Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master. In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew. Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.
These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.
And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control. Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…
I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me. I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically. Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow. Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.
And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought. In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up. I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.
When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over. I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.
I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.
I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death. (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)
I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.
And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now. I have today.
A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff. I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth. I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.
In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace. It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes. And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You have today. You have this moment. Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment. Don’t let it slip away. Bask in it. Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.
This week has been filled with many losses in our world.
One of the great losses is the passing of Robin Williams.
Everywhere I turn I hear people talking about his death and his life. There is much to be mourned and celebrated in reflecting on Robin William’s life. He has touched us all in powerful and brilliant ways through his artistry and humanity.
Although, I didn’t know him personally or ever have the privilege of meeting him in person I feel as though there were ways I knew him. He had that ability to let parts of his dignity and humanity out in every role that he offered us. His role as a therapist in Goodwill Hunting blew me away. His ability to connect inspired me to be the kind of therapist… that is in the suffering and pain with the client… reminding them that, “it is not your fault” as he simply and passionately put it about the abuse Will Hunting endured.
My heart feels a hole since the news of his passing.
My Facebook feed has blown up with many conversations about depression and suicide. People are sharing their own stories about themselves or about people they love. Given that 1 in 4 people suffer from depression every year it is no wonder– we are all touched and impacted by this illness. And we desperately need a way to talk about this to extend compassion to the pain, suffering and darkness.
Robin’s passing has provoked us to look at the ways that we are impacted by this illness.
As long as we are talking about this with kindness and love– sharing our stories and listening sensitively I think this is a wonderful thing.
But the conversations I can’t get behind are the ones that blame those who are suffering with depression and suicidal ideation. I’ve read many comments about the selfishness of suicide. I couldn’t disagree more.
To reduce suicide to selfishness is inaccurate and an oversimplification.
Depression is a disorder that leaves one in tremendous pain. The emotional pain that some suffer can be so severe that the only light to one’s suffering is the belief that one will need to leave this earth and one’s body. It is a painstaking decision one that ruminates in one’s mind for a very long time.
People considering suicide not only think about it’s impact on their suffering, but also the impact that it will have on those around them. It is not an easy decision, nor a selfish one. It is a decision that arises when absolutely no other solution can provide relief from the pain.
While growing up the notion that suicide was a selfish decision was something I heard on several occasions. This especially was taught in the church I grew up in with the added pressure that suicide would give you a first class ticket to hell.
Now I ask you: Who is selfish here?
How is it that we can reduce someone’s pain and suffering so easily by making such shortsighted comments and claims?
If you’re asking yourself about the selfishness of someone’s decision to take their life then I’d ask you:
How well did you know them?
Did you know the depths of their pain?
Did you hear their heartache?
Did you know the agonizing desire for relief that they were seeking?
These questions of selfishness are ones of convenience. It is far more convenient to place these questions on the person who is suffering than to dig in and do the work of understanding that person’s pain.
The selfishness is a societal one, which so easily and thoughtlessly places this additional burden on the individual in pain.
All these questions evoke is shame and guilt to the person who is navigating a great deal of pain already.
If you have questions about someone’s despair– do the homework. Find resources to enlighten your mind. Listen– no, really listen. Do not be quick to give solutions or assign judgements… just listen and be present.
And for those who are suffering, you are remembered today. You are cherished. It is not your fault and it is not selfish to want relief from your pain.
This past weekend I was invited to join some pastors while they engaged street ministry downtown in Pioneer square with the homeless of our city. This is something they regularly engage and both have a tremendous presence and relationships established with friends who live outside. I felt grateful that I was invited along, as I recognize that entering into folks’ places on the street is sacred space. It is not something to be taken lightly and it struck me again as I was outside on Saturday night how easily it is for us to take for granted the privilege of walls— physical boundaries and barriers that keep us safe and create structure around how we want to live, who we want to see and when we want to sleep. This is precisely why the places of the streets are sacred spaces because although not clearly marked or visibly constructed I am walking into people’s homes and it takes a tremendous amount of trust and openness to allow me into those places. The fact of the matter is, there is so little security or safety one has in these places– anyone can walk in and violate at any given time and so when doing something of this magnitude and importance we must recognize the holy ground we are treading and the depth one has opening their space and ultimately their hearts to further engagement.
In the same manner, I was struck by a strangeness. Here we are on a Saturday night– a very busy Saturday night in pioneer square. On every block there were 3-5 bars, restaurants and clubs open and folks were freely moving about from one loud, bustling location to another. People were dressed to the nines and were clearly focused on having a good time with their friends, as they were chattering and waiting to be let into any given club. While in the very same location, on the very same street blocks and corners there was another group of people marked by a reality of struggle and survival– those that were without houses and other basic human rights and resources. All the while, people were brushing up against each other, moving about in the same proximity to each other but it was as if these two realities never really intersected. There was absolutely no awareness of the stark contrastness of the night and it was there where the gap was perpetuated. The privileged did not have to acknowledge, be aware, or interact in any way with those that we as a society would deem unacceptable.
Why should this matter? It matters because it is a dehumanizing reality. This invisibility is a tremendous weight for any person to bear. This is precisely the message the prophet Amos was speaking to– a marketplace where no one takes notice to the contrast and divisions of the privileged and the marginalized– will we look, will we see? Will we take notice that there are brothers and sisters in our human family who do not enjoy the same privileges?
Now we all have different ways of avoiding or averting our attentions to the needs of others. I have to be honest I’ve been disturbed the past few weeks to certain Christian folks’ responses and statements to the state of the world and natural disasters. One notion or one theme that has been continually shared through out is a tallying of every natural disaster as evidence to the end of the world and thus, the coming of Christ. Comments like, “Jesus is coming. I’m ready. Are you?”
Why is this disturbing you ask? Afterall, I am a Christian do I lack faith in believing in the second coming of Christ. I very much believe in the coming of Christ, but I must speak openly and honestly about the reality that I cannot speak to the timeline of God. None of us can. We can only cling to faith and the hope of God’s promise.
The danger in the tallying and these predictive sentiments is that it gives us a back door to dealing honestly and with integrity the issues and needs we have at hand. If my focus is primarily on trying to figure out based on worldly events the timeline of God’s actions then why should I worry or concern myself with caring for the homeless of our communities? Why should I extend care and compassion to the people of Haiti? Why deal with the re-building process of Haiti or Chile? Why worry about working towards a path of equality and access to all people?
No matter the state of the world– we have been given the responsibility to care and to act. Let us not forget that but remain focused on Christ’s words when he said, “your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”. That ‘coming’ is in part made tangible through our hands. Our hands can’t work as they should if they are not focused on the call to be light and salt to every context and at every point of time and history. Let us not emotionally, mentally and spiritually exit the task– our world at hand– prematurely.