Showing Up When Things Fall Apart
“It matters not what you bear but how you bear it.” ~ Seneca
I recently came across my notes for a discussion on my radio show from the end of 2019, about setting intentions for the upcoming year…2020. They made me laugh. It was not the mirth that one might experience when listening to a favorite comedian, but more like the amusement we might have in listening to a young child with fantastical and naïve dreams. That was me at the start of 2020, naïve, full of grand and fantastical dreams, like, say…traveling.
While going through my notes, I found that I had included a discussion about flexibility regarding our New Year’s intentions. When I wrote that, I had no idea just how prophetic that would be. If this past year hasn’t been an exercise in learning to be flexible, I don’t know what is. Of course, not everyone was able to learn that lesson, but the better we were at learning the lesson of flexibility, the less painful it’s been and the more resilience we’ve had in weathering the twists and turns of this precarious year.
First, we’ve had to learn to be flexible about what we do, what actions we’ve had to take just to achieve the basics of life. Many things we took for granted before, such as taking in-person classes, having business meetings over lunch or coffee, or even having in-person meditation classes or in-person counseling, were just not viable options. There were many individuals who fought and protested against this, but the reality is that no one chose to have a world-wide pandemic hit us and science has told us what we can and cannot do safely.
Attachment Leads to Suffering
Suffering is, by definition, fighting against reality. The author, speaker, and Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield states in his YouTube lecture, Letting Go, “Your suffering is directly related to how attached you are.” A teaching attributed to the Buddha states, very simply, “Expect nothing, accept everything.”
We’ve also had to learn to be flexible about the how of doing the things we need to do. Many have had to work or do school virtually. We’ve had to help our children or grandchildren while they navigate distance learning. We’ve changed the way we shop, and some of us have even changed the structure of our lives in order to help our families. And if we have been following our passionate path, we’ve had to figure out how to continue safely along that path, if at all.
Freeing Ourselves from Expectations
The most important element that we’ve had to be flexible about has been our own expectations. When we have an idea about something we really want to do, we often have a picture of how it will look, how long it will take to traverse this path, and how it will feel. It is almost never exactly how we had imagined, even when we’re not in the midst of a global pandemic. But, if we’re stuck in the idea of having “it” be a certain way, fighting against the realities of life and of what is, we miss the opportunities that show themselves and the actual beauty that is right in front of us.
Sometimes, these opportunities and moments of grace are more beautiful than the imagined goal. But, even if not quite as wonderful as the picture that our imagination had created, these graceful moments of reality can be pretty darn good, if we allow them to be. The pain of the difficult moments can be opportunities, windows, into something much deeper and authentic than we could ever have imagined if we make a point to stay present.
Letting the Light In
I’m often reminded, at times like this, of the Leonard Cohen lyrics, “There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Obstacles and pain can often make our hearts softer, more compassionate, and the rawness can break us open to our authenticity. And that, my friends, can be a shortcut to the actual passionate life that we seek.
If we march along, stubbornly or bitterly, and not willing to bend with the twisting turns of what life throws us, we miss that light and will keep walking in the dark. While reading Dani Shapiro’s book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, I dog-eared the page, where she quotes the title of a novel by Peter Cameron, Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful to You. Those words now hang above my desk to remind me to pay attention.
When we set out on our path of passion with the idea of what we want to achieve and how we want it to feel, it’s always best to expect that we don’t really know how it’s going to turn out. We really won’t know if we’ll ever achieve our goal, or what it will actually look like if we do. Suppose we’re willing to set our goals knowing this uncertainty, holding the intention to be flexible in the way it turns out, and reminding ourselves to stay present throughout. In that case, we may be offered grace, beauty, and passion along the journey, even while everything appears to be falling apart. Just by showing up, no matter what, we allow the light to get in.
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