The Backstory - My Ponderings of Late
Life is something else. Isn't it?
I've had time to ponder lately, and here's some of what I've been thinking...
First of all, I believe in keeping things positive, guiding myself towards better feeling thoughts and emotions, and in that vein, keeping this blog uplifting and upbeat. However, I also believe in expressing oneself fully (though always thoughtfully), and lately, for me that would be admitting that I've been coming to terms with how my life looks nothing like the life I envisioned in my youth. In fact, many technicolor dreams are lying crumpled about my feet, pulsing a dull grey pallor. My heart has been squeezed and shattered in ways I never dreamed possible.
Of course, there are countless beautiful things that I've experienced too, and new dreams to replace the old, so this isn't a complaint-fest. However, it is an acknowledgment that this past year, I've been engaged in a kind of churning re-birthing process. I'm working through how to be at peace with who I actually am and what has actually happened, vs. who I wanted to be and what I wanted to have happen.
In Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes says that there comes a time in life where we have to make the choice about "whether to be bitter or not." Bitterness or happiness? Make your choice.
Now make no mistake ~ we're not talking innocent happiness where nothing bad has ever happened to us. No. We're talking a happiness that we create, earn, claim, and sometimes claw after, one agonizing moment at a time.
I've definitely experienced the bloodiness of clawing my way towards it, so I know that this weathered happiness is something we win, baby. Something we win.
This always brings me to thinking of the tremendous examples of men and women I've known who've done just that.
The Inspirational Ones
For instance, there's my friend Zsolt, who besides having a kick-ass name, also wrote an extraordinary book, gave the most miraculous hugs, and smiled, giggled, and joyed his way through a slow and excruciating nervous system shut-down. It may have claimed his body, and ultimately his life, but not his zest for life. And because of that, the very air about him was sacred.
Then there's my voice teacher, Phyllis Curtin, a regal beauty who, even in her 80's, carried herself with such grace that you'd never know she lived with crippling arthritis from her youth. Rather than caving to the pain and disfigurement, she chose to breathe deeply, stand tall, and think beautiful thoughts. She traveled the world gracing audiences with her voice and presence, and of all the amazing lessons she taught me, the most priceless one is that no matter what, happiness is a choice.
Considering The Darkness
Darkness happens. And it happens to us all.
However ~ and this is a BIG however ~ there's an essential distinction that not all of us learn. It's the difference between the shadow lands of darkness and the shadow lands of the soul.
At first, both places seem so similar. But with time, experience, and attention, one can discern between them.
They certainly are not the same. But if we're young, naive, and not vigilant, it's easy to mistake one for the other, and slip back and forth between them until we're utterly confused.
The good news is that there IS a way to tell. We can systematically train ourselves towards the soul and away from the darkness.
We’ve gotta feel for it. It’s all about how we feel.
Ultimately, the shadow lands of the soul feel good, and the shadow lands of darkness do not.
Again, it can take time to develop this awareness. But it is SO worth it, because this simple distinction can literally save lives. If we realize we have dominion over the thoughts we choose, and the way we are feeling and behaving, then we've really struck gold. We know that if we're steering our thoughts in directions that make us feel good, we're hanging with the soul. And if we're steering our thoughts towards what does not feel good, we're heading into the darkness.
Believe me, I know how easy it is to slip into the shadow lands of darkness. I've done it so many times before. But I'm getting smarter in my middle age, and am creating systems that ensure I won't be swallowed up, or at least not for long.
Step 1: Smile. Breathe. Rinse. Repeat.
One of the most helpful phrases I've come up with for redirecting my moods is simply Smile. Breathe. Rinse. Repeat. When in doubt, it’s my go-to, especially in moments where I'm feeling frustrated, tired, anxious, or depressed.
Of course, there is definitely a time and place for letting our difficult emotions move through us. I’m talking sobbing, hitting pillows, catharsis. We have to use our intuition about when and how that’s healthy, and when it’s healthier to just smile and breathe.
Smiling - invites joy
Breathing - invites relaxation
Rinsing - invites cleansing, letting go
Repeating - invites a new beginning
For me, these four words are like anchors in the midst of a stormy sea, and the calm at the eye of the storm. If I feel myself starting to go downhill, and can remember to redirect myself by smiling, breathing, rinsing and repeating, it makes such a difference. My body can’t help but relax into a happier state. The fake-it-till-I-make-it part only lasts until my body picks up on the physical cues, emits enough hormones and fancy chemical cocktails, and voila, life starts to seem pretty good again, or at least, bearable for the moment. Not that I’m a cocktail drinker, but it sure is fun when I think of my brain serving me up a colorful doozy of a drink, complete with a maraschino cherry on top. :)
Summing It All Up
There are many more specific rituals that I will share in an upcoming post, but it's cool because in general, smiling , breathing, rinsing, and repeating are woven into them all.
So what's interesting is that I’ve recently noticed a shift in myself. I'm still in mourning, but I can also feel the weight easing as these four simple steps nudge me, day after day, towards a gentle softening.
I know that I’m moving through another significant life cycle, and that I’m deciding, each moment of each day, whether to choose bitterness or happiness. This is a journey made one decision at at time. When I'm tempted towards the bitterness, these rote instructions can literally be a lifeline for moving me in a more positive mental direction.
This isn't denial. It's claiming my happiness. Deciding I'm worthy of happiness. Knowing I can create happiness.
A bad mood or despair can be so enticing, especially after any traumatic life experience. But we can reclaim our joy. It gets easier with practice. It really does. We're building and repairing neural pathways that help joy be a normal part of our lives. Zsolt, Ms. Curtin, and so many others have shown me this wisdom time and again.
So when in doubt, I Smile. Breathe. Rinse. Repeat, and trust that someway, somehow, it will work itself out. If nothing else, my suffering can be of service. On the other side of suffering ~ and there is an other side ~ our suffering helps us to comfort others, and that is exquisite and holy work.
What is your top way of moving through adversity? Your wisdom can make a profound difference in the life of another.
With Love and Om On,