“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.