I am not usually one for inspirational quotes, because for some reason – cynicism? pure stubborn defiance? – for me they typically have the opposite effect.
Those pithy wall art quotes that are supposed to inspire a sense of peace or wellbeing, “Breathe” “Love” “Laugh”, inspire something else in me. Something that feels a lot like rage, actually, because yes duh I am breathing, I’m here looking at this stupid sign, aren’t I? And I will love who and when I want to, dammit. And no, I don’t actually feel like laughing right now stop telling me what to do, walls!
But I also know that even though this particular brand of inspiration spurs irritation in me, it also serves as a touchpoint for others – reminding them to stop, inhale, show affection, express joy. It doesn’t work for me, but I totally get it. I get it now more than ever, because a few days ago I stumbled across a passage that literally stopped me in my tracks and if it were possible I would carve the whole thing out of wood and stick it above my mantle (even though I do not now own, nor have I ever owned, a mantle.)
The magic words came from the mouth of a lovely man named Eckhart Tolle (who just so happens to be BFF’s with Oprah- obviously, you know?)
This is what it said:
The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” (Theodore Rubin)
Even if we discount all those pseudo-problems (such as worry), that are created by dysfunctional thinking, there still remains the fact that “having problems” seems to be the norm in most people’s lives. Relationships, finances, work, health….. if it’s not one thing, it’s something else. So, can we accept the possibility that comfort and security are not the ultimate purpose of human existence — and that consciousness evolves and awakens through facing discomfort and insecurity? Can we accept that we may be here to be challenged, and so no longer resent the fact that we have problems? Can we accept each moment as it is?
The paradox is that, when we live like that, with no resentment and no complaining, not only do solutions appear more quickly, but we transcend the entire realm of problems. All that’s left then is life and its challenges, and we respond to each challenge with peace in our hearts.
Until I read this, I don’t think I ever realized that I have been treating my life as a series of problems to be fixed and gotten out of the way so I can live my real life. You know, the life where I wake up early and have coffee without the accompanying coffee-anxiety, I have weekly meal plans and where Gus has stopped shedding and drooling, where Olive is potty trained and I am gloriously, hugely pregnant; where we own a lovely charming home and are completing lovely, effortless renovations; where Adam is magically clean and organized, and I am a famous writer who also has to do no publicity at all because everyone indulges me as a quirky eccentric hermit.
You know THAT life, yeah?
So my general attitude towards all of the things standing between me and this mythical life – the discipline and the practice, the physics and the training, cleaning and negotiating and stress – my attitude forwards all of these roadblocks has been that all of it can just fuck off please, so I can get back to catching up to my REAL life. Finally!
The problems irritated me and stressed me and made me incredibly anxious, because they were my way, dammit! There was always something in the way and it was never ending.
It is never ending.
I can visualize my real life perfectly, that’s how hard I have been clutching at it – perennially always just out of reach. I see all of the problems and bumps and roadblocks just dissolving into mist and my whole existence opening up into a wide open field of joy and possibility.
But after I read those words and re-read them and let them sink into my bones, after that I realized that the field doesn’t exist.
It does not exist.
That realization floored me. I truly didn’t understand that a problem-free life didn’t exist until I read that quote. And more importantly, I really didn’t understand how deeply I believed it did, until I felt the shock of that vision shattering.
It is a very strange feeling, realizing that there will never be a time in my life that there aren’t some problems, big or small. Dogs puking on new carpets, illnesses both life-threatening and not, jobs lost, bad haircuts, burnt toast.
Suddenly realizing this feels like taking off sunglasses in blinding light – it’s discomforting and alarming, I feel like I am reeling, stumbling around a bit trying to get my bearings.
I also feel incredibly foolish for having worn the glasses for so long, I mean shouldn’t I have figured this out sooner? Do you all know this already? Have I been alone fighting for this mythical life of smooth sailing and plans fulfilled to the letter?
More than that, it’s scary. If I’m not fighting against the very existence of these problems, I have to live with them. I have to accept them and expect them, I have to come up with some way to live gracefully among this minefield. Can I do that? Can I, as dear Mr. Tolle says, “…accept the possibility that comfort and security are not the ultimate purpose of human existence” ?
That’s a lot to let go of. Comfort and security are what I have been chasing for a decade. Sometimes it feels like the tighter I clutch that goal, the more it slips away. And this is more than new age mumbo jumbo – it gets to the core of how I interact with my life, every part of it.
I am notorious for getting a very specific idea in my head – whether it’s of a pair of shoes, or a complete life – and I get really attached to this idea and really invested in this idea and I ride so far with this idea that somewhere along the way I forget that I invented it and it might not – probably does not- exist. And eventually I come face to face with this reality and I have to settle for some real-life solution and I find myself disappointed.
I think this can be a good thing at times – it is what makes me a good writer, the ability to spin a whole narrative from a two minute interaction or a one-off comment, but it can be problematic in real life when you go to eighty-seven shoe stores looking for the Platonic ideal of ankle boots which you have materialized in your head and are now desperately trying to claw into existence through sheer will.
I am working through where to go from here, how to get my footing after this shift, and I have a hunch that it comes down to creating an expectation for how I want to feel, rather than how I want something to be.
I think this is what people mean when they say simple things like “choose joy”. It used to be irritating, because how can I choose to be happy when all this shit keeps happening?!
I will be happy if. I will be happy when– and not a second sooner! But if I am just choosing to be happy, period, if I choose that emotion and then filter life through that happiness, rather than attaching it to a series of conditions that must be met before it can be fulfilled – I mean really. That’s it. right?
Anyway, sorry to go all self-helpy on you. I just thought this was sort of an interesting thing to come across at the ripe old age of thirty, and I wondered if everyone else got here before me – and why didn’t you tell me?
And just so I don’t leave off with you thinking I am some sort of budding Oprah zen master, please remember that I still deal with conversations like this one I had with Adam while we were moving, on the daily:
Me: Okay, so I have devised a Pink Sticker System
Me: A Pink Sticker System. I am putting pink stickers on the boxes that have stuff like toiletries, clothing, Olive’s toys etc. so that they don’t get put into storage.
Adam: That’s too complicated, it will never work.
Me: What? Why?
Adam: I don’t want to have to be searching around for weird pink stickers on every box. I’ll just remember what needs to go where.
Me: Okay, well you’re the one unpacking so whatever works for you.
***4 hours later**
Adam: Hey, what’s with these stickers?
Me: *Staring at him. Speaking very slowly* Those are from the Pink. Sticker. System.
Adam: The what?
Me: The…the Pink Sticker–okay seriously? The Pink Sticker System! I was putting pink stickers on things to identify boxes that shouldn’t be put into storage? Remember?
Adam: No. Why are there only three boxes with stickers?
Me: What?! Because I stopped after you said it wouldn’t work and you just wanted to-
Adam: -that would have made things so much easier!
Me: *feverishly mumbling* Consciousness evolves and awakens through facing discomfort and insecurity. Consciousnessevolvesandawakensthroughfacingdiscomfortandinsecurity.Consciousness evolves and awakens-
Can we call this two steps forward, one step back?