In this crisis do you wake up stuck in your head, ruminating non-stop?
It has become far too easy (myself included) with such extended confinement at home. We want answers now as to when the crisis will come to an end and how to flee the psychic pain of feeling terribly out of control of life. In the absence or reduction of the usual escapes and handy diversions, the parts of ourselves we might not like so much start emerging from the shadows. So we try to think our way out of such profound discomfort. We try our darndest to make peace with ourselves.
Don’t fall for the mind’s all-too-frequent MO.
And that’s to keep you immobilized, stuck on the hamster wheel of self-perpetuating worry. Believing that we can fight off perceived threats and make peace with ourselves, find solace, by just thinking long and hard enough is an all-too-common human ailment. I can speak to this because I’ve done this as long as I can remember. It got WAY better, then Covid 19 came along, and my progress flew out the window. I had to start over reminding myself how to get the hell out of bed and break the spell. Yes, spell. Conditioned behaviors are spells, in my opinion.
For me, I have to command myself to get up and get going. Just do something else. Anything but staying on the wrestling mat with myself in a battle that will never be won. Simple acts of taking a shower, washing dishes, cleaning the house, stepping out on our beautiful balcony to observe the scene outside, cause me to shift. And I realize that I’ve stepped out of the prison of my mind. The temptation will be back, I’m well aware. Tomorrow morning, I’ll have the same battle. Will I remember and act more quickly?
Opportunity beckons in the face of crisis.
If only the way to make peace with yourself came nicely packaged and in times and ways that don’t push you to your edge. We say we want to wake up, and tell God or the Universe to “Have at it!” But what we don’t admit to ourselves usually is that we have expectations and limits as to how that manifests.
And along comes a crisis of a magnitude that not only throws us off balance, we also feel tossed into a sea of uncertainty, drowning in a current of unanswered questions. We demand answers. We demand progress.
And where do we end up?
I love this quote from Alan Watts in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity (link at the end of this post).
“We suffer from the delusion that the entire universe is held in order by the categories of human thought, fearing that if we do not hold to them with the utmost tenacity, everything will vanish into chaos.”
We end up face-to-face with ourselves.
With so many escapes routes shut off or closed down temporarily, we’re brought back to getting solid glimpses of how we operate and how we treat ourselves. If you’re fortunate, what you see gives you comfort that you’re already becoming aware of how to make peace with yourself. Or you can be saying “Oh crap! Now what?”
Think about it. Being given the opportunity to see things about yourself that you’ve avoided or to which you’re completely unconscious CAN be an incredible gift. Of course, we have to get past being upset with ourselves for being less-than-enlightened.
We have to watch out for…
Entering in a boxing match with yourself.
If you want to make peace with yourself, I believe fighting with yourself will lead you on a long, blind detour. It’s just another trap of engagement and another lie that tells you that waking up is something you can achieve by the sheer force of your will and by whipping yourself into shape. In my experience, it’s far too easy to find myself back in the boxing ring with myself as the opponent. I ask myself “How did I end up here again?”
What our neurotic brains tell us (thank God if you’re one of the lucky few, and you don’t have one) is that we have to sort it out mentally. We believe that we have to name the threats, (inner and outer) and dismantle them with nifty logical rebuttals.
The potent simplicity of awareness.
We’re such fix-it, swing-into-action types that simply shining the light of awareness on something without feeling the need to do anything seems absurd. But the mystics have alluded to it time and time again. The light of awareness is a powerful thing. Change can commence of its own accord without our direction. But we don’t trust that, do we? We usually think that we have to swing into action; we have to be the ones to sew up our wounded and fractured selves. We don’t give much faith that integration of our yin and yang, our dark and light, can happen without our conscious, intellectual management.
Just consider, for a moment, that perhaps enlightenment isn’t about doing, isn’t a project of self-management. Consider that awareness enables us to see what doesn’t and hasn’t worked for us and what really isn’t true. Might self-integration come from awareness that, in turn, lets the false start falling away. Maybe enlightenment isn’t a process of addition, but subtraction.
A good friend recently reminded me that a simple but important question can help: “Is that so?” This can invite awareness into the judgments and conclusions that we’ve considered as unassailable.
Crafty lies perpetuated by our minds, our egos.
If you want to make peace with yourself, I share the lies that have hoodwinked me for far too long:
Lie #1: You must wait for inspiration, for a good feeling to lift you up before acting.
I put this one at the top of my list because, as an artist and a writer, I’ve spent ample time waiting to be swept into a magical moment of creativity before acting. If that were the case, I’d barely have created anything in my life. I learned many years ago to act, even when I felt like doing anything but what was in front of me. I had to take the leap of faith, often times when feeling downright sluggish or crappy. Often it would be like trying to crank up a car engine that had been sitting for days in sub-zero temps. Painful. Slow. But, what I’ve learned is that moving ahead in spite of the absence of good feelings, or inspiration, is the most important thing. It’s the ultimate act of faith. It may take half an hour, an hour, but before I know it, I find myself swimming in the waters of creative possibility and richness.
