I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with friends who are on edge with life choices and directions. The common theme has been that there is this urgent feeling of our passions either wasting or passing us by, and we’ve got to Do Something™ to change that, to change ourselves or our circumstances, to make positive change in the world, and to individually manifest our happiness.
It doesn’t help that there are those silly motivational quotes all over Facebook and Pinterest, telling us that life’s too short, to live in the now, to seize the day. NO PRESSURE, EVERYONE.
As a recovering overachiever who lapses regularly, I get it. Taking action has been core to my existence! Changing the world, making dramatic career moves, almost marrying a fascinatingly wrong-for-me (but super interesting!) man… Yep. I had a favorite shirt for a long time that said, “Never a dull moment.”
Years ago, I shared with my therapist that I was just utterly unhappy and frustrated, and I didn’t know what to do about it. She’s pretty heavily influenced by Buddhist teachings, so she said, “Hm. Can you sit with that? The bad feelings?”
"Um, NO," I said. "Duh. Why would I want to do that?” I told her that the whole point of my existence was that I acted on pain to shift it, that I wasn’t afraid of doing so.
"Have you ever been in the situation where you look behind your desk and see that all your computer cables have gotten tangled up?" Of course, I said. "And did you get a big pair of scissors to cut everything?" No. "And why not?"
"Because it’d all be broken and nothing would work." I sensed the lesson coming.
"And what did you do instead?"
"I sat down and untangled everything."
"Did it take a while? Was it frustrating?" Yes and yes. "Did you feel better after it was all over?" Yes, I admitted grudgingly.
"Sitting with challenging feelings isn’t about being a masochist and feeling pain for it’s own sake. It’s to see what’s on the other side, once you go through it."
I’m still not an expert at it, but I’m practicing sitting these days. Oddly enough, it creates more space for solid action to happen, for me. It helps me stay present and grounded, of course, but it also helps me realize: We have time. Lots and lots of time. We don’t have to know and solve everything in this singular moment. There’s no other way to experience that kind of expansiveness without practicing, and I’ve only scratched a teensy tip of it. And if I went back in time to explain this to my 25 year old self, I’m sure she’d laugh her ass off at me. I admire that in her, and me, and agree that we all have to take life by the reigns and create our own destinies. But that doesn’t happen instantly, and no amount of well-designed pictures of mantras will actually help you do that.
Birthday #39 is coming up for me in a couple weeks, and though I’m leaving open the space for this to change again, I feel like the older I get, the more time I have in an existential sense. (Summer, however, still goes by way too fast.) That new sense of time still butts up against other parts of me— especially the parts that feel tremendous pain as the world rips itself apart through war, genocide and disasters— but at least having those bits in dialog, rather than just pulling me apart in opposite directions, is a start.