It’s taken me a minute to decide if I needed to write during these challenging times. I’ve been wondering, does the world need yet another self-help blog? What do I have to say that hasn’t been said before? But as my dear friend Jennifer told me recently, she writes for herself and writing is a kind of source of support that gets her through. So, when she asked me to write a blog, I remembered, writing is on my list of things I want more time to do. And if this “shelter in place” is doing anything, it’s giving me time to slow down, to reflect, to narrow my life so that I can expand into what my Spirit desires. So, here I begin writing about what’s alive in me today, as it is for most of us, this world turned upside down and watching the safety and the rhythm of my life turned on its side while navigating my own inner turmoil in this process.
I remember going to an overeaters anonymous meeting when I was 18 and full throttle in my eating disorder. That meeting lost me at the first step, “admitted we were powerless and that our lives had become unmanageable.” I was still trying to control everything and that controlling part was not going to admit that it was powerless. I remember my feisty controlling part thinking, “that’s bullshit! I just haven’t figured out how to get it under control yet.” Ten years later and in the collapsing stage of a relationship with an alcoholic who had some pretty significant mental health issues and a history of profound complex trauma, I went to an al-anon meeting and heard that same step in the first person, “I am powerless over my partner. My life has become unmanageable.” The truth of that was so blatantly in my face – I could no longer deny it. And, what I remember was the sense of relief when I thought, “if nothing I do can change her, if she is beyond my control, then there’s no point in trying and I can just stop. I can just stop.” I bawled out my exhaustion, and caught my first real breath in what felt like years.
There have been a lot of surrenders in my life. A lot of recognitions that things are beyond my control and more taking deep breaths than I can recount. I’m grateful for them now. I think my own panic and fear would be fairly intense if I hadn’t had so many lessons in surrendering. Even so, this – this groundlessness – it’s an entirely new level of powerlessness. So, I practice, and I remember that spiritual practice is in the mundanity of everyday life. It is in the, “How do I sit with this panic in my chest that wants to twist into a black hole? How do I welcome and open space for the fear as I watch what little retirement investments I have drop to 60% of what they once were?” All that hard work to scrape that money together so my future would be safe and survivable – that’s all in question now. And the future is so unknown that I can’t even project an illusion of safety.
I come back to the Buddhist practices and truths that have helped me to live a more peaceful life, even in the midst of chaos. Perhaps they will be of service to you too.
Everything is Impermanent. Everything changes. We age. The toaster breaks. Our joints wear out. Relationships end. People we love die. Tragedy happens. And in rare moments, pandemics sweep the world. This is the way of it. We don’t like it. It’s painful. It hurts. Contrary to the unrealistic goal of having a life without dis-ease or discomfort, Pain is part of life. Denying it or running from it (or hoarding food) will not change the reality that most of us will likely catch this thing and most of us will survive and some of us will not. People will die. Some of those people will be people we know. Some of them may be people we love. We will grieve. Our grief will be both individual and collective. That is the inevitable truth. Our greatest suffering is not actually in the pain of our loss, but suffering is deeply rooted in not accepting the reality of what is true in this moment. The reality is that there is no holding onto the world we once had – The one where we believed we were untouchable, or that the division between self and other, between us and them was meaningful.
There is an adage in Spanish I hold dear to my heart, “No hay mal que por bien no venga,” – There is no bad out of which good does not arise. Maybe this shared experience will finally make us see that the division of country by country is a meaningless divider – that, in fact, we are all cousins and we can no longer afford to live under the illusion that we are not all interconnected. Maybe more time spent at home will make us slow the hell down…to learn that musical instrument we’ve always wanted to, make more art, make more love, spend more time with our families. Maybe it will stop this ridiculous compulsion for more stuff. Maybe we will remember how good having more time feels. Maybe the isolation will remind us how important human connection is – how sweet is the joy of a hug and the richness of time with friends. Maybe the swans and dolphins returning to Venice canals and the air quality improvement during this shut down will remind us that we do have power, right now, to make significant changes in this amazing planet that supports us all. I pray that it will. It’s up to us as a species, as a collective, to decide how we define this moment and how we let ourselves open to the wisdom that may arise from this shaking our roots from the ground. The choice is ours.