Lie #2: You must know how everything is going to turn out or have a damn good idea about it.
Our thinking minds don’t like operating in uncertainty. We don’t like to be on a road if we don’t know where we’re heading and if that destination fits in with our preconceived ideas. The Covid-19 crisis has thrown the ultimate monkey wrench in all of our plans. Our route and our destination are big fat question marks. And we’re supposed to keep driving?
Yes. I propose that we do what we can to remain constructive while we await further instructions or indications of what to do next. This means faith in life and not faith in some belief that we really know what’s best in our limited minds and experience. Again, I quote Alan Watts from The Wisdom of Insecurity:
“If we are open only to discoveries which will accord with what we know already, we may as well stay shut.”
Lie #3 Insecurity is a bad, bad thing.
The above quote further supports this in my opinion. Paradoxically, insecurity shows up plenty when you seek to make peace with yourself. We think making peace with ourselves is just another thing to accomplish as we do with other things in our lives. But I ask you to consider that peace comes with faith that all will somehow work out, in spite of not knowing. We’ve been trained to label insecurity as a sign of weakness.
Make friends with it. Don’t try to make it go away. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in an endless battle.
Lie #4 Pain must be snuffed out and avoided at all costs. Pain has no value.
If I could make peace with myself and sidestep any pain along the way, I’d be a happy man. But, I’ve learned, both from living with chronic physical pain and plenty of psychic and emotional pain, that pain is perhaps one of the most potent teachers in all of life. I’ve learned that growth involves pain; especially when we shed old dysfunctional skins and ways of navigating the world.
I’ve quoted Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet in other posts. He bears repeating again:
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.“
Lie #5 If you don’t control and stay on top of everything, life will come flying apart.
I struggle with this lie the most. No matter how many times I say I’ve let go, I realize that I still harbor this fear. What a ballsy thing for me to believe, that I hold life together through my feeble human mind and efforts. Letting go—REALLY letting go usually comes in increments, not in one fell swoop.
What if you find yourself letting go in a way that you’ve never let go before and then life starts offering up some amazing things? Entertain that possibility for just a tiny bit.
Are you willing to live with a big fat I DON’T KNOW?
I’d say that all of us are being asked that in the face of Covid-19. I know a few things, but I mostly don’t know a ton of things. I don’t know if we’ll be hit with a second, bigger wave if we open up too soon. I don’t know how people will behave when we open up and whether we can expect that people will act responsibly. I don’t know if a treatment is close at hand. I don’t when realistically we can have confidence in a safe, effective vaccine. I don’t know, and neither do doctors (yet) know if people who’ve had Covid-19 remain immune to any extent and, if so, for how long. I don’t how life, businesses, and the economy will start up again.
So, I offer that if you want to make peace with yourself in the face of this crisis, you might just have to learn to live with a rather enormous helping of “I don’t know” for a lot longer than you’d like.
Life as a house.
Jesus used the metaphor of a house in his teachings. He cautioned people not to build on sand and instead build on rock. I liken sand to placing faith in the foundation of a conditioned mind, and the rock placing faith in an aware, integrate self. Yes, that includes our shadow side, our darkness as well. Are we willing to look? Are we willing to have the internal structures we’ve so painstakingly built ripped down and begun again?
One of my top favorite movies of all time is Life as a House, starring Kevin Kline and Kristen Scott-Thomas. It’s a story of an imbittered man, stuck in his old ways. He’s squandered relationships. He’s alone, living in a falling down shack on the edge of a cliff in Southern California. He discovers that he’s dying from an aggressive and terminal cancer. This horrible disease wakes him up and he tears down the feeble structure he’s lived in for so many years. His final act on earth is building a new, beautiful and enduring structure, open and full of light, all while he keeps his disease hidden from his estranged family and ex-wife (whom he still loves). I cry like a baby every time I watch it. I cry for the feeble structures in my own life, yet I’m heartened by the opportunity to build again.
I’m endeavoring to make referenced inspirations more accessible by including the following links:
Such astute words of wisdom. You write with so much feeling and eloquence, my dear brother!
Grazie mille, my dear sister. We’re fortunate to be born into a family that encouraged our creativity and expression. If only I had the musical gifts that you do! But, I’ll settle for painting with words, oils, and watercolors! Love you!
You’re timing couldn’t be better my friend. So well written. THANKS. More meaningful than you may realize.
Thanks, Angela. We will somehow get through all this and hopefully, we’ll all keep holding each other up. Stay safe, my friend.