I discovered the writing of Anne Lamott before the PCT and read a couple of her books since returning home. Not only does she understand the bigger picture of life, having a deep sense of knowing that we are all connected, that change and healing must begin with ourselves before it can expand out into the world, and that the most important thing in life is to be kind to both ourselves and others, but she is also hilarious. Today, she posted the following on her Facebook page and I wanted to share it because along with bringing to light the pain that we as humans can not avoid in life, it also made me laugh, which I find to be the most healing medicine of all. In this posting, she refers to platitudes that many people offer as a way to avoid feeling anything unpleasant. I have always had a problem with sayings such as “It’s all good” and “Everything happens for a reason.” To me, these sayings feel like a dismissal of my pain. I have a good friend who I have known for about 14 years, who always confounded me by dismissing my feelings whenever I shared a story of something difficult that I was going through. Her favorite saying was, “It’s all good.” Actually, it’s not all good… It most definitely is not. Life is a mixture of good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, pain and triumph. Some of us have had more than our fair share of pain and sadness. I never understood why she was so quick to defend the person in my stories who was causing me harm. And I never understood why she could never sympathize with my feelings. Wasn’t I her friend? Was she even hearing what I was saying? It wasn’t until I was in the middle of my yoga teacher training that I was struck by an epiphany. She couldn’t empathize with my pain because she wasn’t allowing herself to feel her own feelings of sadness or frustration or anger. She was pushing away all of those darker feelings and only expressing positive emotions. Her way of relating to the world brought her many friends, but I could see that she wasn’t attracting what she deserved in terms of intimate relationships. Over the past year or so, she has begun to explore some of the feelings that she has previously avoided- such as the grief over the loss of her good friend and roommate over 12 years ago- and although we don’t get a chance to spend much time together and she is still quick to brush away anything negative and amplify any inkling of positivity (whether it exists or not), I can tell that her feelings of empathy and compassion are expanding, which is allowing us to connect more. I appreciate realness more than anything. The ability to sit with someone in their pain and just listen and offer a hand or a hug is all we truly need.
(This passage also reminded me of something that a senior yoga teacher whose workshop I took said, which really affected me. “Every problem is a doorway. Even when facing the worst problem- hearing the news that you only have one more day to live- you are presented with a choice. You can choose to head straight to the freezer and consume a pint of your favorite ice cream (this idea didn’t sound so bad to me…) or you can tell your loved ones that you love them but that you need this time to get yourself in the right frame of mind before this transition, say goodbye, and then sit and meditate.”)
“Many mornings I check out the news as soon as I wake up, because if it turns out that the world is coming to an end that day, I am going to eat the frosting off an entire carrot cake; just for a start. Then I will move onto vats of clam dip, pots of crime brûlée, nachos, M & M’s etc. Then I will max out both my credit cards.
I used to think that if the world–or I–were coming to an end, I’d start smoking again, and maybe have a cool refreshing pitcher of lime Rickeys. But that’s going too far, because if the world or I was saved at the last minute, I’d be back in the old familiar nightmare. In 1986, grace swooped down like a mighty mud hen, and fished me out of that canal. I got the big prize. I can’t risk losing it.
But creme brûlée, nachos, maybe the random Buche Noel? Now you’re talking.
The last two weeks have been about as grim and hopeless as any of us can remember, and yet, I have not gotten out the lobster bib and fork. The drunken Russian separatists in Ukraine with their refrigerated train cars? I mean, come on. Vonnegut could not have thought this up. Dead children on beaches, and markets, at play, in the holy land?? Stop.
The two hour execution in festive Arizona? Dear God.
And let’s not bog down on the stuff that was already true, before Ukraine, Gaza, Arizona, like the heartbreaking scenes of young refugees at our border, the locals with their pitchforks. The people in ruins in our own families. Or the tiny problem that we have essentially destroyed the earth–I know, pick pick pick.
Hasn’t your mind just been blown lately, even if you try not to watch the news? Does it surprise you that a pretty girl’s mind turns to thoughts of entire carrot cakes, and credit cards?
My friend said recently, “It’s all just too Lifey. No wonder we all love TV.” Her 16 year old kid has a brain tumor. “Hey, that’s just great, God. Thanks a lot. This really works for me.”
My brother’s brand new wife has tumors of the everything. “Fabulous, God. Loving your will, Dude.”
My dog Lily’s ear drum burst recently, for no apparent reason, with blood splatter on the walls on the entire house–on my sleeping grandson’s pillow. Do you think I am well enough for that?
Let me go ahead and answer. I’m not. It was CSI around here; me with my bad nerves. And it burst again last night.
Did someone here get the latest updated owner’s manual? Were they handed out two weeks ago when I was getting root canal, and was kind of self-obsessed and out of it? The day before my dog’s ear drum first burst? If so, is there is an index, and if so, could you look up Totally Fucking Overwhelm[ed]?
I have long since weeded out people who might respond to my condition by saying cheerfully, “God’s got a perfect plan.” Really? Thank you! How fun.
There is no one left in my circle who would dare say, brightly, “Let Go and Let God,” because they know I would come after them with a fork.
It’s not that I don’t trust God or grace or good orderly direction anymore. I do, more than ever. I trust in divine intelligence, in love energy, more than ever, no matter what things look like, or how long they take. It’s just that right now cute little platitudes are not helpful.
I’m not depressed. I’m overwhelmed by It All. I don’t think I’m a drag. I kind of know what to do. I know that if I want to have loving feelings, I need to do loving things. It begins by putting your own oxygen mask on first: I try to keep the patient comfortable. I do the next right thing: left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. I think Jesus had a handle on times like these: get thirsty people water. Feed the hungry. Try not to kill anyone today. Pick up some litter in your neighborhood. Lie with your old dog under the bed and tell her what a good job she is doing with the ruptured ear drum.
I try to quiet the drunken Russian separatists of my own mind, with their good ideas. I pray. I meditate. I rest, as a spiritual act. I spring for organic cherries. I return phone calls.
I remember the poor. I remember an image of Koko the sign-language gorilla, with the caption, “Law of the American Jungle: remain calm. Share your bananas.” I remember Hushpuppy at the end of Beasts of the Southern Wild, just trying to take some food home to her daddy Wink, finally turning to face the hideous beast on the bridge, facing it down and saying, “I take care of my own.”
I take care of my own. You are my own, and I am yours–I think this is what God is saying, or trying to, over the din. We are each other’s. Thee are many forms of thirst, many kinds of water.”