For the last few years I have endeavoured to write posts about things that I learned in the previous year at this time of year. So, what to write?
This year has been a lot of learning. I quit my first job this year which was an event that was built up with a lot of hype and a lot of hope.
I have always been a person who approached things with what is probably too much thought and attention, fixated on all the good bits and even more fixated on the bad bits. The bad bits have had the ability to effectively control my mind, spinning me into deep, dark places where I didn’t know how to emerge again or how to fix things…until a seemingly miraculous reawakening happens from which I return to my “normal self” where I am the cheerful, chatty girl.
This year I took notice of that. This year, the big question I consistently asked myself was about other people. In particular, I asked myself how people remain, seemingly, hopeful and happy despite the absolute, utter bullshit happening around them?
I read a book about the Dalai Lama earlier this year. It was chosen because the Dalai Lama’s story reads like hocus pocus and believe me when I say I die for a bit of magical story telling. So, I chose to read this book about the Dalai Lama when I wanted to read a book about meditation and its roots.
Maybe that’s when the question first actually struck me, because how in the hell does the Dalai Lama hold himself out as a “professional laugher” while the country with which he has been tasked with protecting has been in a state of conflict so severe that he has been living in exile since 1959? He has said
I have been confronted with difficult circumstances throughout the course of my life, and my country is going through a critical period. But I laugh often, and my laughter is contagious.
The utter honestly and simplicity of that statement was enough to stop me. Whether you are able to believe in reincarnation and the divinity of the Dalai Lama or not, he ultimately is simply a human, with human feelings and a human disposition. With my human feelings and human disposition, I have been capable of near paralysis when I wondered whether or not my sister’s boyfriend truly liked me or whether the people at my former job would hate me or talk smack about me over board room drinks. And so, I set out to learn how, in all of my innate cheerfulness, I can be so devastated by the simplest and most unimportant notions, while there are humans on the Earth who coin themselves “professional laughers” amid violent, suppressive, anti-religion oppression. In the first 20 years of the conflict, 1.2 million Tibetans died. The Dalai Lama was 24 years old at the time of his exile. He is now 80 years old, and he remains in exile. And yet, he is a professional laugher.
So, how then, am I so capable of sadness? This was the question I tried to learn the answer to in 2015.
I practiced yoga: poses and meditation. In the poses, I was often distracted. In meditation, I was full-on hateful, comparing my inability to clear my mind of all but the present in-breath and out-breath to my inability in all other areas of my life. I relived breakups, educational failures, lost friendships, family members with whom I was no longer close, and my assumed failings as a professional. I would leave meditation feeling so angry and small that I eventually stopped going.
A teacher later recommended I try out a few different books on meditation. I did. I tried them. And I went back to meditation to actively practice what I read. And today, I am a work in progress.
I have learned that as this girl, this human that I am, I will inevitably have the luxury of feeling. And I can either dwell in my feelings, or I can experience them for all that they are – in their bright, acceptable brilliance, or in their negative, hopeless sadness. When I dwell in either, I don’t actually get to experience the beauty of right now. And there is lot there – in right now – which is worth experiencing.
I have learned that nothing is stable, but rather that inherent in life is an instability that is part of life, and if I lean in to all of that instability without requiring happiness or joy or any particular emotion, I will experience the moments, those infuriating or maybe really beautiful moments, of instability, and then I will be living, awakening to right now.
I have learned that in all of life’s instability, if we place too much expectation in how much better things could be, we will get clouded and be unable to see that right where we are is the perfect moment. It’s life and it’s simple. It might be funny or painful. But whatever it is, it won’t last forever. And so, I have learned that a lack of expectation, that a hopelessness is grounding, because it is right here that is perfect. It is the perfect moment right here.
I have learned that all of my thoughts are just thoughts – the good and the bad, the joyful and the depressing. They are all equal, part of my humanness and part of what makes this moment the moment, the perfect moment. So, when I try to fall asleep at night, or try to meditate when I’m unfocussed, as my thoughts arise I notice them all equally – because they are all equal, none bad, none particularly good, all just a part of my human experience.
So, when I sit at my desk at the office, frustrated (as people become while sitting at their desks at the office), I try and pull of all of this in, because it is not just that I have learned a few techniques for meditation. Rather, I have learned about life – through a certain lens.
When I read the news over morning coffee and eggs, and I come across a devastating story about a Canadian pastor who has been sentenced to life with hard labour in North Korea, or scroll Facebook to see the heartbreaking status updates about intolerance of refugees, I try to recall that in our humanness, we will all make mistakes. Then, I try to recall that the grief and sadness caused by those mistakes is not outweighed by the amazing story of human capacity and ability in the 26-year old man who lived for six months alone on a remote lake in the North West Territories or the story about a couple who gave up their dream wedding to pay for a Syrian refugee family to resettle in Canada.
You see, what I learned this year was that in our humanness we will all do bad or good, and we will all feel amazing or like bottom feeders, but that through those things there is an ability to remain on this middle, balancing point where we accept the inherent instability of life, of the other people around us, and of our ever-changing human emotions and, just the same, we can recognize that the same is true for all of those people who are around us.
If someone who has had to bury the very people he was tasked with protecting can be a professional laugher, maybe so can I. The beauty is in the breakdown, or when things fall apart, or in the very destruction and recapitulation of yourself. That’s what I learned this year.