so you take a deep breath and jump and for a few moments it is terrifying and your heart is pounding and you’re about to have a nervous breakdown and suddenly, something takes over and you are completely in the moment — that amazing moment of looking out at the world, at the gorgeous emerald green of the landscape and you’re flying. You let go and you’re totally in the moment.
I sound like I’ve done this, but no, in fact, I would probably never in a million years jump out of a plane. I can imagine what it feels like and part of me hopes that I will, one day. However, my daughter, Zoe, did tandem skydive when she was in New Zealand. She let me know that by sending me a photo of just her feet dangling hundreds of miles in the air over the gorgeous landscape of the Southern Alps. When I saw it, I felt like I was the one who had been hurled out of a plane without a net, but since I know she is safe and sound, I can describe it to you as a beautiful thing. And now I think it’s a good metaphor for life and fear and being in the moment.
Today, the message that came to me was:
“Hard times are what lead us to great moments — moments where we are stronger. Making it through the tough days is how we earn the best days of our life.” — Yehuda Berg
Each time you fall down, if you look at it objectively, it can bring new insights and awareness. And as one friend of mine said to me, “We still fall down, but we get up faster.”
Going through my divorce was one of those times I felt like I was lost in the ups and downs of my every day life. I felt high one minute — free and happy to be out of the marriage — and terrified the next. When I think back to that time, it seems like one of the most important periods of emotional growth — and like all of life, you forget most of the pain. I know it wasn’t easy. I filled a journal with the details of the agony of it all, but when I look back at it, I think it wasn’t so bad. It just was.
Ultimately, I think it was a time of tremendous growth and leaving what felt like a cave of comfort and loneliness.
Of course, you could remain in a cave of misery and never see the sun, or the beauty all around you — I have done that. My misery was thinking, “Oh, nothing is ever going to get better. My life is doomed. I will lose everything and everyone I love and life sucks.”
That is when I am grateful for the teachers, especially comedians, because they make us laugh and think. I am particularly grateful to Jon Stewart for saving me from reading the New York Times every day, which often makes me feel angry and helpless. I am grateful to Louis C.K., who I think of as a metaphysical comedian — one of our greatest spiritual teachers: “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.” He is also very funny.
I’m also grateful to spiritual writers, because they have given so much time to studying what most of us don’t have the time or inclination to devote our lives to. And to my friends, who put up with my mood swings, although some of them do find my pinball way of moving through life (bing! bing!) entertaining.
For today, the message is: trust. There is a higher being/energy/spiritual path that is available to you if you’re willing to access it.
If you’re feeling lost and fearful and angry, embrace that. Turn to it. It’s the valley. It’s the part of the path that you’re on right now. In order to get anywhere you have to walk through that. You probably shouldn’t lie down and stay there too long, but it’s okay to wallow for a little while. I sound like my grandmother, Lillian: “Have a glass of tea, this too shall pass.”
Or you can live in the darkness, if that’s what you desire. Commune with the bats — let them hear your complaints all day (they’ll be sleeping, but still). You can go to work and then sit in front of your TV for the rest of your life. That sounds like judgment, but believe me, it’s not. Plenty of people live that way. But what it is about is choice — and as far as that goes, it’s just a matter of choosing how to answer Mary Oliver’s famous question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
When shaping that wild and precious life, it’s good to remember that there’s so much to see out here in the light — nature, beauty, the blue sky, the trees, music, art, sex, laughing, good food. Or climb a mountain, or a hill, or a little mound and enjoy looking back down at that old cave of despair.
Better yet you could jump out of a plane! A real one, like my daughter did, or a metaphorical one with me. Go do that — and then tell me about the view.