Life lessons are rarely learned easily nor without some sort of struggle, but some are certainly more extreme in their learning curves than others. I truly believe that every experience we have, every person who comes into or exits our lives, every “success” and every “failure” (although I really hate such terms) we undergo, has something to teach us. That is if we’re open to listening to and receiving the lesson with an open mind and heart, sometimes that’s the hardest part right there. You can be told the same thing over and over but until you’re ready to actually hear it, no progress will actually be made. In the face of hardship or adversity or feeling like your whole world just got turned upside down, it’s hard to be open and willing that’s for sure, but it is in those moments that the greatest progress can be made. But in my personal experience a lot of times said lesson (or at times even lessons) to be learned is one that has come up before, in some small or large way, and which I have ignored for whatever reason and now it’s become impossible to ignore any longer; like a phone that just keeps on ringing which you can only drown out for so long before you get so annoyed that you’re forced to pick it up and actually listen, not just defer it and let it go to voicemail.
I’m also becoming, slowly, a believer in the idiom of “when one door closes another opens,” or perchance “when one person leaves your life another one enters,” or “every ending is a new beginning.” I really hate cliche phrases such as these but the proof in my personal life is a bit too hard to ignore in this regard, so I guess I’m rolling with it. In looking back at my life and the people I have been so lucky to come in contact with as well as looking at the present and the people who I currently have the pleasure of being with, I am struck by the awesomeness that constantly surrounds me. I am also completely dumbfounded by the way I have attracted some of the most genuine, caring, loving, interesting, supportive, & inquisitive people into my life at the exact moment that I really, desperately needed all of the above. In experiencing loss or emotional turmoil I usually head in one of two directions, a) shut down, isolate, pull back, put it all on myself, and suffer alone; it’s an “easy” and reactive protective state for me as well as my tried and true modus operandi OR b) open up, be authentic, be real, be unapologetically me, and be vulnerable; this is a new one for me but it seems to be serving me well, so I’m embracing it, as terrifying as it may be at times.
Not only have these people supported me and been there for me in my darkest (and lightest) hours they have engaged with me (remember, intellect and inquisition is sexy people, don’t be a dullard) and kindly questioned me and pushed me gently (not that this was necessarily their goal, just a natural outcome from discussions) towards working on some key concepts that I’ve grappled with in life. Essentially they’ve encouraged me on my newly re-forged path of personal inquiry (I went a little dormant there for a while, I lost that aspect of myself for a bit sad to say, and I am so damn happy to have it back in action) and had some interesting input along the way; there’s no one “right” or “wrong” way to go about life as long as one is causing no harm to themselves or others, but in discussing personal life philosophies there have been some “A Ha!” moments or rather maybe some “well that’s an interesting concept” instances that later lead to said “A Ha!” moments. This has been a reciprocal experience as well (I am such an equality based, two way street kind of person in relationships, inequality irks me to no end) to be fair, as much as they’ve questioned my methods and had input as to their ways in life I have done the same in return, it is within inquiry and discussion that many times we find the answers to our questions.
As with anything in “teaching” its not usually the content thats exceptionally hard to grasp but the method in which it is delivered, that’s generally the difference between understanding the concept and not getting it at all. I’m usually a star student and a good listener, but I am quite sensitive to the teaching style and the methods in which the material is presented as it turns out. Some people are just better matches in terms of life teaching with me than others, also as it turns out, which I suppose is to be expected. This whole life learning thing is all a consistent process, we are (hopefully) learning throughout our entire lives, and we have to be encouraging yet gentle with ourselves. We are all striving to do our best with the cards we’ve been dealt in life, we must celebrate our successes and learn from our “failures” and build upon our “successes” and, most importantly, not be too hard on ourselves in the process (this is one “lesson” I struggle with on the daily, don’t be so hard on yourself, be kind to yourself, & all that jazz).
There have been a LOT of lessons to learn, or finally grasp as the case may be, lately so I guess I’ll just try and tackle them one by one over the next little while on this lovely blog. I know you’re stoked to have a series of life ramblings from me! 🙂 Again, I share because sharing is caring and because I don’t believe I’m the only one who’s grappled with these topics, so in my ramblings maybe you can find some commonality and something to take away. That’s the hope at least!
Let’s start with the lesson that I’ve probably wrestled with longest (other than “happiness comes solely from within,” maybe that will be my next post), which is the overarching concept of “be here now,” and which splits into all sorts of other entwined mini lessons, as things will. I have historically been terrible, and I do mean abjectly terrible, about living in the present moment. I am consistently caught up in the past, rarely living for the moment, always concerned about the future. As it turns out a really shitty way to live, seeing as it hasn’t brought me much happiness as a method of going about things, much to the contrary in fact. The quote “If you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future, if you are at peace you are living in the present” by Lao Tzu really struck me hard when I saw it flit across my screen the other day. I am quite familiar with the depression that stems from being caught in the past and the anxiety that comes from living in the future, but the peace of being in the present is a fleeting one. Life seems to really be pushing this one on me though as of late: I can’t change what was, it is what it is, and no amount of rehashing or wallowing will change it, the best I can do is learn from it and grow from it; I also can’t change what will be, no amount of planning or stressing will alter the future, and in trying to control it all I actually end up controlling less (another lesson: control is a complete illusion) and make myself more unhappy in the process. This whole living in the moment thing seems much more alluring right?
