We get up in the morning and we do our best. Nothing else matters.
– Closing line from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
It occurred to me halfway through yesterday that most of my friends are older than I am. They’ll have been through many more changes than I have, certainly. And for a few hours, I cringed. Why am I writing about this subject? They’ll already have their ways of dealing with things. They know the terrain of change. You can’t reach the middle of your life without having to deal with it. So what good is this writing thing?
But this morning, I’m tucked in my bed with a cup of fresh coffee. The sky is deeply grey outside my window. Snow is falling at an ever increasing pace. And the night’s rest has brushed away my insecurities (for now). We all have something to offer. Sometimes it’s an inherent gift – a talent for drawing, for cooking, for compassion. Sometimes it’s a skill, honed over years of consistent use. In my case, I’ve spent years trying to articulate my thoughts and feelings with the written word. Not publicly, but through intermittent journals dating back to (jeez, how embarrassing) sixth grade. That’s over forty years of trying to write it just right. So I may not have the wisdom of the ages. That’s okay. What I can do is write out a few things that someone else might know but find difficult to convey. So there. It’s worth doing after all! Whew.
Also, I like writing.
A caveat: I like writing when I have time to do it well, without having to rush. And when I feel the internal push to do so. Now that is something that’s hard to describe, that push. But I’ll try. It’s less a compulsion than a nudge. Like someone’s tapping on your shoulder from time to time, clearing their throat and giving you The Look. You know the one. It clearly communicates, “You know what to do. Now get to it.” Ignore at your peril. The tapping gets more insistent, The Look more intense, each time they have to return.
Fine. Fine! I’m writing, alright!?!?! Shut up already!
And The Look wanders away shrugging innocently, exclaiming “Tell me to shut up, will you? I didn’t say a word…”
So, snow falling, coffee soothing, blankets snugged around me, I return to the task at hand. Let’s see what arises…
I start with the final lines from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for two reasons. One, it’s a reminder to me that big change can and is likely to happen at every age. The characters in the movie are retirees. But their struggles are the struggles we all face from time to time – profound, identity challenging and possibly leading to a very different life from the one we thought we were supposed to live.
And “supposed to live” may be the key phrase there. But I’ll get back to that later.
Second, I love those lines. They sum up all of the craziness and confusion and tumbling enjoyment of our lives – and then what to do about it. What to do about it all? Nothing! Just do it. Do it the best you can. Then let it go.
So I start now at the hardest place, the place where big change happens. It’s a stunner. And you feel a bit like someone slapped you in the face. (Not that I’ve ever actually experienced being slapped in the face. It’s a metaphor. I think it’s a metaphor. I’m not taking time to check grammatical terms here. Someone can let me know later. Though I’ll admit to having administered two very fine slaps in my life. But those are tales for another time.)
First things first. Don’t hide.
One of the most profound misdirecting influences of our modern culture is the theme that we shouldn’t have to experience pain. Have a headache? Take a pill and make it go away. Ummm, maybe you should pay attention to why you have the pain of a headache. It’s there for a reason. Something is causing it. Masking the pain does not address the reason for the pain. It just allows you to ignore it. Take the analogy further and we get to our propensity for substance use and abuse, irresponsible administering of anti-depressants, and on a very private level, sublimation of true emotion and identity. Each of these is worthy of its own paragraph. I’ll just say this: taking the edge off your pain with some help is perfectly fine. A little recreational indulgence does no harm, for sure. But consistent covering of physical and psychic pain is not a cure. It’s a bandaid. And not a very effective one, as the symptoms go on and on and on. This I know from repeated personal experience. And if you listen closely, you’ll hear yourself say that you know it as well.
The first important thing to do is accept the situation. Yep. Big stuff comin’ down. And in my book, it’s best to just get on with it. There’s an old spiritual that I remember singing at summer camp:
So wide you can’t get around it
So low you can’t get under it
So wide you can’t get around it
Gotta go through the door
So, start there. It’s big. And unavoidable. Then get as sad, pissed off, jubilant or indignant as you like. I mean really get into it. I recently saw a post on FB from an old friend. It was a picture of her, crashed out on the couch, encased in blankets after giving her notice at work. I saw it and thought “YES! Way to go! That’s how you SHOULD look after such a huge effort.” It wasn’t just the giving notice. It was all the work that led up to the action – worry, problem-solving, trying to be patient, self-conscious assessment, understanding, and then action. Big work.
