Circling Out of the Dark

“Dispiritedness and disappointment are the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday.” – Lance Armstrong

The spiritual geniuses of the ages and of the everyday simply don’t let despair have the last word, nor do they close their eyes to its pictures or deny the enormity of its facts. They say, “Yes, and …,” and they wake up the next day, and the day after that, to live accordingly.”  — Krista Tippett

 

Whether we are spiritual geniuses or not, we cannot let despair (dispiritedness, disappointment) have the last word, even when we feel like we’ve hit it hard; even when we feel as shattered as if we crashed into a brick wall going ninety miles an hour.

I know this is true – but like many important truths, it is taking me a lifetime to understand.

Harry Chapin, the singer-storyteller, wrote “All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown/The moon rolls through the nighttime, till the daybreak comes around/All my life’s a circle and I can tell you why/The season’s spinnin’ round again the years keep rollin’ by/It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when/But I got this funny feelin’ that I’ll be back once again…”

I think his image of life as a circle of experiences that keep coming around is an excellent one. I visualize it in varying ways:

     

What each of these images have in common is that they keep circling back. Whether this process plays in an endless loop (like the infinity symbol), keeps circling ever inward toward more precise understanding (like the nautilus), or keeps ascending toward higher levels of experience (like the upward spiral), is a matter of discernment. For today, it is enough for me to remember that repetition is part of the learning process.

Sometimes, I think I should know things already. Things like: my thoughts impact my mood; what others say or think about me is only their perspective, not holy truth; I should never eat two breakfast burritos when one will suffice. And I DO know these things. I just don’t always remember to act in accordance with what I know. The resulting consequence is that I get the opportunity to relearn the basics, each time with added nuances of realization and/or understanding.

I know, that sounds like an awfully positive spin on the “d-words” (dispirited, disappointed, despairing) when the experience of any one of them feels pretty crappy. If I’ve allowed myself to dwell in one or more for any length of time, it gets harder to climb back up into the sunlight of positude. Recently, for example, I became aware of just how dispirited and low I have felt for a while. It had set in and taken hold for so long, I had forgotten that it was not just the natural way people feel. Then I started noticing how often my thoughts flowed along these lines: “My life sucks!” “Why can’t just one thing, one little thing, go right?” “This can’t be what I went through all that for!” Every day, not only were those thoughts there, but so were the clouds of depression and, even, despair.

Then I remembered that I know how to address this: I can change my thinking.  As soon as I started consciously changing my thoughts, things began to change. My whole life hasn’t been dramatically recreated, but it feels a whole lot better. Turns out, re-learning what I already knew feels like a gift. Like sunshine after months of clouds. Like true friendship after long, lonely days. Like meeting my future self and discovering that she’s pretty wise, if she let’s herself be! Today won’t be perfect, and neither will tomorrow. But both days will feel a lot better than any two random days last month, because I will be thinking “I’ve got this.”

And so it is when we circle back around. The everyday spiritual genius hiding within each of us can finally say, “Yes, and…”; can finally allow our inner resources (as opposed to our feared deficits or perceived brokenness) to choose our way forward. Suddenly, we’re circling out of that “D”arkness, into the light of a new day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Call It “Experience”

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

— Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

When I was a kid, I wanted an Easy Bake Oven.  Think about it: a toy in which a lightbulb provides the heat source to bake all kinds of delectable confections and a kid obsessed with delicious goodies.  Why wouldn’t the two be destined for one another?  But, I never got one.  Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my disappointment.  The other day I was talking with friends, and someone said, in the stilted tones of a disgruntled 10-year-old,  “I never got one either. My mom thought they were stupid.”  My own mother’s sentiments exactly.

The Christmas orgy of gift-giving affords many opportunities to think about what to do, or what it means, when you don’t get what you want.  Disappointment in the gifts received is only the tip of that iceberg.  We hang so many hopes and expectations on the holiday — we want someone to stick a bow on us and say, “You’re my present this year” like in the coffee commercial.  We want that moment when we are completely aware that our life is rich and full of meaning (resulting in our buddy Clarence getting his wings).  We want to sing in four-part harmony about the white Christmas of our dreams while wearing gorgeous red-velvet dresses…ok, maybe that one is just me!  You get the picture, though.

I, personally, have been lucky in two ways.  First, growing up in a family with six children and a limited income, I had many opportunities to learn that I might not get everything I wanted.  I learned many coping mechanisms for this, from swallowing my disappointment with a 2000 calorie chaser of fudge to learning to be happy with what I did have.  Admittedly, some mechanisms were more helpful than others.

The second way in which I have been lucky is that, in the past year or so, I’ve gotten more than I ever expected on so many levels. I won a cruise, for crying out loud, not to mention healing relationships and recovering self-esteem along with some pretty amazing bike rides.  And I’ve been learning healthier coping mechanisms too.

Which, it turns out I’ve needed recently.  I got so accustomed to getting whatever it seemed I wanted, that I started to forget that life doesn’t work that way 100% of the time.  And BLAM! I ran smack up against it: not getting something I really wanted. Had this been something material, like an iPhone or a Nook, I think I would have taken it in stride.  But in the realm of emotional desires, I’ve discovered it can be much harder to find a way to manage extreme disappointment.  Here’s how I’m proceeding:

1.  I remind myself of the Randy Pausch quote, above.  Experience, as he refers to it, is just another name for living life as fully as possible.  And that is, deep down, what I truly want.

2.  I remind myself to be grateful for all I do have.  The list is long, and astounds me when I really think about it.

3.  I surround myself with people who make me laugh, to balance the private moments when, sometimes, I cry.

4.  I take action in other aspects of my life in order to feel positive momentum:  craft room clean, check; menu planned for the week, check; Tupperware organized, check. (If you know me, you’d better be laughing at this last one – when have I EVER been the kind of person who has orderly Tupperware?)

In these ways, even the awful feeling of not getting your heart’s desire can be transformed. Not what you expected, but not at all shabby.  And you’re able to remember that gifts come in their own time.  I believe that hope and patience are excellent qualities to cultivate because they contribute to resilience in the face of disappointment. And because, despite what you feel today, you can never know what the future holds.

Which brings me back to the Easy Bake Oven.  I received a Christmas gift on which there was a tag which read, “From Santa:  Sorry!  I’m a few years late with this. ENJOY!”  I’m sure you know what was waiting under the wrapping paper. Sometimes, if not always, you do get the things you want. Maybe in a slightly delayed time frame, or from a source you never anticipated.  Being ready for either outcome is, perhaps, what experience is meant to teach us.