Monday, August 19, 2013

Breathe in, breathe out

I found myself saying on the phone to one of my best girlfriends yesterday (someone who would show up in the middle of the night if necessary, a woman who speaks the truth and cares deeply) "I just want a simple life." This yearning for simplicity doesn't come from naivety but, I suppose, from living through a few years of crap, and the desire, therefore, not to relive it.

Now I know -- believe me, I know -- that in comparison to 99% of my fellow earth-inhabitors, there is nothing remotely hard about my life. To the contrary. But it is these human problems that seem to trip us up, and make us less effective in our desires to do good in the world.

I'm a bit of an optimist, I'm afraid. A "warrior for optimism" one kind commenter suggested. And this manifests itself in a few ways: 1) I sugar-coat things to make them seem happier, more pretty. 2) I idealize situations. 3) I want things to turn out well, so fervently, that I think I can will them to do so.

Floating on a cloud of happiness for the last two months has been a very nice way to spend the summer, but it's probably not realistic. In the last few days I've been flooded with self-doubt. It's not where I want to be, not at all. I know that all of us do better in the flow, breathing deeply, moving through life with our hearts open, our shoulders wide, and not curled up in a ball in the fear place. The things that stop us are usually things we need to shed anyway: the voice of a parent to a five year old self, the inner voice who asks "who the f*** do you think you are?", the memory of abandonment, self-sabotage. I think that I naively believed that by being happy I would attract happiness and there would be an upward spiral of swirling double helixes of ecstasy and all would be well in the world, forever and ever, amen. This is how it goes: work hard, be kind, eat properly, go to yoga, exercise, love those you love, take your vitamins, spend time every day reading poetry, do good in the world where you can.

But the part you can't measure, the part you have no control over, is when you butt up against someone else and their desires and neuroses. It's the part when you're reminded that you're not the center of the universe, that it's not about you, ever.

And so, I was ferocious. People have said this to me before: you can be ferocious. I don't like it, but it comes out sometimes, and I play it off like I'm joking, but actually it feels more like a Linda Blair moment, you know, you open your mouth and this big, deep, devil-voice coming spitting out. I was ferocious to someone I care about a lot, and someone who did nothing to deserve the ferocity. It was two sentences perhaps and I quickly back-pedaled, but I embarrassed him, I could see that immediately, and he felt the need to reassure me, endlessly, kindly.

Do you remember as a child hurting someone who you love completely by accident? I think I might have been twelve, and at boarding school, and there was a hardboard clipboard in the dormitory, to which was pinned a score-card -- we were marked on how clean the dorm was, and how well we'd done our hospital corners -- and I was waving it around one day playing the fool as I was wont to do, and it cracked against the side of my friend Ophelia's head, just near her eyebrow, and drew blood. She burst into tears. I remember standing there utterly forlorn and feeling absolutely horrible watching the big, fat tears roll down her face, her hand to her head.

And thus it was a day later, when I was reminded of what I said.

I apologized with way too much detail. (Chris called me "the crazy girl" when I described it to him.)

But here's the surprise: one day I had given one tiny glimpse into my childhood to this person (the recipient of my ferocity) and he had managed, somehow, to realize that that was where it came from. That it was not about him. That's the kind of person I'd like to be, able to discern in the moment with such acute insight what is going on, to be ego-free. So incredibly grateful for this.

I'm of course embarrassed. I feel like a neophyte. Like a virgin. Honestly, like a virgin, in the world. Treading one foot in front of the other and hoping I'm going in the right direction. I can't play these games people play. I'm not good at following rules. I reveal way too much about myself. I am determined that the truth will set me free. I'm inelegant, gangly, clumsy, like a big licky puppy.

Be kind for everyone you meet carries a heavy load.

And thus we stumble on in the world, doing our best, making mistakes, making amends quickly, moving along again, trying to become better people, trying to elevate ourselves, trying, somehow to touch the stars, the blue ether.

Life would be simpler if we didn't feel things. If we kept ourselves to ourselves, hermetically sealed. Life would be simpler if we didn't interract, or open our hearts. Life would also be a lot more bland.

Simple happiness fix: Drive down the 101 in the San Fernando Valley in hundred degree heat in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, wind down all the windows, and play "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire on high volume while singing at the  top of your lungs, your soon-to-be-college-bound daughter sitting next to you and doing the very same thing.

Chiltern Hills (via google/flickr, with thanks)

It's August 19 and the sky is that mid-blue it becomes before dawn. I'm reminded of England. My heart is always there. Of dew-soaked grass and the larks and song thrushes, and stepping out into the day before anyone else is around, into the pristine beauty and the newness, where your foot is the only thing spoil the glittering prisms of the watery grass, to see cattle lying down in the meadow together, and the heady optimism of the one or two clouds hanging over the Chilterns, blue sky behind.

This is what we can do: get up each day and start again. Breathe in, breathe out. Love more.


materfamilias said...

Thank you. That's all. Just thanks. . .

ganching said...

Such sound advice.

the running wave said...

I learnt of your wonderful blog about 10 minutes ago and I have just read this post and I think you and I have much in common! It's wonderful to see words and thoughts I have repeatedly coming from someone else's pen. It's easy to forget that we are all connected in some way! Thank you.

You may like to visit my blog which is really a vehicle for observation chat and my photographs!

Madame Là-bas said...

I understand exactly what you are saying and we are fortunate to have each day to start anew.

LPC said...

I wish you would start a bedtime reading for adults site, where often, say, 4-5 times/week, you'd write something like this and post yourself reading it. Then we could also listen before we went to sleep, brushed free of the burrs we picked up during the day.