BUT, don’t get me wrong. This is not the time for action. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my own missteps, it‘s that trying to solve the situation right away is a recipe for failure. Action at the wrong time just makes for more problems to solve later. You’ll likely have to undo whatever you did in the heat of the moment – or in the desperate desire to FIX IT! RIGHT NOW!
Action is another way we try to avoid pain.
Just accept that you’re in a Big Thing. It is what it is.
But it’s not all bad!
You get to crash on the couch in a bundle of blankies. Or cry. For days. Or duck out of social obligations because you can’t muster the brain power to talk with people like a reasonable human being. Yes, you’ll likely have to keep on working, keep making meals for the family, keep doing all the things on your to do list. But we’re not automatons. You don’t have to disregard your interior life while taking care of business. You can do both. Be distracted by The Big Thing. People will understand. And if they don’t, well… <insert appropriate phrase that will allow you to disregard all opinions except your own>
Also, and here’s the magic, when you accept the inevitability of The Big Thing: things begin to move of their own accord. Not things you’ve done, or caused to happen, but just… well, things start happening.
This is not some metaphysical, take-my-word-for-it-and-just-believe kind of thing. Okay, well maybe it is just a bit. But if you know me at all, you know that’s not where I’m coming from. I live in Santa Fe, yes. (That’s geographic speak for “there’s a lot of metaphysical philosophizing going on around here.”) I accept that stuff is happening that we don’t understand. And just because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not there, not real. But I’m also exceptionally rational – a genetic handoff from my predecessors, particularly my father. Don’t ask me to believe something just because you say it’s so. That’s ridiculous. And I’m not gonna do it.
Somewhere in the middle of all that – perhaps where the spiritual and the rational agree to meet – is a recognition, based on my own experience, that pieces of the puzzle will start to move once you accept the enormity of the situation. Willingness seems to invite participation. Not necessarily from other people, but from things, the world, in general. I don’t know what it’s about. It’s something like a response to your acceptance. Yes? Ready to do this? Then let’s DO IT!
Keep yourself from acting just now. But I can guarantee you that stuff is happening anyway. Things are falling into place that will allow you to start over, better, in the future. Sometimes they can take an agonizingly long time. Who cares? Suck it up! You don’t get to fix it all this minute! Which leads to another point worth jotting down in your notes from class.
Let things develop as they will.
It’s a hard one, this. And oh, I can say it as many times as I like but I still have to point that finger back at myself and say “Oh, and how are you with letting things develop as they will, eh? Perfectly patient? Utterly accepting? All calm and poised while things work themselves out?” Ha!
No, I find this part really challenging. I’m one of the least patient people I know. That’s why I knit. Not because I am patient, but because it teaches me about patience. Knitting reminds me that there is no shortcut. Only steady, persistent, stick-to-it-iveness results in an outcome. Even then, it’s not always the outcome I’d anticipated. But if I can just relax and enjoy the actual act of knitting- remember to appreciate the colors, the textures, the satisfaction I feel in making something with my hands – then I’m reminded that all of life is a bit like knitting. It’s not really about the finished product. It’s more about the experiences along the way to a finished product. The finished product is an added bonus. And the willingness to knit is what allows it all to happen.
So be willing to let things occur as they will. You don’t have to believe that things are happening. Belief is based on faith. I’m not asking you to go on faith. I’m asking you to trust. Trust is based on experience. Real stuff. Look back on your life and find instances where circumstances, all kinds of factors, had to be in place just so in order for that next thing to happen. Whether the next thing was “good” or “bad” is not at issue here. Every life, when observed, can’t help but illustrate that movement is based on things lining up at the right time, in the right way. Water flows downhill as soon as any impediments are removed. You might move the impediments, but you really don’t need to. Other forces are in play. Gravity shifts rocks. Storms come and go, moving sand and trees and gouging out new contours. A beaver may wander by and, in his need to make a dam, pull several a pile of debris out of place. Boom! Movement. Things are happening. You didn’t do them, but they get done. And the water flows.
Trust me, this is happening, even if it’s outside your realm of consciousness. No leap of faith required.
So. Here we are. A few first steps. Do accept. Don’t hide. Let things start to happen but resist the impulse to make them do so. Good progress!
Best wishes for a lovely day. 😘