It wasn’t very long ago that I scoffed at the adage, “Everything happens for a reason”. How absurd. I mean, how do you find meaning (for example) in the random death of someone you love? The meaning, wise ones say, can be understood through the loss and suffering. But also not that long ago, I learned that in order to feel a sense of progress in my life, suffering isn’t mandatory. So… which is it? “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and that’s a good thing…or, Life experiences are completely random, so enjoy the ride while it lasts? Fate is unavoidable, and Free Will is something we trick ourselves into believing we have. In the times we’re currently living through, I struggle to understand what feels utterly senseless, without purpose, and totally depressing. But I’m also reminded of what Living Bravely really means.
Like many people in my state (California), I feel like a punch-drunk fighter in some never-ending cage-match. Who or what will I need to get ready for today? The Virus? The fiery infernos creeping closer to where I live? Road rage from cooped-up citizens when all I’m trying to do is buy some paper towels? The latest news Updates are becoming more bizarre. Both my inexplicable desire to eat everything in my ‘fridge and pantry, coupled with a total lack of energy and will to stick to my daily exercise routines, seem permanent. My complete lack of creative mojo. My art. My writing. My music. Exactly when I need these outlets, I’m forced to admit that I’m just not feeling it. Yes: here in my home, it’s an avalanche of ‘opportunities’ for new awareness and growth.
When I last did my five miles (walking and resistance training used to be ‘fun’ – sort of), it was super-early in the morning. Only a few dog-walkers and joggers. So I was surprised to see a dark figure shuffling towards me. As he got closer he became a very young, painfully thin man in clothes so dirty and crusty that his slim frame seemed to swivel around inside them. His sweater and jeans hung motionless on his frame. “A scarecrow”, was my instant thought. I moved to the street (COVID, and neither one of us had masks) and – just because – kept my eyes on him and tried to project a silent greeting. But the man didn’t make eye contact. His glassy-eyed gaze was instead tilted toward the sky as he rhythmically tipped a paper-bagged can to his mouth. We passed one another. Then I did turn around to watch him weave and bob away – clearly he was feeling his drink but planting his feet as though he wasn’t. The way we all try to over-correct when we feel exposed.
For a split-second I felt something like a Vulcan mind-meld (yes, I’m a Trek fan, but only the original) with the guy. Being high might have been his only option at this point in his existence, but the pull to escape reality’s not something I’m going to look down on right now. In fact, it’s an emotion that has a definite allure, when understanding falters but important questions still loom large. “When Can I Have My Life Back?” “When Will These ‘Lessons’ Be Over?” I struggle with my own personal takeaways from Life as it is at the moment, but also with the larger takeaways we need to own, as humanity. Fires all around me make breathing difficult. But climate change makes living difficult for everyone.
So as each new day dawns, I consider my options for how I’m going to approach it. I begin by telling myself, it’s “ok” that it feels like a daily meditation, just to find and keep my bearings and my optimism. Feeling brave and living bravely is, more than any other time in my memory, an extreme challenge. Even the wise ones – the people I read, listen to and watch on various channels – are struggling to find meaning and courage in the midst of so much chaos.
Bravery – the strength to live in persistent awareness and hope – does not exist in my heart 24/7. Perhaps the first ‘lesson’ in all of this is to remember that living bravely is all about flexibility. Relaxing, resting, sleeping (which for me has been pretty sketchy lately) when it all becomes too intense to process. I exhaust myself if I remain hyper-alert. But I’m also not going to nose-dive into cute animal videos and stay there until This Whole Thing blows over. Because the second lesson, for me, is that remaining engaged in whatever’s going on in my life is Life. [“Look to this day: it is the very Life of Life”. Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. www.audible.com/ ] Whatever’s going on right now in my life is just the flow of being alive. I can “look to it”, or look away from it; the choice is mine.
It’s a process that begins the moment I open my eyes in the morning. I’ll never get it exactly “right”; I’ll never perfect my responses to every scenario that might threaten me. The effort to live bravely constantly reminds me that I’m not – nor do I need to be – invincible. Asking questions like “When Can I Have My Life Back” means that I haven’t quite grasped an understanding of life’s purpose. My own purpose: in breathing; living; loving. In nourishing myself with the right kind of food; in being creative, and in finding joy wherever and whenever I can.