Lately when I’ve been out and about in the world and run into people that I know they ask me how I am and when I say, “Great! I’m really good, thank you. How are you?” sometimes I sense that my reply takes them off guard.
I have noticed that there’s sometimes a lingering pause after I answer and some disbelief or unease before they might say something like “Wellllllll…that’s…GREAT! I’m SO happy for you!!!”
And they are happy for me. I believe that. This is not a judgment. This is simply an observation of my own and it’s rooted in some truth. I haven’t been able to say “Thanks, I’m great!” in a really long time. It sometimes feels like a foreign response when I hear it come out of my own mouth. I’m as surprised as anyone, truly.
My default mode has not been happiness. Of course I realize that it’s not a perpetual state even now, but it’s been a loooonnnnng time since I’ve allowed myself to be happy. I may have spent time with people who made me happy, or traveled to places that made me happy, or enjoyed meals that made me happy, or listened to music that made me happy, but giving permission to myself to be happy just BEING is a new thing for me.
I attribute this to a few somewhat recent developments.
1) More time spent practicing yoga and meditation. This enhances my ability to be aware of my thoughts as a witness and brings me back into the present moment, over and over again. What we practice on the mat spills over into our life off the mat. That’s the point of it all. Being present with whatever sensations or thoughts arise and not judging them as right or wrong or comfortable or uncomfortable cultivates compassion towards ourselves, which is kind of everything.
2) I have allowed myself over the past (almost) three years to move through every sad and uncomfortable feeling and emotion related to GR’s death and my dad’s death. I will continue to do this for the rest of my life, but there’s something about having a little distance and retrospect that gives clarity and perspective. I get now that there are seasons to this shit. Peaks and valleys. And you’ll never permanently be resting high on a peak, nor will you permanently be resting low in a valley. Grief is truly like surfing waves. Sometimes they come crashing, sometimes you surf them so well that you feel one with the ocean, with the universe, and sometimes there are no waves at all and so you enjoy your time galavanting on the shore in the sunshine. Basically, you become a better surfer, which is all you can really hope for.
3) My fears about the uncertainty of the future got so big and so overwhelming and so exhausting at certain points this year that I nearly made myself sick with it all (See point #1). I’ve come to recognize patterns in my thoughts. I am aware of when that voice in my head starts getting louder and telling me things that are not facts, things that aren’t happening right now, things that haven’t happened, or things that might not ever happen at all. I recognize that voice and, frankly, I tell it to go the fuck away. I say, “Thanks for trying to protect me from EVERYTHING, but I’m good, so please go take a long nap.” That voice of fear has good intentions but it causes me a lot of suffering, and I don’t want to suffer needlessly.
4) I’m learning to embrace the mystery of it all. Of this wild and messy and beautiful and terrible thing called life. I’m learning to embrace the questions to which I have no answers and will never have answers. What the fuck would I/we all talk about if we had all the answers? I’m enjoying the conversations I have with my people about life and death and what might happen after this and souls and spirits and reincarnation and God. Because of all the loss I’ve experienced in my life I have a tendency to want to KNOW things. I want there to be certainty. I want to know that no more rugs are going to be pulled out from under my feet. But I now know that that kind of knowing is impossible. None of us gets that pass. Accepting not knowing has been one of my biggest mental obstacles to overcome. It’s been like jumping off a ledge and just praying that someone remembered to put down the net. Which is really like choosing to believe that God, the universe, whatever you call it, has your back. It’s called faith. And trust. I am learning to cultivate those things more and more every day.
5) Thinking about, reading about, talking about, accepting the inevitability that I, too, am going to die one day. And I don’t know when that’s going to be. I don’t want to wait until I’m on my deathbed to live fully (if I even get the opportunity to be on a deathbed). I don’t want to wish that I’d done this or done that. That I’d told so-and-so that I loved them. That I’d wasted precious time worrying about bullshit that doesn’t matter. That I didn’t allow myself to be present for my life when it was right in front of my face. That I’d been kinder to myself when I had the chance. That I’d not fucking worried myself sick. That I’d not held grudges towards people who hurt me because they were hurting. That I’d allowed myself to feel more joy and more happiness that’s not dependent on anyone or anything else. That I’d brought my whole self to each and every experience whether it was a comfortable one or not. Without the acceptance of my own impending death (and in a realistic, not morbid way), I wouldn’t be growing the wisdom to wake up and live as fully as possible in the present.
Each day, when I sense that my thoughts are heading way back into my past or too far into the future, I ask myself ‘What if you were aware right now of this present moment? Of what is right in front of your face? What if this is really all there is?’ Because it’s in those moments where I can find peace, and I want to be peaceful without worrying about how long the peace may or may not last. I almost approach it as a personal experiment.
Will it be accessible every day? No. Can I practice cultivating it every day? Yes.
Just as I finished writing this post I looked up from my computer and a beautiful, bright red cardinal flew across my window and perched on a fence in my yard. In Native American culture, red cardinals are seen as messengers from the Other Side, reminding us of something greater and larger than us. The divine. I’m gonna’ go ahead and take that as a (good) sign.