So why not just “let it be,” the current mantra that keeps cropping up in my life: “let it be, let it be,” those words haunting me in my waking and sleeping hours. So, so much easier said than done for me. But by observing others that embody this mentality and having lengthy discussions and repeated lessons (I get it universe!) in regards to this, maybe I’m slowly but surely getting there. One step at a time eh? I’m someone who really loves the dichotomy of black and white, I like things well defined, I like to know where I stand at all times, I like to have it all signed, sealed, and delivered. I hate grey, I hate unknowns, I hate uncertainty, I hate undefined, it makes me uncomfortable and pushes my preconceived notions about life (which is probably a good thing, we usually don’t learn and grow in our comfort zones as it turns out). But as it turns out nothing actually is black and white and we constantly live in a world of gray, much to my brain’s chagrin, so I guess I’ll be adding “let it be” to my vocabulary. Again life is shoving this one on me, just when you think you have it all figured out and you have a vague trajectory, it all gets shook up and your asked to question your own humanity and very existence. And whether the ways you’ve gone about life for the past few decades are actually serving you or not, and sometimes you don’t like the answer to that question if you objectively look at it. By trying to exert control over all aspects in my life I am actually contributing to my own unhappiness, by having expectations (or as I’ve heard them called, premeditated let downs) I am creating my own sadness, by trying to have everything defined in life I am potentially ruining the good things that simply exist. It’s like trying to corral grains of sand, they simply just keep running through your fingers, no matter how hard you try (and arguably the harder you try the faster they run), so why not just let it be as it is.
*As I started writing this piece Pandora dished up a song, “Hayling” by FC Kahura, whose lyrics state “Don’t think about all those things you feel, just be glad to be here.” Thanks Pandora, very strangely appropriate, as per usual.*
**Which just sparked a memory of one of my favorite songs of all time, just because of one of the lyrics that struck me way back in the day which is unrelated but awesome and still applicable, “I’m so alive, I’m scared to death.” But currently it’s the name of the song that has struck me, it’s called “Nice To Be Here,” and one of the more pertinent lyrics currently is “I feel, it’s nice to be, it’s nice to be here.” Huh. Old song retooled to my current reality.**
Which I suppose brings me to a corollary to “let it be” and “live in the moment” and that is “not trying so hard and simply accepting what is,” or even simply “accepting what is.” I had this lesson presented to me within the context of a scientific principle as way of vague explanation, I suppose the full meaning is for me to figure out myself. Me being the science minded nerd I totally squeed at the reference and also could immediately start to put it into my own point of reference. This concept was likened to the quantum principle exhibited in the iconic two slit experiment (honestly quantum in PChem was the most challenging but also awesome class I took in college, so I was stoked to delve back into it): Light exhibits wave like nature, and when one shines a light on a screen with two slits in it, the light, acting as waves, goes through the slits, interferes with itself, and creates a pattern of many bands with peaks of brightness in the center and gradients on either side separated by areas of darkness (due to the increasing amplification wherein the waves crests overlap and cancellation wherein the wave crests/troughs cancel each other out) on the screen behind aka an interference pattern.
Like so: Fairly sensical when you think about it.
Now if we repeat this experiment with atoms (a particle of matter) or even photons (discrete packets of light or visible light particles), something you’d expect to produce two distinct bands, with no gradients in intensity, wherein the atoms/photons flew straight through the slits and hit the screen, we get to the what the fuck factor: instead we see an interference pattern, from which we can only assume the atom is acting as a wave. But the atom/photon leaves as a localized particle, somehow becomes a wave before reaching the two slits, travels through both slits at once as a wave and interferes with itself (because an interference pattern can only arise from a wave traveling through both slits), and then hits the screen at the back at a definite point. Holy shit!
So since scientists were all sorts of mind blown over this they decided to observe these pesky atoms to figure out what was happening and placed a detector at the screen with the slits to see exactly which slit the atom passed through and how the hell this insanity was occurring. Here comes the absolutely crazy making part: under observation the interference pattern disappears (so no wave like nature) and two distinct bands are produced as the atoms zing through acting as mere particles. What the hell? But when the detector is turned off and the experiment recreated the atoms revert to their wavelike nature (and produce an interference pattern). Holy shit! Just the act of observing has literally changed the nature of the atom itself, what a freaky concept eh?
Ipso facto, in life sometimes the act of observing, or judging, or attempting to exert control, changes the very nature of things and the eventual outcome. If we simply let things be and accept them as they are, we can be so much less absorbed in the how and why and simply experience what is in front of us, and we can exist in our own natural, and dare I say, happy state as well. The very act of scrutinizing, of labeling, of analyzing, of trying so hard to understand, alters the experience and makes it something that it is not inherently. If we don’t try so damn hard to understand every little thing and categorize every single entity then we allow things to be as they are, in their natural state, and it gives us the space to experience things in their real state and absolutely authentically. And most pertinently to me, because I am a serial overanalyzer, sometimes by trying so hard to rationalize and to put things into boxes we alter and ruin the natural outcome, by letting things be we can throw away those pesky labels and expectations that lead to misconceptions and let downs; therefore simply enjoying that which is in front of us and occurring in the moment, deriving joy from that which is existing in the present, not being caught up in the past or future.
That’s the goal at least! And as per usual, easier said than done, but I’m working on it…